Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Aquino urged to free ‘Morong 43’

By Jerry E. Esplanada
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines -- Close relatives and supporters of the Morong 43 have urged presumptive President-elect Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III to “do a President Cory” when he assumes his post next July.

He should “free all political prisoners” including the 43 detained health workers accused by the military of being communist rebels or supporters.

The relatives of the Morong 43 recalled that the late President Corazon Aquino freed political prisoners at the start of her term in February 1986.

On Feb. 6, the health workers were arrested by a 300-member military and police team while they were attending a training seminar on suspicion they were communist rebels.

Ofelia Beltran-Balleta, mother of Jane Balleta, one of the Morong 43, expressed confidence on Tuesday that “my daughter and her co-detainees will soon gain their freedom.”

“My family and I have faith in the new administration. We are confident President Noynoy will not play deaf and blind to the sufferings of the Morong 43 in the hands of the military,” Balleta told the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Like the militant Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, the Riyadh, Saudi Arabia-based Migrante-Middle East (M-ME) appealed to Aquino to “release all political detainees as a gesture of goodwill, political reconciliation and national unity.”

“Noynoy is the son of two icons of democracy. We’re confident he wouldn’t fail us,” said M-ME regional coordinator John Leonard Monterona.

Balleta, daughter of the late labor leader and AnakPawis party-list Rep. Crispin Beltran, also said she had “high hopes the country’s new set of leaders would put an end to [President Macapagal-Arroyo’s] reign of terror, extrajudicial killings and human rights violations.”

Family members of two other detainees accused the Arroyo administration of “using divide-and-rule tactics to pressure not only the detainees but also their relatives.”

“Worse, elements of the Armed Forces and the Philippine National Police allowed themselves to be used by GMA (Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo) against the Morong 43 and the country’s other political detainees,” said the same sources who requested anonymity.

One of Aquino’s political allies, reelected Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim, “assured us he would lobby for the immediate release of the Morong 43,” said Balleta.

Lim made the assurance “during the recent unveiling of the Beltran shrine at Liwasang Bonifacio,” she added.

Balleta disclosed that they would take part in the filing of a class suit against Ms Arroyo.

Outgoing Sen. Maria Ana Consuelo “Jamby” Madrigal, a friend of the late Representative Beltran, has also taken up the cudgels for the detained health workers, saying that Ms Arroyo “has been ruling like it’s martial law all over again.”

In late February, the Morong 43 filed a complaint before the Commission on Human Rights against the AFP for their continued detention at Camp Capinpin in Tanay, Rizal. They included in their complaint affidavits details of how the military arrested, detained, interrogated and allegedly tortured them.

Bayan secretary-general Renato Reyes assailed the military for allegedly violating the newly signed Republic Act 9745, or the Anti-Torture Law.

Upon the request of the Morong 43’s relatives, the Supreme Court issued a writ of habeas corpus, requiring the AFP to present the detainees before the Court of Appeals and justify their continued detention.

Military and police authorities have repeatedly dismissed the allegations against them as “purely propaganda” aimed at discrediting the supposedly anti-insurgency operation they carried out in Morong town.

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