By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA — The families of the 43 health workers detained by the military denounced today the armed forces for awarding bronze cross medals to the officers who led the arrests, calling the move an insult.
“It is painful for us relatives that the government would honor them [military officers] while our loved ones languish in jail,” said Ofelia Beltran-Balleta, mother of Jane, one of the 43 health workers arrested last Feb. 6 in Morong, Rizal.
Lt. Col. Romeo Brawner, spokesman of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), announced that bronze cross medals will be given to Lt. Col. Jaime Abawag, commander of the 16th Infantry Battalion, and Col. Aurelio Baladad, commander of the 202nd Brigade, for the February 6 operations.
Brawner said the bronze cross award is a non-combat honor given to officers and enlisted personnel to recognize acts of heroism involving risk of life and sacrifice. Balalad and Abawag were scheduled to receive the medals today at the Southern Luzon Command headquarters in Lucena City.
Military authorities claimed that the 43 health workers are communist guerrillas and that they were caught while training others how to make bombs.
“While we clamor for justice and freedom for our loved ones, this government honors the perpetrators of abuses committed against them,” Balleta told Bulatlat in a phone interview.
“It’s adding insult to injury,” said Roneo Clamor, deputy secretary general of Karapatan and husband of Dr. Merry Mia, one of the 43.
“Rewarding human rights violators is not only insulting to the victims and their families but also an affront to basic decency in a country that is supposedly a democracy,” Dr. Darby Santiago, chairperson of the Health Alliance for Democracy (HEAD), said in a statement.
“After the warrantless arrests, the health workers were denied legal counsel and subjected to sleep deprivation and repeated interrogation while blindfolded and handcuffed. Some were tortured and sexually harassed. Are these the alleged feats that the AFP now honors?” decried Dr. Santiago.
In another statement, the Council for Health and Development (CHD) said the AFP is a “shameless institution.”
“In order to receive promotion and recognition in their careers, the officials of the AFP can tweak the truth and justify their lies at the expense of innocent civilians,” Dr. Eleanor Jara, CHD executive director, said. Some of the 43 health workers are staff members of the said nongovernment organization.
Jara added it is “simply immoral and bereft of humanity” to honor those who led what she called an illegal arrest and continued torture of their colleagues.
Both Balleta and Clamor scored the awarding as premature. “The investigation is not yet over and we are still awaiting the CA [Court of Appeals] decision, so why confer the awards?” Clamor said.
“They have not proven their allegations that our loved ones are NPA [New People’s Army] members. Conferring the military officers with medals is insulting to us, relatives, who are forced to prove the innocence of our loved ones,” Balleta said.
“The awards given to these human rights violators worsen the climate of impunity in the country,” Clamor said.
In a statement, the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) deemed that the reported awarding of the military officers involved in the illegal raid aims to cover up the liability of the AFP in the arrests, detention and torture of the 43.