by CAROL PAGADUAN-ARAULLO
Posted by Bulatlat.com
Respected human rights lawyer, Romeo T. Capulong, minced no words in stating before the Court of Appeals hearing 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.)