By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Despite opposition from victims of human rights violations, Lt. Gen. Jorge Segovia’s promotion was still recommended by the Commission on Appointments (CA) last Wednesday, Sept. 19. Appearing before the deliberation of the Ad Interim appointments/reappointments of the 106 officers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Dr. Alexis Montes, together with representatives from health groups and human rights organizations, urged the CA to reject the Segovia’s promotion.
Montes is one of the 43 health workers, also called as the Morong 43, who were arrested on Feb. 6, 2010 while conducting a First Responders’ Health Skills Training for community health workers in Morong, Rizal. They were arrested and charged with illegal possession of firearms and explosives and were accused of being members of the New People’s Army. Most of the health workers were released in December of the same year after progressive groups intensified its campaign for their freedom, which compelled President Benigno S. Aquino III to order the dropping of charges against them.
Montes, the Council for Health and Development and human rights group Karaptan were invited by the CA to the deliberation on Segovia’s promotion. Montes was able to deliver his statement before the members of the committee. He reiterated that he is a doctor doing volunteer work together with the rest of the Morong 43 when they were illegally arrested, detained and tortured.
Montes said they strongly oppose the promotion of Segovia because of the pending cases filed against the latter, as well as newly promoted Brig. Gen. Aurelio Baladad, and other military and government officials. The group filed cases of human rights violations against the military officers before the Commission of Human Rights, the Department of Justice and the Quezon City Regional Trial Court.
“The illegal arrest, detention and torture of the Morong 43 is the subject of a complaint for human rights violations before the CHR docketed as CHR-NCR-Q-10-0020. Likewise a civil case was filed by several members of the Morong 43 against former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and several military and police officials, including Segovia and Baladad. The civil case Dr. Merry Mia Clamor et al vs Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, et al and docketed as Q-11-69171 is pending before the Regional Trial Court Quezon City branch 226. More recently, a criminal complaint was filed on May 3, before the Department of Justice. Among the respondents in the complaint for violation of the Anti-Torture Law, violation of Republic Act 7610 and Robbery are Segovia and Baladad,” Montes said.
Montes briefly narrated how they were denied their right to a lawyer and barred visits from progressive groups and their relatives a few days after their arrest. He also narrated how they suffered from the moment they were arrested, being blindfolded and hands tied behind their backs for 36 hours. “Col. Baladad was then commanding officer of the 202nd Infantry Brigade of the Philippine Army, which, in turn, is under the 2nd Infantry Division headed by Gen. Segovia,” he said.
“During this time and up to May 1, 2010 when we were transferred to the custody of the BJMP (Bureau of Jail Management and Penology), we were subjected to different forms of torture.”
‘Fit and qualified’
After detailing their circumstances, Montes was told that the CA’s role is to determine the “fitness and qualification” of the nominated officer. Camiguin Rep. Pedro P. Romualdo said it is not their role to determine the case and was told to just wait for the courts to decide on it “We are sorry doctor but our role is not to determine the case. You have gone through the proper forum, let the courts decide on your case,” Romualdo said during the deliberation.
Valenzuela Rep. Rex Gatchalian immediately recommended the confirmation of Segovia’s promotion to the plenary session and set aside the opposition.
CHD executive director and doctor Eleonor Jara appealed before the committee. “We know that our health workers were tortured and we can’t keep silent about this…I’m sure Gen. Segovia had knowledge about it.” But she was told by Romualdo that their testimonies have no bearing in the process of the appointment.
To their surprise, the said deliberation ended with the recommendation of Segovia’s confirmation to the plenary session without considering Montes’ testimonies.
“Just like that? Even torturers can be promoted?” the disappointed Evelyn Montes, wife of Montes, said. She and her son accompanied them during the deliberation and called the process as useless.
Reacting to the swift process, Montes questioned the purpose of the said hearing. “They are telling us to wait for the court’s decision. But how long would it be before the court comes up with a decision? The perpetrators have already been promoted and the courts have yet to come up with a decision. What’s the purpose of a hearing like this (when our opposition was not considered)?” Montes told Bulatlat.com. With Segovia’s promotion, he said, the latter would further terrorize the people.
“It appears that the members of the committee and the AFP already have a script. Even if they are given a chance to speak before the committee, the process is just ministerial,” said Cristina Palabay, secretary general of Karapatan, in reaction to the said deliberation, which she called a token process.
She said their opposition to Segovia’s promotion has merits. “We oppose the promotion of these military officials because the higher rank they get, their powers will be broadened and the rights of more people with advocacies like Dr. Montes will be violated,” she added.
Meanwhile, Public Interest Law Center lawyer Carlos Montemayor was also disappointed. “I am aware of what they have gone through and I was also there in Camp Capinpin in Rizal, together with the relatives, when we were prohibited from visiting them a few days after they were illegally arrested,” he said.
He pointed out that the pending cases against Segovia and Baladad puts their integrity in question.
Jara said they would still pursue and continue lobbying for the rejection of Segovia’s promotion. “We will not make it easy for him. Justice should be served.” According to Montemayor if one member of the CA questions the appointment of the nominated officer, the promotion or appointment will be suspended.
Chapter IV Section 20 of the Confirmation Process states that, “Any member may move for the suspension of action by the Commission on any nomination or appointment favorably recommended by a standing committee and the Chairman shall suspend the consideration of said nomination or appointment: Provided, that, such suspension may be taken up on the next succeeding session of the Commission; Provided, further, that this section shall not apply to nominations or appointments taken up by the Commission during the last session prior to a sine die adjournment of Congress.”
‘Persistence of immunity’
Meanwhile, Palabay said martial law continues under Aquino as perpetrators of violations committed against the Morong 43, as well as many other human rights violations are free from accountability.
“Former president Arroyo and the torturers of the Morong 43 remain free from accountability. This is among the most indicative elements of Marcos’ martial law at present – the persistence of impunity in perpetuating gross human rights violations by the military,” Palabay said.
“What is more repulsive is the Aquino government’s move to promote rights violators like Maj. Gen. Segovia and Col. Baladad. This is simply a go-signal for rights violators to continue transgressing people’s rights. Without doubt, this is perpetuation of impunity,” added Palabay.
“With what the Aquino government is doing, it is not hard to compare the present situation with what happened during martial law, when torturers such as then Col. Rolando Abadilla, Lt. Rodolfo Aguinaldo, and Billy Bibit were likewise rewarded handsomely by Marcos. It only shows that the fight for justice and to end impunity is still on.”