By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA — The military is recycling old lies.
This is what members of the Morong 43 and human rights groups said of the military’s claim that one of those killed in an encounter with government troops in Bulacan was a member of the Morong 43.
Major General Pio Gregorio Catapang of the Armed Forces Northern Luzon Command claimed in a report that Ramon dela Cruz, one of the three members of the New People’s Army (NPA) killed in an encounter in Doña Remedios Trinidad town last Thursday, was a member of the Morong 43.
“The Morong 43 are not members of the New People’s Army,” Dr. Alexis Montes, one of the 43 health workers arrested in Morong, Rizal in Febuary 2010, said. “We are health professionals and community health workers serving tirelessly in the farthest recesses of the nation that are neglected by our government.”
“Clearly, the military is resurrecting old lies to use as credit for their promotion and discredit the human rights cases filed against them by the Morong 43,” Montes, a volunteer doctor for the Council for Health and Development, a national organization of community-based health programs, said. At the time of their arrest, Montes was one of the instructors in the basic health training course held in Morong.
Members of the Morong 43 filed torture charges against military and police officials involved in their arrest, detenton and torture. A separate damage suit is pending with a Quezon City local court against former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her military and police officials.
Most members of the Morong 43 were released after ten months in detention. The government withdrew charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives due to international and local pressure.
Edre Olalia, one of the lawyers of the Morong 43 and secretary general of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), said the military’s storyline is “contradictory most of the time.”
Olalia said the claim that Ramon dela Cruz was an NPA and the same person as the namesake of a former member of the Morong 43 is “grounded on questionable bases and circumstances.”
The military claimed it was able to identify dela Cruz through his mugshot taken after the arrest in February 2010 and through the names of his parents. Brigadier General Hernando Iriberri, commander of the Army’s 7th Infantry Division, said three rebel returnees made a positive identification of dela Cruz.
“The comparison with his supposed mugshots and the similarity of the names of his supposed parents that he allegedly disclosed while under extreme and hostile interrogation in isolated detention is at best self-serving and at worse contrived, if not malicious, Olalia said. He added that it does not help one bit that those who purportedly corroborated his identity as a supposed NPA “were most probably the usual roving mad dogs and itinerant professional ‘rebel returnees.'”
“It [military] now claims that most of our clients ‘have returned to the hills’ even as it concedes that a number of them have ‘continued’ to be members of ‘progressive organizations.’ It confirms that our clients – especially those who are visible in rallies and public places or events or who chose to file cases against them and whom they stalk to this very day – continue to engage in health services,” Olalia said.
“As for the other less visible or those who chose to keep a low profile if not a ‘quiet’ life after their horrific ordeal for 10 months, the military automatically claims they are again NPAs. Except of course a select few of them that they have spoiled and are living it up as their glorified slaves.”
Five of the Morong 43 were kept under military custody. The military claimed the five admitted to being NPA guerrillas and have returned to the government’s fold. Relatives of the five, however, revealed that the ‘rebel returnees’ were tortured and forced into admitting they were NPA.
“If the military cannot keep its facts straight, at least, it should review its math. Even their convoluted figures do not add up,” Olalia said.
No justification for torture
For human rights alliance Karapatan, nothing justifies torture and illegal arrest.
“Whether De la Cruz joined the NPA after his release or not is his personal choice. That does not in any way change the facts of the case. The military illegally arrested, detained and tortured the 43 health workers, period,” Cristina Palabay, Karapatan secretary general, said.
Members of the Morong 43 were subjected to various physical and psychological torture.
Palabay said the military’s recent statements “promote the military’s twisted logic that the AFP [Armed Forces of the Philippines] is right in arresting, detaining and torturing the Morong 43 because they were NPA.”
According to the United Nations Covenant against Torture, freedom from torture is a non-derogable right. It states: “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever may be invoked to justify torture, including war, threat of war, internal political instability, public emergency, terrorist acts, violent crime, or any form of armed conflict. Torture cannot be justified as a means to protect public safety or prevent emergencies. Neither can it be justified by orders from superior officers or public officials.”
“We are not surprised that until now the military never tires with their assertion that the Morong 43 are NPA members. It’s the only way they think they can come out clean of the violations they committed. But the way things are under the Aquino government, some of them even got promoted to higher ranks in the military,” Palabay said, referring to the promotion of Brigadier General Aurelio Baladad, one of the respondents to the torture charges and damage suit filed by Morong 43.