Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts

Volume IV,  Number 6               March 7 - 13, 2004            Quezon City, Philippines


 





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TruthCom Finds Top Defense, AFP Officials not Clean of Mindanao Bombings

The hands of former Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes and former military intelligence chief Brig. Gen. Victor Corpus are not clean of the bombings in Mindanao, contends the Mindanao Truth Commission (MTC), a citizens� probe body looking into the bombings in Mindanao. The MTC issued its preliminary report last week after 10 months of investigation.

By Alexander Martin Remollino
Bulatlat.com

Members of the Mindanao Truth Commission take their oath as its first fact finding session commences in Cagayan de Oro City (left). A survivor of the April 2, 2003 Sasa wharf bombing narrates his ordeal before the commission (right).

The hands of former Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes and former military intelligence chief Brig. Gen. Victor Corpus are not clean of the bombings in Mindanao. This is the contention of the Mindanao Truth Commission (MTC), a citizens� probe body organized by the Initiatives for Peace in Mindanao (InPeace Mindanao) to investigate the bombings that have occurred in Mindanao under the Macapagal-Arroyo administration.

The MTC, composed mostly of lawyers and church leaders, released an abridged report on its findings in a forum held last March 4 at the La Salle Greenhills School.

The names of Reyes and Corpus had been dragged into the issue on July 27, 2003 in the midst of an armed protest action at the Oakwood Hotel in Makati City by 300 soldiers, including 70 junior officers, belonging to the �Magdalo Group.� In a videotape released by the protesting soldiers to the media, Army Capt. Gerardo Gambala, valedictorian of Philippine Military Academy Class 1995 and one of the soldier-protesters� leaders, read a statement pointing to Reyes and Corpus as the masterminds of the Davao bombings in March and April last year, allegedly orchestrated to cause the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to be branded as a �terrorist� group and justify the military�s acquisition of additional anti-�terrorist� funds from the United States.

The MTC reports that a total of 33 bombings have taken place in Mindanao under Macapagal-Arroyo�s watch. These killed 95 persons and injured 490 others. Not one of these cases has been solved, the MTC report notes.

Lawyer Beverly Selim-Musni, MTC convenor, noted in an interview with Bulatlat.com: �It is interesting that these bombings have always occurred at around the same time that the government was trying to justify the presence of U.S. military forces in the country.�

Reyes and Corpus, together with President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, have been among the most active proponents of U.S.-Philippine military �exercises,� which they say are being conducted as part of an anti-�terrorist� campaign.

Maestrecampo claim

The MTC, in its findings, took account of the claim of Army Capt. Milo Maestrecampo, who alleged that he was instructed by his superior, Maj. Rene Paje, to form a special operations group that would lob grenades at mosques in Davao City. Maestrecampo said that he argued against it and Paje was forced to look for another person for the job.

Lawyer Ruel Pulido (left), representing the Magdalo group, and  CIDG chief Supt. Jose Pante (right) testify

Maestrecampo also noted that Corpus was in Davao City a few days before the bombing of its international airport. The Macapagal-Arroyo administration had formed a five-man commission led by Bp. Pedro Maniwang, parochial vicar of the Sta. Ana parish in Davao City, to investigate the bombings in Davao in March and April last year in the aftermath of the Oakwood action, giving it 30 days to conduct its probe and submit its recommendations. The Maniwang Commission eventually exonerated Reyes and Corpus.

Even as the MTC criticizes the Maniwang Commission for clearing Reyes and Corpus without conducting a probe thorough enough, it notes that Paje�s testimony before the latter group, that he gave instructions on the formation of a special operations group, already corroborates part of Maestrecampo�s claim.

�The Truth Commission finds probative weight and substantial evidence in Capt. Milo Maestrecampo�s claim that the Scout Ranger battalion commander Maj. Rene Paje ordered him and two other junior military officers to lob grenades at mosques in Davao City,� Musni said in the March 4 forum. �We strongly believe that Major Paje is a key link to the possible involvement of former secretary Angelo Reyes and Gen. Victor Corpus in the Davao bombings, because special orders go all the way up to the highest authority in the defense department and even up to Malaca�ang. This makes it highly probable that the Davao bombings and retaliatory actions on mosques were scenarios conjured by officials of the Macapagal-Arroyo administration.�

Historically, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has been suspected by critics of orchestrating bombings and other violent incidents to justify certain repressive or armed actions. It is suspected, for instance, of masterminding the bombing of Plaza Miranda and the ambush of then-Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile in 1972 to justify a declaration of martial law. In the 1986 Edsa I revolt, Enrile admitted that it was the Marcos government that staged his ambush.

