February 18, 2010

Morong 43

Respected human rights lawyer, Romeo T. Capulong, minced no words in stating before the Court of Appeals hearing on the petition for habeas corpus of the Morong 43 that de facto martial rule was in effect vis a vis his clients.

This started from the time of the February 6 raid without a valid search warrant; their mass apprehension without valid arrest warrants; their ordeal of torture - being continuously interrogated while denied food and sleep, threatened bodily harm or actually being beaten while blindfolded and handcuffed, treated to indignities like having their private parts handled by soldiers when they used the toilet; their being held incommunicado and denied visits by relatives, lawyers, physicians and human rights officials; their questionable ongoing detention in a military camp rather than a police detention facility; up to the military’s initial defiance of a Supreme Court ruling that the detainees be produced in court citing security concerns.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines has tried to get away with its patent disregard of due process and even its human rights abuses by insisting that the 43 health workers are members of the New People’s Army.

To make the NPA label stick further, the military made much of the presence of progressive legislators and senatorial candidates, Satur Ocampo and Liza Maza, during the hearing on the habeas corpus petition; the battery of defense lawyers headed by Atty. Capulong, a veteran human rights lawyer who has successfully defended hundreds of activists, progressives and even avowed revolutionaries; the campaign paraphernalia of progressive party list groups as well as acupuncture needles apart from the firearms and explosives allegedly found in the seminar house; and the way some of the detainees raised their fists in protest when brought to court as constituting positive proof that the 43 are indeed NPA combatants.

What they succeeded in doing, however, is underscore the policy and practice of the Arroyo regime in its counterinsurgency program, Oplan Bantay Laya, of demonizing activists and their supporters as “communist terrorists” and subsequently targeting them for “neutralization”, military doublespeak for extrajudicial execution, enforced disappearance, illegal arrest, torture and illegal detention.

When Human Rights Commissioner Leila de Lima rebuked the military that even assuming the detainees are all NPA, they continue to have rights especially the constitutional presumption of innocence, Gen. Jorge Segovia retorted that soldiers should also be accorded “presumption of innocence”. With a straight face, the general said, “We know we are right; we know we did not commit those allegations.”

This statement only shows the military’s utter ignorance of what constitutes human rights and state responsibility in upholding and protecting them. On the other hand it is also an unwitting admission that the military itself is on trial before the public eye.

The military has tried to impugn the credentials of the 43 as health professionals and workers. They accused the 62-year-old doctor, Alexis Montes, of being assigned by the NPA to assassinate a retired military general only to have to conveniently drop the reckless charge when they realized how incredulous it was. (The doctor testified in the CA hearing that the only time he held a gun was in military training in college decades ago.)

The low educational attainment of most of the 43 health workers was also peddled by the military as proof that they could not be bona fide health workers. This was disputed by Dr. Michael Tan, a medical anthropologist and World Health Organization (WHO) consultant, who wrote in his recent column (http://opinion.inquirer.net/inquireropinion/columns/view/20100216-253597/Barefoot-doctors) that the profile of a majority of the 43 fit that of volunteer community health workers (CHWs) in the tradition of China’s barefoot doctors and Latin America’s promoters de salud or health promoters.

Despite low levels of literacy and socio-economic disadvantages these CHWs have proven highly capable of serving the health needs of their communities. In fact, by the late seventies, their example was being held up by the WHO to be emulated and promoted the world over as part of the global strategy to achieve “health for all by the year 2000”.

Thus the military’s story line has shifted from the tall tale that the Morong 43 are NPA combatants conducting a training on bomb-making, to the taller tale that they are “NPA medical officers” who belong to a “’super body” or what the military claims is the “NPA’s version of the Department of Health.” The military now acknowledges that the group was indeed undertaking a health training but one that was for the purpose of the communist-led guerilla army!

Ironically, even granting that the 43 are "NPA medics", the AFP claim that this catch is the "biggest victory of the government in recent years" unwittingly reveals its lackluster performance and belies all previous grandiose claims such as dozens of guerrilla zones being dismantled and thousands of guerrilla fighters neutralized.

Now the AFP spokesperson avers that since cases have been filed in the Morong regional trial court against the 43 for illegal possession of firearms and explosives, these constitute “sufficient grounds for their continued detention” and “it would be up to them to prove their innocence in court.” Consistently, the military and the public prosecutors have taken the stance that the burden of proving their innocence lies with the 43 rather than the other way around; that is, their accusers, in a democracy, must prove the guilt of the accused.

What the military tries to gloss over is the fact that their entire operation was marked by illegality, including a spurious search warrant and planted evidence. Moreover, the detainees were never accorded legal counsel when they were charged before the fiscal and the case summarily filed before the RTC. Thus the cases filed cannot cure such gross violations of due process.

Under the Arroyo regime, it is clear that the Philippine military can do as it pleases with impunity, trampling on universally-recognized and constitutionally-guaranteed human rights. By the AFP's actions and words, and clearly with the backing of Malacanang thru Executive Secretary Ermita and Defense Sec. Gonzales, the military has been relentlessly undermining the supremacy of civilian rule. Malacanang is caught in a hypocritical cop-out, pretending to take a “hands off” posture now that public, including international outrage, is mounting.

No doubt, the military claim that the 43 are NPA medics will go the way of its other lies, and be proven untrue. One shudders to think what other lie -- or cop-out -- this government, thru the AFP, will come up with to justify its actions. Meanwhile the Morong 43 continue to suffer under this oppressive regime. #


At Friday, 19 February, 2010 , Blogger LivingPlanet said...

blaming the military for actions they were ordered to do by their civilian superiors is fruitless. as you rightly showed in your feb. 11 article, it's the administration that must be questioned. the AFP is just the sword of the administration. you confuse the cause and therefore muddle the issue. it also contributes to undermining the armed forces as an institution, which has its own dynamics.


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