MANILA, DECEMBER 9, 2010 (STAR) By Aurea Calica  - [PHOTO - President Aquino leads the pledge for good governance during the Barangay Assembly Day in Barangay Central, Tarlac City yesterday. | Zoom TARLAC CITY, Philippines]

President Aquino yesterday joined barangay leaders in affirming their commitment to good governance as part of the 2010 Barangay Assembly Day nationwide.

The President led barangay chairman Edgardo Aguas and the councilmen of Barangay Central Plaza here in reciting the Panunumpa Para sa Mabuting Pamamahala Tungo sa Tuwid na Landas.

Last month, the President issued Proclamation No. 74 declaring Dec. 11, 2010 as Barangay Assembly Day. The 1991 Local Government Code requires the conduct of a barangay assembly every first Saturday of March and the third Saturday of October.

However, the scheduled barangay assembly last Oct. 16 was postponed because of its proximity to the synchronized barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections last Oct. 25.

Aquino said he is happy to join the barangay leaders nationwide in the first barangay assembly under his administration. “Good governance begins in the community,” he said.

Aquino said barangay leaders must lead by example and be transparent with their programs and the financial status of the barangay. He said barangay leaders must also quickly respond to and provide efficient service to their constituents.

Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo earlier issued a memorandum circular titled “Guideposts in Promoting and Sustaining Barangay Good Governance” which is aimed at making the barangays an active partner of the national government in addressing poverty and eradicating graft and corruption.

During the assembly, Aquino announced that he will be meeting with an investor interested in putting up a garment factory in the province in the second quarter of 2011. The venture can employ 3,500 people.

Present were some 1,000 residents of the province and local officials led by Tarlac Governor Victor Yap, 2nd district Rep. Susan Yap-Sulit and city Mayor Gelacio Manalang.

No need for apologies from military - P-Noy By Aurea Calica (The Philippine Star) Updated December 12, 2010 12:00 AM

TARLAC CITY, Philippines – President Aquino thumbed down yesterday calls for the military to apologize to the 43 militant health workers for their arrest in February, saying doing so “would be a bit too much already.”

“I think we have already rectified the situation,” Aquino told reporters in an ambush interview after leading the first Barangay Assembly Day in Barangay Central here.

He also said the government would provide the necessary legal assistance to the arresting officers “who believed or assumed that they were performing their functions.”

Aquino on Friday ordered the Department of Justice (DOJ) to withdraw the information against the detained activists, now collectively known as the “Morong 43.”

They were arrested in a resort in Morong, Rizal for alleged possession of explosives and firearms. The military had also accused them of being communist guerrillas.

Aquino said he ordered the dropping of charges against the Morong 43 because they had been served flawed search and arrest warrants based on a review by Justice Secretary Leila de Lima.

Cases of illegal possession of firearms and explosives had been filed against the 43 detainees with the regional trial court of Morong.

“I think, in the facts I remember, another person was named in the warrant, the only similarity (to the one) raided is that they belong to the same barangay. The second address was raided, the one named in the search warrant is not there and the location identified was different,” Aquino said.

“There is the so-called particularity that applies in search warrants - it cannot be a general description. In short, the evidence that was procured because of this wrong search warrant, if I understood correctly, would become ‘fruits of the poison tree,’ which means it would become inadmissible as evidence,” Aquino said.

“Therefore, we wanted to rectify the situation and that’s why as a necessary step, the DOJ will recall the information filed,” Aquino said.

The President said the defense lawyers also filed similar motions months ago to quash the information against the detained health workers.

“But it would still be up to the court to order the release of these people,” he said.

The President said the eventual release of the 43 detainees would hopefully help create a better environment for the peace talks between the government and the communist rebels early next year.

“But again, the most important thing here is that we in government have to show that we are following the law under the Constitution and other related laws. When I spoke with the hierarchy of the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) and the PNP (Philippine National Police), I impressed upon them that we cannot short cut our rules,” he said.

“If we ourselves will not follow, what is our difference with those breaking the law?” he said.

