“Military agents are working round the clock to discredit the Morong 43 and say we are members of the New People’s Army to justify the torture we suffered in the hands of the military.” — Justice for the Morong 43 Alliance
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA — Supporters of the “Morong 43” assailed the continuing harassment by the military in a protest action held in front of the Quezon City Hall of Justice, July 9.
Former detainee Dr. Alex Montes and his son Conner are facing charges of unjust vexation, grave coercion and threat filed by retired Colonel Reuben Espartinez, a delisted pastor of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines who served as a chaplain of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. A court mediation hearing was held at the QC Hall of Justice to resolve the case.
Espartinez claimed in his affidavit, copies of which he distributed outside the court, that Montes cursed him in front of his friends while attending a mass on Jan. 8. Montes’ son, Conner, he added, threatened him and cursed him after the mass.
Human rights defenders and supporters of the Morong 43, however, were not convinced.
“Military agents are working round the clock to discredit the Morong 43 and label us as members of the New People’s Army to justify the torture we suffered in the hands of the military,” said a statement by the group Justice for the Morong 43! Justice for All Victims of Human Rights Violation! Alliance.
Dr. Montes is one of the 43 health workers, collectively called Morong 43, who were arrested in 2010. They were accused of being members of the NPA and slapped with trumped-up charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives. While in detention, the health workers assailed the torture they suffered from the military.
The 43 were released 10 months later due to mounting pressure locally and from the international community.
Conner told Bulatlat.com that prior to the Jan. 8 incident, Espartinez has been harassing his father and their entire family.
“Cases against the members of the Morong 43 have already been dropped. But he continues to misinform people that my father is an NPA,” he said, adding that Espartinez has been spreading rumors.
Dr. Montes said Espartinez had tagged him as a communist. It may not be an “illegal” organization, Montes said, but the red-tagging makes him a target of liquidation by military death squads, as shown in the pattern of killings of activists.
Evalyn, wife of Dr. Montes, said that their relatives, even those who are in the province, had received letters from Espartinez. Most of the letters contained cash ranging from P20 to P100, while others reportedly received thousands of pesos, Mrs. Montes said.
Espartinez is a delisted pastor and was declared persona non grata by the UCCP National Commission on Discipline and Conflict Resolution on Nov. 10, 2012 on the basis of three cases filed against him for “conduct unbecoming a minister.”
A source said he used the letterhead of the UCCP national office in the letters he distributed, claiming that church workers, fellow pastors and even their bishops were communists. These letters, too, included cash.
“He is surely being funded by the government,” Bishop Gabriel Garol of the UCCP told Bulatlat.com, adding that Espartinez would often brag of his connections to the government.
In his affidavit, Espartinez said that the UCCP is infiltrated by communists and that its leaders are corrupt. He claimed that he has documents to prove the allegations and that he would present it if needed.
“He is more of a colonel than a pastor,” Dr. Montes told Bulatlat.com.
Before the mediation hearing, Espartinez approached a group of Morong 43 supporters who gathered in front of Quezon City Hall of Justice and even attempted to grab the microphone of one of the speakers.
Espartinez stood in front of the protesters and waived a copy of his affidavit. He also distributed a copy of a newspaper clipping of an alleged member of the Morong 43 who died in an encounter with the military.
During the hearing, Espartinez told Assistant Prosecutor Gibson Araula Jr. that Dr. Montes “should be sorry for the crimes he committed” and that the doctor is the chairperson of the Communist Party of the Philippines.
In a statement, Justice for the Morong 43! Justice for All Victims of Human Rights Violation! Alliance said the military “failed to break the Morong 43’s spirits in prison, they will fail again.”
“Our commitment to serve the poor and fight all forms of injustice is what keeps us grounded and steadfast in our cause,” the alliance said, “This is our contribution to the Filipino people’s struggle to break the culture of impunity and fail the Aquino regime’s Oplan Bayanihan.”
Oplan Bayanihan is the counterinsurgency program of the government, which had been criticized by progressive groups to be behind the continuing human rights violations.
“The countercharges filed by the Morong 43 have not even progressed and now we have this. I do not want to bring this case to the limelight but we need to fight it,” Dr. Montes told his supporters.
Dr. Montes said he is willing to settle the case with Espartinez before it would be forwarded for preliminary investigation as long as the latter would “keep distance from him.” Otherwise, the Montes family is considering filing charges against him.