Friday, April 16, 2010

Free Morong 43, Bangit told

By Lira Dalangin-Fernandez

MANILA, Philippines—As his first act as newly-appointed chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Lieutenant General Delfin Bangit should release the 43 health workers under military detention.

Makabayan-Nacionalista Party senatorial candidate Satur Ocampo on Tuesday posed this challenge to Bangit as the latter takes on his new job at the helm of the country’s 120,000-strong armed forces.

Ocampo said Bangit should prove that he would not stand for military abuse of authority and immediately order the release of the health workers arrested in Morong, Rizal early last month on suspicion they are communist rebels.

“This is the least that Bangit can do. The arrest and continuing detention of the Morong 43 is another major black mark on the record of the AFP and affirms its reputation as an institution that violates civil, political and human rights,” Ocampo said.

“Ordering the release of the Morong 43 could be Bangit’s most just and noble act as a military man,” the leftwing lawmaker said in a statement.

The 43 health workers were arrested while attending health training in Morong, Rizal early last month. They have been detained at Camp Capinpin since then.

Cloud of suspicion hangs over the appointment of Bangit, especially as election day nears, because of his perceived closeness to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Bangit has served as the head of Arroyo’s Presidential Security Group before becoming head of the Intelligence Service of the AFP, then Army chief.

Ocampo said the incoming AFP chief “can earn the respect of civil society and human rights advocates if he orders the release of the Morong 43 and apologize for the massive abuse of authority the military committed by arresting and detaining them.”

“Bangit can shake off his reputation as a ‘yes’ man of President Macapagal-Arroyo by doing this,” he added.

Ocampo, an incumbent representative of Bayan Muna party-list, said all eyes would be on Bangit this election, adding that there are suspicions he would be Malacañang head operator in rigging the results.

“Bangit is being given the opportunity to prove his critics wrong by distancing himself from all of Malacanang’s plans related to the elections. Otherwise, the Filipino people will hold Bangit responsible if and when the May 10 election becomes tainted with fraud. The military’s conduct come election day will also either be credited or blamed on Bangit,” he said.

In a separate text message, Liberal Party senatorial candidate Rufino Biazon said a peaceful and honest election in May would be a feat for Bangit’s career as a military officer.

“He would be redeemed from the ‘Hello Garci’ issue and suspicions of being an administration puppet,” Biazon said. “By such an accomplishment, he would give his person, his position and the AFP as an institution a reason to receive the appreciation of a grateful nation.”

Names of certain generals, most of whom have since retired, were mentioned in the infamous “Hello, Garci” tapes that had forced President Arroyo to admit talking to an election commissioner widely believed to be Commission on Election official Virgilio Garcillano, Jr. The President apologized for talking to the commissioner, whom she did not name, but insisted she was just inquiring about the status of her votes and not asking him to cheat.

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Justice for the 43!