“I think the fundamental thing that we wanted to show and to demonstrate is: this is a government that is operating under the set of laws, that we follow the laws of the land, and then that shortcuts are avoided,” he said.

“Considering that once we prompt them to trample on the rights of others, they will have the conditions of more and more dissatisfaction in the system and the elite members and the men in the service. So the people would be confident that their rights will be rigidly observed under the circumstances,” the President said.

The President said that although the National Democratic Front, the political arm of the Communist Party of the Philippines, had been consulted, his decision had largely been based on a review of the facts, particularly by De Lima.

Killings, disappearances

The President also declared that extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances would not go unresolved under his administration.

He said this was the reason why the DOJ would create a task force to review all such cases.

“Jonas Burgos maybe is a classic case in point. Where is Jonas Burgos? We are not forgetting that. We are searching for him. We want to know what happened to him,” Aquino said.

Four men and a woman kidnapped Burgos, an agriculturist and son of the late press freedom icon Joe Burgos, in broad daylight at the Ever Gotesco Mall in Quezon City in April 2007.

The license plate of the vehicle used by the kidnappers turned out to be taken from an impounded vehicle in the Army’s 56th Infantry Battalion headquarters in Bulacan. This led Burgos’ mother Edita and some groups to conclude that the kidnappers were military personnel.

Aquino said he decided to create the task force not just to pin down the past administration but also to warn current officials that violation of human rights would not go unpunished.

“Through the reviews, they will recommend measures for the effective and expeditious investigation and prosecution of the cases. Moreover, this task force has been mandated to speed up the resolution of cases with sufficient evidence and the necessary re-investigation to re-open old files,” the President said in his speech during the celebration of the 62nd anniversary of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights on Friday in Malacañang.

The President also cited the AFP’s establishment of a Human Rights Office, which would serve as the main platform for addressing all human rights and international humanitarian law issues involving the military.

“The recent designation of Gen. Domingo Tutaan as head of this office has further strengthened its capabilities. The AFP is also set to publish a handbook that will orient the troops on human rights and international humanitarian law,” he said.

The President said the PNP has also published the Human Rights Desk Operations Manual to provide information and operational procedures to police personnel manning the PNP Human Rights Desks.

“We are also working overtime to prevent new cases of human rights violations and to continue to resolve previous cases,” he said.

“For example, of the 39 work-related murders of media men reported by the Philippine National Police, 85 percent have had charges filed in their respective cases,” he said.

DOJ’s probe

The DOJ, for its part, said it would conduct its own investigation of the soldiers who made the Morong arrests.

De Lima said the DOJ probe would be separate from the one being conducted by the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), which she used to chair. But she said they would have to wait first for the filing of an appropriate complaint before starting the investigation. She said any complaint would be treated as an ordinary case.

The health workers have filed complaints with the CHR against the soldiers for alleged torture, illegal detention, and unlawful search.

De Lima said she has directed Prosecutor General Claro Arellano and Undersecretary Francisco Baraan II to file tomorrow motions for the withdrawal of the information against the detainees.

“Considering we don’t expect opposition from the Morong 43 themselves and the military, we’re ready to file by Monday so that we get the approval of the court in time for Christmas,” De Lima said.

De Lima, however, said the matter is still up to the courts to decide.

“Theoretically, it falls on the discretion of the court. But the DOJ is optimistic the judge will resolve favorably,” she said.

She said the arrest of the health workers was marked with procedural lapses, making the evidence against them inadmissible in court.

De Lima also said the case of the Morong 43 should serve as a lesson to law enforcers that they should strictly follow procedures.

Ready to face suit

Despite its legal blunder, the military is unfazed by possible counter-suits from the arrested health workers, officers said.

“It is their right to seek legal redress. But the military as an organization is also ready to defend its own men in court,” a senior military commander based in Southern Tagalog said.

He declined to be named, citing an order from higher-ups not to speak publicly about the issue. But he dared the activists to push through with their plan to sue the arresting officers in court.

“It’s not a problem for us. It’s part of our job. It’s not going to affect us,” he said, adding the morale of the troops remains high.

Top military officials, including spokesman Brig. Gen. Jose Mabanta, could not be reached for comment.

