Lorenzana fires military intel chief over false tagging of UP alumni as NPA members

Job Manahan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 28 2021 01:33 PM | Updated as of Jan 28 2021 06:19 PM

Lorenzana fires military intel chief over false tagging of UP alumni as NPA members 1
Maj. Gen. Alex Luna, Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence, J2, Armed Forces of the Philippines. Courtesy of the AFP Public Affairs Office

MANILA (UPDATE) — Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Thursday fired the deputy chief of staff for intelligence of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) over the release of a false list that tagged alumni of the University of the Philippines as members of the New People’s Army (NPA).

In a statement, Lorenzana said he relieved Maj. Gen. Alex Luna from his post effective Thursday due to his "unforgivable lapse."

The list of names of UP alumni who supposedly died or were arrested as NPA members, came from Luna's office, according to Lorenzana.

"His negligence only shows a lackadaisical attitude towards his job resulting to confusion and damage to reputation. We do not take these offenses lightly and I want to hold the people involved accountable," said Lorenzana of Luna.

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Alumni from the premiere state university had slammed the post, saying it stirred misinformation.

The list was also shown by the defense chief during a press conference Wednesday last week to back his unilateral termination of a 1989 accord with the university, which drew public outcry over supposed disregard for academic freedom.

Several UP alumni expressed concern and came out in the open, disputing the list, and demanded an apology from the AFP, pointing out that they never joined the NPA or were arrested.

The list included the names of lawyer Rafael Aquino, film director Behn Cervantes, playwright Liza Magtoto, journalist Roel Landigin, and former Integrated Bar of the Philippines president Roan Libarios, among others.

Marie Lisa Dacanay, president of the Institute for Social Entrepreneurship in Asia, earlier said that the AFP must be held accountable for releasing what she called "false news."

Following the backlash, Lorenzana said the AFP will apologize, describing the mistake as an "unpardonable gaffe."

The AFP admitted the error, and subsequently apologized for posting the now deleted list on its Information Exchange Facebook account.

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On Monday, Maj. Gen. Benedict Arevalo, AFP’s deputy chief of staff for civil military operations, apologized for the erroneous list, and admitted that it came from his office. The content, he said, was taken from various sources.

He said he reprimanded some of his staff for posting it online.

AFP says probe still ongoing

The investigation on how the list was crafted and released on social media will continue despite Luna's sacking, AFP Spokesperson Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo said.

In a statement to the press, Arevalo said the military would "continue to improve" their system and processes, among others, as part of its service to the country.

"This does not mean... that we are halting the investigation. The probe continues so we can establish what went wrong and what may still be improved to ensure that the incident will not happen again," said Arevalo.

The military has yet to announce Luna's replacement.

Before assuming as J-2 in October last year, Luna was the commander of the Joint Task Force National Capital Region, which leads the campaign against communist, terrorist and other threat groups allegedly in Metro Manila.

He was also the commander of the Army's 801st Brigade in Eastern Samar. Prior to that, he was Army assistant chief of staff for intelligence or G-2.

Lawmakers, lawyers still concerned on red-tagging

Sen. Francis Pangilinan said Lorenzana made the right decision in firing Luna, but noted that the military’s image was already stained.

“Tama ang pasya na panagutin ang pagkakamali dahil imahen at reputasyon ng buong AFP bilang isang professional at disiplinado na institusyon ang nadungisan sa pangyayari,” said Pangilinan, a former UP student leader.

(The decision in making him accountable for the mistake was correct, since the AFP’s reputation as a professional and disciplined institution was stained because of what happened.)

Assistant Minority Leader and ACT Rep.France Castro lamented though that red-tagging remains a problem in the military and the Duterte administration.

“Red-tagging has been part of the AFP's policy and has intensified these kinds of attacks against human rights defenders, teachers, lawyers, lawmakers and other ordinary Filipino citizen [while] voicing out their dissent in the Duterte administration's anti-people policies,” Castro said.

The lawmaker said the Department of National Defense and the military should be reminded that “real and active threats” in the country are present on the country’s shores and urged them to focus on these matters.

“They should focus on defending our territories, our fisherfolk and the people from these threats from China and stop these baseless, false and dangerous terrorist tagging of the people they are supposed to protect,” she added.

Aquino, one of the tagged UP alumni who is currently a member of the UP faculty, welcomed the sacking of Luna, describing it as a “relative sanity” in the security sector.

But he still questioned the basis of the list, especially in the wake of the military’s red-baiting.

“What were the bases of J2 for including us in the list? What are the objectives for drawing up that list to begin with? Would this be to facilitate military targeting? What is the official thinking guiding the generation of these lists, and their use?” Aquino said.

“If this could be done to us, how much easier could a similar outrage be inflicted upon our countrymen who do not have the same access to media and legal resources, including ordinary students and their teachers?”