President Aquino was challenged yesterday to stand his ground and defend the arrest and detention made by the military against health workers suspected of being members of a communist group who are collectively called Morong 43 even after their release has been effected through Aquino’s order to drop the charges against the group.

Sen. Gregorio Honasan issued the challenge yesterday to Aquino amid reports that the health workers are contemplating to file cases of rights abuse against the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

“The President has decided already. The military has no choice but to follow his orders. It’s part of their mandate to follow such orders from the commander in chief, including that of overseeing the implementation of the legal procedures,” Honasan said.

“But if they (Morong 43) will file charges, I think it will be a wrong move. If at all, the defect (in the situation) is in the law, not the implementation of the law. If they will take retaliatory action against the military who merely did their mandate, it is the duty of the executive branch to defend the soldiers,” he said in a radio interview.

Honasan, chairman of the Senate committee on public order, noted that such legal action will only prolong the eventual release from detention and withdrawal of the information against the Morong 43.

The Army leadership, meanwhile, dismissed the demand for apology from the military to families of the Morong 43 members, maintaining its stand that the suspects are members of the New People’s Army (NPA) and that the arrest was done within the rules of engagement.

Military Southern Luzon Command (Solcom) chief Lt. Gen. Roland Detabali, who has supervision over the Army’s 2nd Infantry Division (ID) which was responsible for the arrest of the Morong 43 last Feb. 6, said the military troops only did their duty when they captured the suspected NPA rebels.

“We have a clear conscience so we feel that we did not violate anything so there is nothing to apologize,” said Detabali.

“We believe that they (military troops) did their duty. We followed the rules of engagement and we observed human rights,” added Detabali.

Army spokesman Col. Antonio Parlade Jr. echoed Detabali’s statements.

“We will not apologize. We did our job, we did it well. There might be varying interpretations that there could have been legal lapses but our stand remains they are NPAs and they are not health workers,” said Parlade.

The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), meanwhile, welcomed the dropping of charges against the health workers but stressed that there is much to be done to address human rights issues in the country.

“The CPP and the revolutionary forces congratulate the Morong 43, their families, colleagues and supporters for their tenacious struggle and outstanding victory,” said CPP said in a statement posted over its website.

“These serve as inspiration in the fight of thousands of other victims of military abuses to defend their rights and in the effort to seek redress for the grave injustices inflicted on them by the puppet reactionary state and its fascist forces,” it added.

“The leadership of government has already decided to drop the charges against them. If they will pursue a case in court, it will incur unnecessary delay in resolving the issue. There will be evidence and counter evidence and the military will be expected to defend themselves…it will only be such a waste of time and energy (for both parties),” the senator, who himself claimed of being a victim of the excesses of the previous administration, said.

Honasan, a former military officer, said it’s high time that both the Executive and the legislature look into this matter and study the legal loopholes concerning the case of the Morong 43.

“This is probably the right time to clarify or amend the laws involved in this case so that we will have a more precise policy, no gray area either in the filing of the case and in defending it,” he said.

If the charges against the Morong 43 can stand in court, then the President should not have ordered the withdrawal of the case.

“This should have been studied very carefully. It’s part of the trade off in whatever needs to be amended in the law,” he added.

“We have no one to blame but ourselves, for failing to see the issues surrounding this case. There is no legal defense against an irresponsible intelligence report especially if crimes involved are political in nature. When will you have your day in court? If you will have your day in court... That’s one of the legal defects that we have to attend to and scrutinize by both the Executive and the Legislative,” he said.

Parlade also stressed the fact that five of the Morong 43 have admitted membership to the NPA.

“So what about the truth that the five are fighting for? They said they will not go back to the movement (NPA) because they will be killed,” said Parlade.

Parlade said the Army leadership is presently explaining the issue to the troops to lessen the effect of the possible release of the suspected NPAs to their morale.

“What’s left for us to do now is to explain to the people, to our men why is like that…we are doing it right now,” said Parlade.

Earlier, relatives of the 38 reportedly sought public apology from the military for the arrest and detention of their loved ones.

The demand was immediately rejected by President Aquino, who ordered the dropping of charges against the Morong 43 that may lead to their eventual release, particularly those who have no standing warrants for their arrest. Six of the 43 are reportedly facing various criminal cases before the courts.

Aquino stressed that the dropping of charges was enough to rectify the situation.

Aquino reiterated that he instructed the Department of Justice (DoJ) to execute such order precisely in recognition of the Morong 43’s claims that their rights to due process had been violated by the military which, he said, he will never tolerate while he’s in command.

The Morong 43 were charged with illegal possession of firearms and explosives and violation of election gun ban in connection after being caught allegedly while conducting bomb-making training at a private residence in Morong town, Rizal.

But based on the DoJ’s review of their case, Aquino said he was convinced by the fact that the warrants of arrest issued to them were flawed that made their detention illegal which they are now trying to rectify.

Detabali reiterated the military’s stance that it will respect the decision of the politicial leadership regarding the Morong 43.

“The military establishment is just an instrument of the political leadership, we will follow. We are professional,” said Detabali.

On Friday, Aquino ordered the Department of Justice (DOC) to withdraw the charges slapped against the Morong 43, who were captured by combined police and military operatives in a private residence in Morong town, Rizal last Feb. 6 while allegedly conducting bomb-making training.

Various firearms and explosives were confiscated from the group, composed of two doctors, nurse and volunteer health workers.

The withdrawal of charges against the Morong 43 is expected to be finalized by the DOJ on Monday and pave the way for their immediate release.

The CPP noted that Aquino’s order came weeks after repeatedly insisting that he cannot do anything except to await the court’s action, despite recognizing defects in the arrest of detainees and despite the fact that they have yet to be brought to court.

“The victory won by the Morong 43 demonstrates the power of the people’s vigorous struggle in defense of their human rights,” the CPP said.

“The detained health workers’ long and persistent struggle marked by their recent hunger strike combined with the overwhelming nationwide and worldwide support for their cause exerted intense pressure on the Aquino government to act on their release,” it added.

CPP maintained that “there is still much to be done by the GRP in redressing the various injustices and cruelties committed against the Morong 43, and in seriously addressing the continuing widespread human rights abuses by its Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), police and paramilitary forces.”

“There are a thousand more steps that the Aquino government needs to do to in the face of the worsening human rights conditions in the country,” the CPP stressed.

“There is first of all the need to repudiate the long-standing militarist and antipeople mindset and methods of the reactionary state and its military and security forces in confronting the people’s armed and non-armed resistance to prevailing anti-people policies,” said the CPP.

The CPP said that it is not enough for Aquino to just mouth the rhetoric of ‘upholding human rights’ without carrying out decisive measures to check and punish the abuses.

“The grave injustice against the Morong 43 must be corrected by punishing the officers and forces of the 2nd Infantry Division who carried out the illegal arrest, torture and intimidation of the detainees from the time of the raid of the latter’s health seminar in

Morong, Rizal to their detention and sufferings in Camp Capinpin,” said the CPP.

However, Aquino has already junked any apology from the military, stressing that the dropping of charges is enough to rectify the situation.

The AFP leadership vowed to abide by the decision of the commander in chief but maintained that the Morong 43 were members of the NPA, citing admission by five of those arrested and the positive identification of the others by policemen who were previously held as hostages by the communist group.

But both sides agreed that such move could boost the scheduled resumption of the peace negotiations between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the CPP-NDFP in Feb. 11 next year in Oslo, Norway.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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