But in an earlier interview, Mabanta said the AFP fully supports Aquino’s decision.

“In the spirit of respect for human rights and justice, the AFP supports the decision of the commander-in-chief relative to the 43 arrested. We believe that the development fosters transparency, accountability, and confidence in the government,” Mabanta said.

He also said the AFP leadership was consulted before the President issued the order.

Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo, on the other hand, said he was pleased by Aquino’s order.

Pabillo said the President’s decision rectified the error made by the military in arresting the health workers on suspicion that they were communist guerrillas.

He said even if the arrested health workers were indeed rebels, they should still be accorded due process.

He added that the government should use the law as an instrument to uphold human rights.

For Jolo, Sulu Bishop Angelito Lampon, the Aquino administration should also give due attention to widespread violation of human rights in his province.

He said private armies of politicians continue to operate and sow terror with impunity in Sulu.

The Isabela Ecumenical Conference (IEC), for its part, called on the government to take tougher action against human rights violators.

“We condemn human rights violations of all forms and call on government of whatever nation to apply the full force of the law to perpetrators even as we call these to repentance and penance,” IEC said in a statement.

Amnesty for Reds

Former Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. urged Aquino yesterday to also offer amnesty to members of the communist New People’s Army “to attain peace and unify the country.”

“President Noynoy should do what his mother President Cory did - offer amnesty to communist rebels,” De Venecia told a news conference. “Such a gesture will complement his decision to revive the stalled peace talks with the CPP-NPA.”

He said the most prominent beneficiary of the late President Aquino’s amnesty grant was Satur Ocampo, former leader and spokesman of the underground movement who later became a member of Congress as representative of the party-list group Bayan Muna.

“If we are offering amnesty to rebels soldiers, why not to communist rebels?” he asked.

He said he believes that many NPA members in the provinces would take advantage of such an offer “since they would rather opt for peace instead of fighting the government.”

“This could end the longest-running communist insurgency in Asia,” he added.

He said, “The key to unifying the country, as it is in coalition-building in Congress, is to give each and everyone his place under the sun.”

De Venecia led the so-called Rainbow Coalition in the House of Representatives for an unprecedented five terms.

He lauded Aquino’s offer of amnesty to rebel soldiers led by Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV.

“We did that during the time of President Ramos to the group of then Army colonel and now Sen. Gregorio Honasan,” he said.

Aquino’s amnesty offer to the groups of Trillanes, former Brig. Gen. Danilo Lim and former Marine Col. Ariel Querubin is contained in Proclamation 75, which the Senate has already approved.

The House is scheduled to give its concurrence to the proclamation tomorrow or on Tuesday.

Covered by the amnesty grant are active and former officers and enlisted personnel of the AFP and the PNP who participated in the Oakwood mutiny in July 2003, the Marines standoff at Fort Bonifacio in February 2006, and the Peninsula Manila occupation in November 2007.

Several House members, including Minority Leader Edcel Lagman, want those covered by Proclamation 75 to expressly admit their guilt before qualifying for amnesty.

But Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas, senior vice chairman of the committee on justice, said the inclusion or non-inclusion of the requirement for acceptance of guilt in the amnesty rules is immaterial.

He said an applicant for amnesty impliedly admits his offense the moment he files his application.

“Why would one apply for amnesty if he is not guilty? Simply put, if one feels innocent, he should not apply for amnesty,” he said.

He quoted the ruling of the Supreme Court in People vs. Salig: “The invocation of amnesty is in the nature of a plea of confession and avoidance, which means that the pleader admits the allegations against him, but disclaims liability therefore on account of intervening facts, which if proved, would bring the crime charged within the scope of the amnesty proclamation.”

De Lima has told the House justice committee that there is no need for a requirement in the amnesty rules for an applicant to accept his guilt.

For his part, Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr. said such a requirement is open to legal challenge “since there is no such thing in Proclamation 75.”

“What is not part of the amnesty proclamation cannot be included in the implementing rules,” he said. - With Sandy Araneta, Jess Diaz, Evelyn Macairan, Jaime Laude

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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