“We have decided to file for moral and exemplary damages against former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her security officials for violation of our rights. This is but a small step to end impunity in our country. Yet, this a step forward in our long march for justice,” Gary Liberal, spokesman of the Morong 43, said.
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA — On the eve of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s birthday, six of the Morong 43 sued her and her military and police officials for damages totaling P15 million ($346 thousand) for physical and psychological torture and other forms of human rights abuses.
The civil case was filed this morning, April 4, at the Quezon City Hall of Justice. Other respondents are former Defense Secretary Norberto Gonzales, former Chief of Staff Gen. Victor Ibrado, Gen. Delfin N. Bangit, former commander of the 2nd Infantry Division (ID) Gen. Jorge Segovia, commander of the intelligence unit of the 2nd IDPA Lt. Col. Cristobal Zaragosa, 2nd IDPA Warden Major Manuel Tabion, commander of the 202nd Infantry Batallion (IB) Col. Aurelio Baladad, 16th IBPA commander Lt. Col. Jaime Abawag, and Rizal Provincial Police Office commander P/Supt. Marion Balolong.
The Morong 43 are the 43 health workers who were arrested on Feb. 6 in Morong, Rizal by combined elements of the police and military. They were slapped with illegal possession of firearms and explosives. Thirty-eight have been released after the local courts dismissed the charges against the health workers. Two, Rogelio Villarasis and Mario Delos Santos, are still languishing in jail at Camp Bagong Diwa for other “trumped up” criminal charges and five have remained under military captivity.
“We have decided to file for moral and exemplary damages against former president Gloria Macapagal-
Arroyo and her security officials for violation of our rights. This is but a small step to end impunity in our country. Yet, this a step forward in our long march for justice,” Gary Liberal, spokesman of the Morong 43, said.
In interviews with Bulatlat.com, Rey Macabenta, Teresa Quinawayan and Mercy Castro admitted they continue to battle their fears. “I’m nervous but this has to be done,” Macabenta said.
“We have had our own collective and individual fears. But we fear most for human rights violations that go unpunished in this country,” Liberal said.
“We want to send a strong message that one cannot just get away with human rights violations. This is our contribution to efforts in making sure that violators of human rights are made accountable for their actions,” Liberal added.
The two doctors, Dr. Merry Mia-Clamor and Dr. Alexis Montes are also among the complainants.
Ephraim Cortez, one of the lawyers of the Morong 43, said the complaint is based on Civil Code provisions which make any public officer who violate the constitutional rights of individuals liable for damages.
At least five causes of action are being sought by the health workers against the former president and her officials involved in the case. These include damages for torture, damages for the violation of their constitutional and statutory rights, including their right against arbitrary and illegal detention, right against self-incrimination and right to counsel, divestment of personal belongings, Arroyo’s neglect of duty, and moral damages.
“It is not possible to undo the illegal acts of the state, so the law turns to compensation as a remedy for the victims. Although the reparation cannot fully undo the damage, it will affirm human and legal solidarity with victims of gross violations of human rights,” Cortez said.
First Case Vs. Arroyo
Edre U. Olalia, one of the lawyers of the Morong 43 and secretary general of the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL), said the filing of a civil case gives them an opportunity to hold Arroyo and top military and police officials liable for the arrest, detention and torture of the 43 health workers.
Asked why Arroyo, now a congresswoman, is included as a respondent, Olalia said: “All the extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, illegal arrests during the nine years of the Arroyo presidency were part of the framework of Oplan Bantay Laya.” The Oplan Bantay Laya is the counterinsurgency program of the Arroyo administration.
Karapatan has documented 1,206 cases of extrajudicial killings, 206 victims of enforced disappearances, and 2,059 cases of illegal arrests and detention during the nine-year rule of Arroyo.
“She [Arroyo] either knew, acquiesced, tolerated or gave orders [on these human rights violations,” Olalia said. “Our message is clear. She cannot just go away with it just like that.”
Olalia noted that the Aquino government clearly admitted the arrest of the Morong 43 did not stand on legal grounds. “Now, the Arroyo administration must face the consequences of its actions,” Olalia said.
The complaint, Olalia said, is a product of studied analysis and is not meant to downplay the criminal aspect of the violations. He said the Morong 43 are set to file criminal charges for violations of the Anti-Torture Law and Republic Act 7438, the law that defines the rights of arrested persons.
Olalia said the case is just the first of a series of civil and criminal charges to be filed against Arroyo for human rights violations. He cited the filing of charges in relation to the abduction of Jonas Burgos, Karen Empeno and Sherlyn Cadapan and Raymond Manalo. Except for Manalo, the three activists remain missing to this day.
“We hope this first filing will encourage all other victims and families to file similar well-grounded countercharges in different fora versus top officials and high-ranking perpetrators as part of the continuing search for justice and the battle against impunity,” Olalia said.