Reyes-Corpus exoneration

In section 4.A.2 of its abridged progress report, the MTC states: �The Commission...takes notice that even prior to the start of formal hearings of the Maniwang Commission, both former Sec. Angelo Reyes and Brig. Gen. Victor Corpus were �re-appointed� to government positions�Reyes as �ambassador-at-large for counter-terrorism� and Corpus as head of the AFP�s Civil Relations Group.�

The re-appointment of Reyes and Corpus came a few weeks after both were forced to resign from their respective positions, amid a wave of public outrage following the Magdalo expose.

In section 4.B.1 of the same report, the MTC also notes: �In relation to the Davao International Airport bombing which occurred 5:15 p.m. of March 4, the State cannot fully account for the suspiciously hasty...clean-up of the scene of the crime early morning of March 5, 2003 before the arrival of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, in clear violation of preserving the body of the crime (corpus delicti) upon which any criminal case hinges and proceeds and which raises serious questions on the identity of the perpetrators.�

According to Musni, the Maniwang Commission�s investigation was �flawed from the start on three counts.� Musni said that aside from the fact that, as previously mentioned, Reyes and Corpus were re-appointed even before any investigation could begin, the Maniwang Commission�s integrity became dubious with the appointment of Justice Undersecretary Jose Calida (who was later replaced by Ramon Liwag) as a member of its panel, and it failed to hear the side of the Magdalo group, relying only on the testimonies of government officials.

The Department of Justice had been instructed to prosecute the MILF as a suspect in the Davao bombings.

�It is not at all surprising that the Maniwang Commission exonerated Reyes and Corpus, since the principal suspect in this case is the Philippine state which is vested with all the powers to suppress evidence and clear its name at all cost,� said Musni. �It confirms our suspicion that the Commission was created purposely to exonerate them.�

Human rights violations

Jehjohn Macalintal, 19, was one of several persons arrested in connection with the Mindanao bombings. In the March 4 forum, he related that he was detained and tortured for 11 months as a suspect in the bombing of Fitmart, a shopping center in General Santos City, two years ago.

�They (authorities) should not accuse us who are innocent, while those who are truly behind these are freely going about with their crime,� Macalintal said.

The MTC argues that: �The state is culpable for massive violations of human rights in Mindanao partially (amounting to) 780 cases against 57,683 individuals. This figure does not include, however, the more than 400,000 Moro(s) and Christians, mostly women and children, who were victims of forced evacuation at the height of the government�s all-out offensive in Moro-dominated territories. The figure also excludes human rights violation cases documented in Basilan and Sulu.

Based on the MTC report, Muslim communities in Mindanao have been victimized by illegal arrests, searches and raids, abductions and forced disappearances, and profiling and racial discrimination in relation to the Arroyo government�s supposed offensive against Islamic �terrorism.�

The MTC is expected to release a more comprehensive report on human rights and international humanitarian law violations in Mindanao at a later date.

It recommends the indemnification and rehabilitation of the victims of the bombings and those unjustly charged and detained, as well as their families; investigations by the Philippine Congress and international human rights bodies; the filing of criminal, civil and administrative charges against Maj. Rene Paje and other junior or senior officers and civilians appearing to be involved in or responsible for the bombings and the arrests and detention of innocent civilians; and the filing of criminal, civil, and administrative charges against state agencies and agents found to have committed violations of human rights and international humanitarian law before national and international bodies.

The MTC

The MTC was formed by InPeace Mindanao, a broad coalition of Mindanao peace advocates from the church as well as non-government and people�s organizations, after a peace conference held in Cagayan de Oro City on May 13 and 14 last year. The conference was held as a response to the Davao bombings.

The MTC is led by Bp. Felixberto Calang, lawyers Beverly Selim-Musni and Jose Zafra, Fr. Bienvenido Trinilla, and Sr. Noemi Degala.

According to Musni, the MTC conducted its investigations in the form of conferences, to which people with relevant information on the Mindanao bombings were invited to give testimonies. Bulatlat.com

Photos courtesy of Initiatives for Peace in Mindanao

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