(UPDATE) Finally, military presents 'Morong 43'

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 15 2010 04:48 PM | Updated as of Feb 16 2010 08:12 PM

MANILA, Philippines - The Court of Appeals (CA) on Monday gave the military and lawyers of 43 persons arrested in Morong, Rizal last February 6 until Wednesday afternoon to submit their respective arguments on whether the arrests were legal or not.

The military finally presented the 43 health workers before the CA in compliance with the writ of habeas corpus issued by the Supreme Court last week.

Security forces arrested them last February 6 for allegedly undergoing a bomb-making training in a resthouse compound in Morong town in Rizal province. The health workers denied the accusation.

They were supposed to be presented before the CA last Friday, but the military said they weren't given enough time to prepare for security and transportation arrangements.

On Monday, the military implemented tight security measures when they brought the 43 detained “health workers” to the CA.

Each detainee was handcuffed to a military escort as they were led to the courtroom from the military buses which brought them from Camp Capinpin in Tanay, Rizal. Their handcuffs were removed inside the courtroom.

Activists and local human rights groups, meanwhile, accompanied relatives of those detained in conducting a protest action outside the CA.

Relatives of the workers were relieved to see the 43 at Monday's CA hearing.

The CA hearing itself was held behind closed doors. Cameras of media organizations were also not allowed inside the courtroom.

During the hearing, acting CA Presiding Justice Portia Hormachuelos allowed lawyers of the health workers to present a witness to describe how they were treated by the military and police during their arrest last February 6.

Dr. Alex Montes narrated to the court how they were arrested by the joint military and police, and said they were subjected to continuous interrogation in the military camp.

“No rape”

The military presented to media Jane Balleta, granddaughter of the late labor activist and party-list congressman Crispin Beltran. Balleta was earlier reported by her mother to have been a victim of sexual harassment while in detention.

Balleta, when asked by media, said she was generally treated well by her captors. She said, however, that she felt under pressure, and felt, at one point, that she was threatened.

Ofelia Beltran-Balleta, Jane’s mother, also clarified that Jane was not raped, but insisted her daughter was a victim of sexual harassment.

“Pag pumupunta sa CR [comfort room or toilet], blind folded, may nagbababa ng pants nila. Sa iba, sila raw mismo ang naghuhugas ng private parts. Paano kung hindi lang military na ‘yon ang nakakita sa anak ko?” said Jane’s mother.

Dr. June Lopez, head of the Human Rights - Social Medical Unit of the University of the Philippines College Of Medicine, said this was a form of abuse.

“Isang form ng sexual harassment na form ng torture. Gusto ipakita dito kung sino ang may kapangyarihan, ‘Wala ka sa posisyon lumaban sa amin’,” said Lopez.

Activist and members of health organizations as well as other members of the UP College of Medicine, meanwhile, condemned the arrest and detention of the 43.

They said those responsible should be held accountable especially to answer the allegations of sexual harassment and torture.

The Commission on Human Rights had earlier criticized the military’s prohibition of visits to the 43 health workers who were kept under detention in the military camp.

“Ready for probe”

Maj. Gen. Jorge Segovia, commanding general of Army’s 2nd Infantry Division whose headquarters is in Camp Capinpin, denied the allegations of sexual harassment of the female detainees.

Segovia said the Army is prepared to face any investigation.

He said the female detainees are being guarded properly.

The military also said that there were still no plans to file rebellion charges against the 43 detainees, saying this will be up to the Philippine National Police.

Charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives were earlier filed against the detainees.

Kin of cop wants justice

Meanwhile, relatives of a policeman, Police Officer 1 Rexon Aquino, slain by the New People’s Army in an ambush last 2009 wants justice served.

Chief Inspector Rex Cuntapay had earlier tagged 2 of the detainees, Linda Racel Otanes and Irene Delos Reyes Martinez, as members of the NPA group which attacked policemen in Rodriguez, Rizal last January 3, 2009. The NPA attack, which used a landmine, killed Aquino.

“Di ako makatulog sa kakaisip sa aking anak,” said Mary Aquino, mother of the slain cop.

She asked that the rebels should be held to account for her son’s killing. She said she wants the CA not to release the 2 female detainees.

Col. Aurelio Baladad of the Philippine Army's 202nd Infantry Brigade said 2 of the people arrested during the raid are known members of the communist New People's Army.

He identified the suspects as Franko Romeroso alias Pongkoy, medical officer Komite sa Probinsya (KOMPROB) Batangas, and Janice Javier of Barangay Natatas, Tanauan City in Batangas province. With reports from Timi Nubla, Niña Corpuz and Alex Santos, ABS-CBN News