Thursday, February 28, 2008

“Failure of Leadership, Failure of Command”

Privilege Speech delivered by Cong. Teofisto “TG” Guingona III

of the 2nd District of Bukidnon on February 27, 2008

Jason and Fe Aquino have been happily married for 14 years now. Jason Aquino is a Major of the Philippine Army, assigned at Fort Bonifacio. He is no ordinary soldier, for he is the class baron of Philippine Military Academy Class ’91 and former Operations Chief of the elite Scout Rangers. His wife, Fe, is a housewife who hails from Cagayan de Oro. They are blessed with four daughters; Chen, who is 13 years old, a first year high school student; Chel who is 12 years old, a grade six student; and Chez who is 8 months old. All of them study at the Holy Spirit School at New Manila, Quezon City. Last year, the couple was blessed with another baby girl.

It was a bright, sunny day last February 27, 2006. Jason had already eaten his breakfast; drank his cup of coffee and had finished his Marlboro. He kissed his wife Fe goodbye and off he went to work at Fort Bonifacio. Little did they know that that was the last time they would see each other in a long, long time.

February 24, 2006 was the day that GMA declared a state of emergency. On February 27, Jason did not come home. The next day, Fe was worried sick. She called his office. She called almost everyone whom she thought could help her. Nobody knew where Jason was. She was frantic. She even confronted Col. Bacarro, the AFP spokesman, who said that he did not know the whereabouts of Jason.

My friends, I don’t know if you’ve ever had the experience and agony of having a family member not coming home. The experience is traumatic and the mental anguish is terrible. Your heart beats at the pace of a racehorse, your mind is numb with uncertainty – as if it had been injected with dental anesthesia, your throat dries with tension – like sandpaper, and your chest tightens with anxiety. Can you imagine? Ms. Fe Aquino, all alone in their house, with four daughters? Everyone she calls tells her: I don’t know where your husband is! After three sleepless nights, through the help of Jason’s Mistahs, Fe was finally informed that Jason was imprisoned at the Maximum Security Detention cell at the Intelligence Service Group or ISG compound. She was not allowed to see Jason.

Fe wondered why her husband was at the ISG. The ISG is not a custodial facility. It is a facility for interrogation and torture. In fact, this is where the members of the Abu Sayaff group are incarcerated. Jason was put in solitary confinement – in a cell that is hot, dark, and isolated. Jason was arrested and put in solitary confinement without notice to his family, without notice to his lawyers. Worst of all, Major Jason Aquino, a distinguished officer and gentleman, class baron of the Philippine Military Academy Class ’91, was made to suffer solitary confinement without any charge for five months. He was treated worse than a hardened criminal.

It took a whole week before Fe and her daughters could see Jason. They were made to wait an hour before they could actually see him. Upon seeing him, his daughters broke down in tears. He was very thin and haggard. There were deep markings on his face. Chen and Chel broke down in tears. They could not understand what was happening. Fe was warned by an officer that if she filed a case against them, they would not allow her to visit Jason anymore. As this was not enough, her house inside the heavily guarded Camp Aguinaldo was ransacked three (3) times and up to now, the Military Police and CIDG, despite their resources, have yet to arrest a single suspect.

After five months of solitary confinement, Jason Aquino was charged with attempted mutiny in connection with the alleged plan of the Scout Rangers under Bgen. Danilo Lim and the Marines under MGen. Renato Miranda. This was with regard to their alleged withdrawal of support from the administration of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

Today, I speak to you not only about the plight of Major Jason Aquino, but of the plight of the 28 distinguished Officers of our Armed Forces who are now facing a court martial for their alleged withdrawal of support last February 2006. If you will recall, that was when the people came out in EDSA to protest the legitimacy of the Arroyo administration brought about by the “Hello Garci” scandal. GMA declared a State of Emergency. These distinguished Officers are now being subjected to countless indignities and their constitutional rights have been trampled upon by the Arroyo administration. Let me read some of their names:

Maj. Gen. Renato Miranda, Brig. Gen. Danilo Lim, Col. Ariel Querubin, Col. Orlando de Leon, Col. Januario Caringal, Col. Armando Bañez, Lt. Col. Custodio Parcon, Lt. Col. Achilles Segumalian, Lt. Col. Nestor Flordeliza, Lt. Col. Edmundo Malabanjot, Maj.Francisco Domingo Fernandez, Maj. Jason Laureano Aquino, Maj. Jose Leomar Doctolero, Capt. James Sabadan, Capt. Montano Almodovar, Capt. Joey Fontiveros, Capt. Ruben Guinolbay, Capt. Isagani Criste, Capt. William Upano, Capt. Dante Langkit, Capt. Allan C. Aurino, Capt. Frederick Sales, Lt. Belinda Ferrer, Lt. Ervin Divinagracia, Lt. Jacon Cordero, Lt. Homer Estolas, Lt. Sandro Sereno, and Lt. Richiemel Caballes.

Let’s take some indignities. Last February 1, Col. Ariel Querubin, a recipient of the Medal of Valor1, the highest award given by the AFP for gallantry in combat, was forced to attend the court martial proceedings despite having a high fever and dizziness. Ariel was suffering from a combination of bronchitis and urinary tract infection. A military medical doctor who examined him found his fever to be at 38.5 C°. Instead of trying to minister to Ariel’s high fever, the doctor just filled up a medical certificate stating that Ariel was “fit to travel with medical team”. When confronted by Mrs. Pong Querubin, the doctor just replied that he was just following orders.

