“This statement from a top military official is dangerous and betrays what various organizations and concerned groups have said all along, that the present counterinsurgency program Oplan Bayanihan is no different from the deadly Oplan Bantay Laya.” – National Union of People’s Lawyers
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – Two organizations of human rights advocates slammed an Army officer for branding them as enemies of the state.
For criticizing the appointment of Brigadier General Aurelio Baladad as head of the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division, Karapatan and the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers were tagged as enemies of the state by Army Chief Lt. Gen. Noel Coballes.
Baladad is facing a string of criminal and administrative charges, including torture, before various courts for his alleged involvement in the arrest and torture of 43 health workers, more popularly known as the Morong 43.
In a report, Coballes said: “You don’t expect any positive statement from the enemy,” referring to the two groups. “General Baladad won’t be given a key position if he is not upright,” Coballes said in the same report.
The NUPL, a leading association of peoples’ lawyers in the country, which handles the case of Morong 43 and other high-profile human rights cases, said the military is back to its old recidivist ways.
“It confirms yet again the military’s mindset of treating legal organizations, and a lawyers’ organization at that, as ‘enemies of the state.’ It is the same line of Gen. Jovito Palparan, the notorious rights violator who was coddled by former President Arroyo and who is now still in hiding,” Edre Olalia, NUPL secretary general, said in a statement.
Palparan has a standing warrant of arrest for serious illegal detention and kidnapping charges in relation to the enforced disappearance of two University of the Philippines (UP) students Karen Empeño and Sherlyn Cadapan. He and co-accused Rizal Hilario remain at large.
Meanwhile, human rights alliance Karapatan called it “defense by offense.” “This is a classic case of someone who is cornered and has nowhere to go, and there’s no other way but to punch one’s way out… By calling Karapatan its enemy, the AFP [Armed Forces of the Philippines] had justified that the victims of human rights violations are also its enemies,” Cristina Palabay, Karapatan secretary general, said.
The group has documented 142 cases of extrajudicial killing and 164 frustrated killing; 16 incidents of enforced disappearance; 76 cases of torture; 293 cases of illegal arrest and detention since Aquino assumed the presidency.
Palabay said Coballes’s statement signifies the AFP’s continued operations against those whom they perceive as ‘enemies’ of the Aquino administration, including leaders and members of people’s organizations and communities opposed to the Aquino government’s anti-people policies.
The NUPL said: “This statement from a top military official is dangerous and betrays what various organizations and concerned groups have said all along, that the present counterinsurgency program Oplan Bayanihan is no different from the deadly Oplan Bantay Laya. The former, they say, is just another dagger dipped in honey.”
Oplan Bantay Laya is the counterinsurgency program of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. At the end of Arroyo’s term, Karapatan documented 1,205 victims of extrajudicial killings and 206 victims of enforced disappearance. Oplan Bayanihan, on the other hand, is Aquino’s counterinsurgency program.
“Such a mindset had in the past placed our members and clients in real danger,” Olalia said. The group recalled that former United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Killings Philip Alston pointed out that such mindset bred the attacks on civil society groups. Alston visited the Philippines in February 2007 during the height of extrajudicial killings.
Olalia said Coballes’s statement is also in open violation of the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers and even the Philippine Code of Professional Responsibility that proscribe associating or imputing to the lawyer the cause or case of the client.