By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – Lawyers of health workers who filed a damage suit against former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and several military and police officials lambasted the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and Philippine National Police (PNP) for withholding information about the respondents.
The P15-million ($365 thousand) damage suit was filed, on April 4, 2011, by six of the 43 health workers, also called Morong 43. The Morong 43 were arrested on charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives and were subjected to various forms of torture. However, months after summons have been issued by a Quezon City Regional Trial Court, several of the military and police respondents have not yet been notified of the charges.
The National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL), counsel for the complainants, asked the Philippine National Police (PNP) and Brig. Gen. Herbert Yambing of the Office of the Provost Marshall General of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to locate and provide information on the “missing” respondents but both offices refused to provide any information.
Addressed at their last known assignments, the summons against Gen. Jorge Segovia, Lt. Col. Cristobal Zaragosa, Col. Aurelio Baladad, Lt. Col. Jaime Abawag, Maj. Manuel Tabion and P/Supt. Marion Balonglong were returned unserved because they were no longer assigned there. The summons to the respondents, in what is considered the first civil case for human rights violations against former president Gloria Arroyo and her security forces, were issued last November 28, 2011.
In a letter sent to the NUPL, Yambing declined to give information on the whereabouts of the military personnel purportedly because his office has “no direct knowledge” on the whereabouts of the military officers and that he supposedly has no authority to release such information. On the other hand, the PNP, through Records Management Division Chief Manuel Gaerlan, CEO VI, said in its reply that the names of Balolong and Nubleza, who have been publicly known to be part of the service, strangely do not appear in the roster of the PNP.
“This is tantamount to a cover-up of the military and the police for their peers whose accountability is being sought for their involvement in brazenly violating the rights of the Morong 43 health workers,” said Ephraim Cortez, NUPL assistant secretary for legal services.
“With their cynical unwillingness to cooperate, state security forces have put up another roadblock to justice that effectively frustrates efforts to seek accountability for human rights violations committed against the Morong 43 health workers,” said Cortez. “Either they are deliberately hiding information about those involved or they are giving us a run-around through technicalities in disclosing very simple standard details about their personnel for the purpose of serving summons, or both.”
Aside from Segovia, Zaragosa, Baladad, Abawag, Tabion, Balonglong and former president Arroyo, the other respondents in the case are former Defense Secretary Norberto Gonzales, Gen. Victor Ibrado, and Gen. Delfin Bangit.
Arroyo, Bangit and Ibrado filed separate motions to dismiss the case. The NUPL already filed its reply to the motions. The court has yet to issue a resolution.
“This obstructionist attitude demonstrates the manifest bias of the military and the police in favour of those from their ranks who commit rights violations,” Cortez said.
“It shows once again how hard and sometimes frustrating it is to pursue justice for human rights violations under the present legal and judicial system and how impunity is perpetrated before, during and after a violation,” NUPL secretary general Edre U. Olalia said. “But we shall not let up. They cannot just get away with it just like that.”