Sunday, February 14, 2010

Philippines - Gorillas in uniform

Any goodwill that the Philippine military and the police have built up these past couple of years in terms of willingness to respect the human rights even of their New People’s Army enemies went up in smoke on Saturday. We gather that at 6:15 a.m. the other Saturday, February 6, joint elements of the 202nd Infantry Brigade of the Philippine Army (202nd IBPA), and the Rizal Philippine National Police (PNP) office—under the command of Colonel Aurelio Baladad, commander of the 202nd Infantry Brigade of the Philippine Army based in Tanay, Rizal, and Police Superintendent Marion Balonglong of the Rizal PNP—raided a conference and training facility at a farm in Barangay Maybangcal, Morong, Rizal.

Five days earlier, on February 1, some 40 doctors and health workers began their First Responders Training course at that farm. The farm is a regular venue of health training courses, with participants mostly coming from both the communities and academe. This time, the training course was sponsored by the Community Medicine Foundation, Inc. (COMMED) and the Council for Health and Development (CHD).

The owner of the farm and facility, Dr. Melecia Velmonte, is a renowned and respected infectious disease specialist and a consultant at the Philippine General Hospital.

300 heavily armed raiders
The AFP-PNP raid involved about 300 heavily armed soldiers and policemen. They forced themselves into Dr. Velmonte’s farm. Some of the uniformed men forced the farm’s caretaker to open the gate at gunpoint. Once inside, the soldiers and policemen fanned out to various points. Some kicked the main door to get inside the building.

Dr. Velmonte and her son, Bob, asked for the raiding party’s search warrant, the soldiers brushed them aside and went on to do what they liked.

All the doctors and health workers, were ordered to line up, were frisked and handcuffed. They were interrogated and photographed. One of the raiders took videos of the interrogation. The males were blindfolded with old shirts that the raiding army had with them. The blindfolds were secured with packaging tape. All of the arrested persons’ personal belongings were taken by the raiding army.

The training-course participants were already handcuffed, when Police Superintendent Marion P. Balonglong showed Bob a warrant for a certain Mario Condes whose address was written in the warrant as Barangay Maybangcal, Morong, Rizal. Condes was being charged with illegal possession of firearms. The warrant, dated February 5, 2010, issued by Judge Cesar Mangrobang of Branch 22 of the Imus, Cavite Regional Trial Court, did not have the exact address of the Velmonte compound.

Bob asserted that the warrant did not specify their address, and that the subject of the warrant, Mario Condes, was not the owner of the property. The officers ignored him.

Outside the compound, there were eight vehicles: four 6 x 6 military trucks, two Armored Personnel Carriers, a KIA Pride car, and an ambulance. Some of the vehicles had no plate numbers, others had license plates covered, or smeared, with mud.

Forced into military trucks
The handcuffed health workers were forced into the military trucks, which took them to Camp Capinpin in Tanay, Rizal, the headquarters of the 202nd Infantry Brigade of Philippine Army.

The military declared that the arrested persons were members of the New People’s Army and were being trained to make explosives. The military also said explosives were found in the compound. Witnesses, however, saw that the raiders only searched the premises after all the training participants and residents had been herded out of the buildings. The raiders were observed also to have brought in with them full plastic bags with the GMA Kapuso logo printed on it.

The raiders alleged that they had found C4 explosives, a pistol with seven bullets, three grenades (one allegedly found under a pillow), and improvised landmines. Bob said he and his mother were not issued a receipt of the firearms and explosives that were supposed to have been found in their property.

Mental and physical torture
Commission on Human Rights (CHR) chief Leila de Lima affirmed on Saturday the initial findings that the 43 health workers arrested were all subjected to mental torture and some to physical torture (tight handcuffs and blindfolds).

She told the military to stop the violations of human rights being committed on the alleged Communist rebels or sympathizers.

Supreme Court order defied
The military on Friday also defied the Supreme Court’s writ of habeas corpus for the detainees.

The failure or refusal to produce the 43 detainees at the hearing on Friday “is really a dangerous precedent in our justice system,” de Lima said on Saturday.

The military promised to produce the arrested persons today (Monday February 15).

The soldiers and military officers directly involved in this ugly affair are of the kind that the film, Planet of the Apes, portrayed as gorillas. Even if it is true that the doctors and health workers they arrested were NPA people, they should not have treated them in the barbaric way they did.

The AFP high command must discipline these gorillas in uniform.
Opinion, The Manila Times

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