Another example was the way they manhandled the officers and ridiculed their families when they were transferred from Camp Capinpin in Tanay to the ISAFP Compound in Camp Aguinaldo. On the morning of that day there was a gentleman’s agreement, that the officers would be furnished a written order for their transfer and that they would not be handcuffed. At around 4:30 pm a commotion started. In breach of the previous gentleman’s agreement, the officers were being handcuffed in front of their wives and children. No written order was ever produced. Lt. Col. Custodio Parcon, another Medal of Valor Awardee2, was forcibly handcuffed and carried by eight-men: “parang baboy na binuhat” ang sabi ng isang asawa. The officers were brought to the ISAFP compound at Camp Aguinaldo at 9 in the evening. ISAFP is not a custodial facility. It is a facility for interrogation. Their transfer to ISAFP was for no other purpose but to break their spirit. The cells are very hot, dark, and devoid of ventilation. Their beds are located right beside their waterless toilet bowls. Their families were not informed where they would be transferred. When the wives went to the high steel gates of the ISAFP compound to verify, the guards just mocked them, laughed at them and ridiculed them. Exhausted, hungry, cold, and traumatized by the day’s events, the officers’ wives and their children could only cry in desperation. As Jun Lozada said: “I have seen the ugly side of the state!”

General Esperon has persecuted these Officers and their families. They are not asking for mercy. All they want is justice, to be treated fairly and decently befitting an officer and a gentleman.

They are being forced to face an illegitimate court martial without any proper charges. The basis of the charges are two documents. Ironically, the first document, called the pre-trial investigation report (PTIR), recommended the dismissal of the mutiny charges against all of the accused. This was the result of an investigation by a three-man panel headed by Colonel Al Perreras. The second document, called the Pre-Trial advice, which reverses the PTIR, recommends the filing of charges. This was not signed by Esperon. Had Esperon signed this document, there would be no doubt about the legitimacy of the court martial. It is like a civilian being made to undergo a trial based on an unsigned criminal information sheet. To this date, Esperon has not signed3. The result is an illegitimately constituted court martial. In the absence of a signed pre-trial advice, there is no basis to detain these officers. This is a blatant display of abuse of authority without responsibility. This is a failure of leadership that further divides an already divided Armed Forces.

That is how our present Arroyo administration regards our military. To GMA, the Armed Forces of the Philippines is not the protector of the people. They are being used as tools. Tools to perpetuate her illegitimate and immoral hold on the Office of the President. Tools to suppress and intimidate legitimate opposition and dissent. Tools to extra-judicially kill our countrymen, just because they have progressive ideas. The Arroyo administration will do anything to stay in power. At first they will plead with you, and if you do not agree, then they will try to bribe you. If you do not agree to be bribed, they will threaten you and your family. Professor Randy David, in his column4 eloquently described the Arroyo administration in four phrases – “No Qualms, No Shame, No Conscience, No Limit!”

Aside from the question of legitimacy of the Arroyo administration, there is an apparent failure of leadership in the AFP. As Columnist, Ramon Farolan, a former General and PMA’er puts it5: “The AFP is not the Armed Forces of the Philippines. It is the Armed Forces of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (AFGMA). Every officer who makes it to star rank and who aspires for high position in the military organization must, first and foremost, indicate a sense of personal loyalty to her over and above loyalty to country and people. …what matters most is personal loyalty to her more than efficiency, honesty or even honor.”

As the Philippine Daily Inquirer editorial states6:

“Esperon has shown his Commander-in-Chief utmost fidelity, ……… But overriding loyalty to the Commander- in-Chief is the quality one looks for in a commander of the presidential guard. The AFP Chief of Staff; however, must place both the national interest and the interest of the military as the protector of democracy above that of the President. This is exactly the thing that Esperon has failed to do.

He has not risen above his formative experience as commanding officer of the Palace guard. He has failed……. to de-politicize the military.

In a word, he has acted as a partisan.

Under his term, Esperon has also failed to stop the spree of politically motivated killings that will forever haunt his… legacy.

Consider the legal or political battles over the Mayuga report, over the Jonas Burgos case, over the Peninsula Manila incident -- indeed, over the damaging disclosures in the Hello Garci tapes.”

The track record of Mr. Esperon sends a spine-chilling effect on all of us. If asked by the President to do an illegitimate and non-democratic act, we doubt very much if he will stand up for the nation’s true interest.

Mr. Speaker, I therefore move to refer this speech to the Committee on Human Rights so as to inquire into the conditions of detention and the violation of the constitutional rights of the 28 officers detained at ISAFP compound at Camp Aguinaldo, as well as those detained at the CIDG compound at Camp Crame.

Secondly, I renew my call on Gloria Arroyo, to vacate the Office of the President. She never had any legitimate right to be President. She stole that office in 2004, as revealed by the “Hello Garci” tapes. Having stolen that Office, she is nothing but a usurper. I therefore call upon the usurper, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, to stop the lying, stop the stealing, stop the kidnapping, stop the killing, and vacate the Office of the President of the Philippines!

Lastly, I call on General Hermogenes Esperon to immediately step down for failure of leadership. For failure to institute a credible military justice system. For oppression and persecution. For failure to fulfill the Constitutional mandate that makes the Armed Forces of the Philippines the protector of the people. For using the Armed Forces as a tool for perpetuating a corrupt and illegitimate administration.

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