“And so this is justice under Aquino – torturers are given plum positions in the military, and the rich, powerful and notorious human rights violators like Palparan and Arroyo are mockingly free as preying vultures.” – Karapatan
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – Human rights advocates do not see President Benigno Aquino III’s avowed “righteous path” but rather “a crooked path of impunity.”
Human rights group Karapatan issued the statement following the granting of bail to former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and the promotion of another military officer implicated in the arrest, detention and torture of 43 health workers, popularly known as the Morong 43.
Then colonel, now Brigadier General Aurelio Baladad, will replace Major General Josue Gaverza as commanding officer of the Army’s 9th Infantry Division.
“And so this is justice under Aquino – torturers are given plum positions in the military, and the rich, powerful and notorious human rights violators like Palparan and Arroyo are mockingly free as preying vultures. No wonder, Noynoy [Aquino] deliberately omitted saying anything on human rights and peace in his SONA, a tacit and dangerous signal for state security forces to continue to prowl, with terror and violence against the people,” Karapatan spokeswoman Cristina Palabay said.
Arroyo, now representative of Pampanga’s second district, is respondent to two separate damage suits filed by Morong 43 and the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) for human right violations. In their complaints, both groups asserted that Arroyo, as then commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, is accountable to thousands of cases of human rights violations. She is also respondent to the torture charges filed by Morong 43 before the Department of Justice.
Palparan remains at large more than seven months after a local court in Bulacan issued a warrant of arrest against him and three others for charges of kidnapping and serious illegal detention in relation to the enforced disappearance of University of the Philippines students Karen Empeño and Sherlyn Cadapan.
“It is reprehensible that a former President and military generals, whose notoriety on human rights violations has been condemned by the Filipino people and the international community, are now both walking free from accountability. The crooked path of impunity lies under Aquino,” Palabay said.
Baladad, meanwhile, is also one of the respondents to the civil and criminal charges filed by the Morong 43.
“Once again, this demonstrates unmistakably that in this country, when you violate rights, you get a pat on the back. It bodes ill for even more violations as perpetrators just get promoted or reassigned,” Edre Olalia, secretary general of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), said in a statement. “Those who make illegal searches, arrests, torture or beat up rallyists might as well carry pre-minted medals and glossy draft promotion papers complete with seals when out on a roving band.”
The NUPL serves as legal counsels of the Morong 43 and other human rights victims.
Earlier, then Major General Jorge Segovia, former commander of the 2nd Infantry Division of the Philippine Army that arrested the Morong 43 in February 2010 was also promoted to lieutenant general.
The promotions came even as Dr. Alexis Montes, one of the so-called Morong 43, filed his formal opposition to the promotion of the two military officers before the Commission on Appointments in May.
The Samahan ng Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto (Selda) said hte Aquino government “has no real sense of justice.”
“It cannot even arrest Palparan. Worse, it cannot own up to its own human rights record. In fact, Malacañang has to lie on the existence of political prisoners to claim it is a defender of human rights,” Angie Ipong, Selda secretary general, said.
Almost 700 political prisoners and regular inmates participated in the week-long fasting and hunger strike from July 16 to 23 to demand the release of all political prisoners in the country.
The NUPL challenged the Aquino administration to investigate, expedite resolutions and file cases of rights violations against Arroyo.
“Aquino must designate competent, serious and conscientious investigators and lawyers to prosecute officials under the past administration, not smooth-talking politicians nor ambitious public officials more eager for their time under the spotlight. Otherwise the people would be left to their own wits and defenses, continuously disillusioned that courts are a playground of the rich and the mighty and their personal interests,” Olalia said.
The local court allowed Arroyo to post bail due to alleged weak evidence to electoral sabotage charges.
Karapatan also scored what it called as “moves to cover up the liabilities” of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police in the extrajudicial killing of Italian missionary Fr. Fausto Tentorio and Dutch development worker Willem Geertman. In the case of Geertman, police investigators claimed that robbery was the main motive while paramilitary elements were excluded by the Department of Justice from the list of suspects in the killing of Tentorio.
“These are among the cases of extrajudicial killings that all remain unsolved under Aquino. Again, it begs the question: what kind of justice is Aquino harping on in his SONA? Clearly, it is the kind of justice that bears upon the poor and those working for meaningful changes in society, while promoting ‘justice’ for the moneyed and powerful,” Palabay said.