MANILA - Armed Forces chief-of-staff Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana said Wednesday the military is not ready yet to clear the name of an Inquirer reporter, who was accused by a senior military officer as a “propagandist” and supporter of the communist movement over a recent article.
Sobejana said they are still investigating the accusations of Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade, spokesperson of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), against Tetch Torres-Tupas, who wrote a story about two Aetas charged with terrorism and were reportedly tortured by soldiers in Zambales.
Parlade had publicly called Torres-Tupas a “propagandist” for publishing what he said was a fake story, adding it is possible to charge the journalist for “aiding the terrorists by spreading lies.” He later apologized and said he is not actually suing the reporter over the article.
The Inquirer has expressed support to Torres-Tupas, citing her integrity, and voiced "alarm over Parlade's attempt to sow fear, stifle dissent and curtail (Torres-Tupas') right to make truthful and objective reports."
Explaining that "a Judiciary-beat reporter relies heavily on paper," Torres-Tupas said the narration in her Feb. 2 article of what the two Aetas went through "is contained in the petition-for-intervention" they filed at the Supreme Court through the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers.
Sobejana, a “mistah” or classmate of Parlade in the Philippine Military Academy class of 1987, said the entire matter is still being investigated and begged the indulgence of the public to let the process take its course.
“On the part of Gen. Parlade, na sa kanya ang burden of proof na bakit sinabi niya na supporter si Ma’am Tupas,” said Sobejana.
(On the part of Gen. Parlade, he has the burden of proof why he accused Ma'am Tupas as a terrorist supporter.)
“Ngayon, kung mayroon siyang mai-presentang ebidensya establishing that si Ma’am Tupas ay supporter, burden of denial naman na kay Ma’am Tupas.”
(If he's able to present evidence that Ma'am Tupas is a supporter, the burden of denial is on Ma'am Tupas.)
Only the burden of proof on the part of the accuser exists in law. There is no such thing as a “burden of denial” to be satisfied by the accused. Once the accuser provides evidence to substantiate an allegation, only then does the burden shift on the accused to disprove this.
When asked if Torres-Tupas is now being investigated alongside Parlade, Sobejana said they just want "to establish facts."
"Tulad ng sinabi ko, dapat factual tayo sa pagsisiwalat ng impormasyon," he said.
(As I've said, we should be factual in disseminating information.)
Sobejana said it is premature to make conclusions at this point, but said there was merit in looking into Torres-Tupas’ motivation for writing the story.
Torres-Tupas' colleagues and fellow reporters have voiced support for her while denouncing Parlade.
Other journalists also filed the same story on the two Aetas, citing the same source - the petition filed before the Supreme Court, which is a legal document.
Sobejana appealed to the public to trust the authorities on the matter.
“It will take some time for us really to uncover the truth. Let the authorities do their job to find out kung ano talaga ang tunay (what is true).”
Parlade has also accused human rights groups and some celebrities of being propaganda machines and supporters of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).
Legal group Concerned Lawyers for Civil Liberties urged the AFP to fire the military official for his alleged "wanton and unrestrained attack on the people through red tagging".