(UPDATE) Military fails to bring 'Morong 43' to CHR hearing

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 18 2010 04:33 PM | Updated as of Mar 19 2010 06:50 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Military officials defied the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) by refusing to bring the so-called "Morong 43" to a CHR inquiry in Quezon City Thursday morning.

Lawyer Romeo Capulong said Col. Aurelio Baladad of the 202nd Infantry Brigade and Lt. Col. Jaime Abawag of the 16th Infantry Brigade appeared before the CHR inquiry to answer questions about the arrest of the 43 supposed health workers in Morong, Rizal last February 6 on allegations that they were New People's Army (NPA) rebels.

In the hearing, lawyers of the military questioned the authority and mandate of the commission to conduct the hearing since there were already pending criminal cases filed against the Morong 43.

Baladad explained to abs-cbnNEWS.com that they could not bring the Morong 43 since there was no order from the regional trial court where the cases were filed. He said the military did not bring the 43 detainees since the CHR did not ask prior permission from a local court to bring the detainees to the hearing.

“There is a commitment order from the court. We cannot just bring them without an order from court,” said Baladad.

A lawyer of the 43, however, slammed the military.

"We have 43 affidavits ready to be subscribed and sworn to by the detainees. The problem is they were not brought by the military. Their excuse was that the CHR needed permission from a court for the Morong 43 to attend the hearing," Capulong told ANC.

CHR Chair Leila de Lima, meanwhile, said the pending cases filed against the 43 are not an impediment to the CHR's investigative mandate. She said the military should bring the 43 to the next CHR hearing.

The military officials, however, said they would only bring 38 detainees to the next hearing since 5 of the detainees had allegedly sided with the government.

Baladad refused to answer questions about the alleged physical and psychological torture endured by the detainees who are presently detained at Camp Capinpin in Rizal. Instead, the military officer said the February 9 raid at the farmhouse in Morong, Rizal was a legitimate military operation meant to arrest a known NPA leader who was sighted in the area.

Capulong, meanwhile, noted several defects in the conduct of the raid, including lack of probable cause for the issuance of the search warrant.

"The search warrant is fatally defective. It was not described in the warrant the place to be searched and the persons and things to be seized. That would make the search warrant invalid," he said.

He also questioned the move of State Prosecutor Romeo Senson to file a petition requesting the Quezon City Regional Trial Court to stop the CHR hearing. In his petition, Senson said there are already pending cases of illegal possession of explosives filed against the 43 detainees before the Morong Rizal Regional Trial Court.

The CHR has questioned Senson's petition since he filed it on behalf of the Department of Justice.