Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Release them

"There's The Rub"
By Conrado de Quiros
Philippine Daily Inquirer


BE ASSURED, says presidential deputy spokesperson, Abigail Valte, that Malacañang is studying the case of the Morong 43. It cannot as yet release them because their case is different from that of the military mutineers.

But of course their case is different from that of the military mutineers. They have more right to be released than the military mutineers. Unlike the military mutineers, the Morong 43 are innocent. They are innocent because the law must find them innocent. They were arrested on the strength of a warrant against someone who has no fixed address and who is nowhere to be found—very likely a fictitious person. They were given no legal recourse, prevented not just from seeking any legal counsel but also from seeing relatives and friends, and thrown in the dark for months. Some of them were probably tortured; at least they have claimed so. No group of persons have been so systematically denied their basic rights since 1986 other than those who have been summarily fed to the worms by their captors.

Whatever has been found in their possession or extracted from them by way of confession is the “fruit of the poisoned tree,” as lawyers put it, which is inadmissible evidence. And in any case, they have resolutely stood by their word that the arms and explosives that materialized in their persons were planted, and confessed only to being so dedicated to their calling they were holding a medical seminar when swooped down upon by Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s stormtroopers.

What is there to study? If only by the circumstances of their arrest, Malacañang should have thrown their case out the window as soon as it welcomed a new tenant. If only by the ordeal they have endured—10 months and counting—Malacañang should have offered them its deepest apologies and vowed to bring the tyrant who brought them to that pass to justice.

Even if they are NPA sympathizers, or NPA themselves, what of it? At the very least, the mutineers themselves took up arms against government, even if as in the case of Danny Lim that lay more in the threat and the execution, and they have been freed, to much rejoicing by the military. Even Tony Trillanes, who quite literally took up arms against GMA while she was still legitimate, has been freed, to much rejoicing by his family and friends. Why can’t the Morong 43, who haven’t even been proven to have taken up arms, be so? The selectiveness is patent and should be a source of shame for government. At the very most, whose case is really thornier and requires interminable study?

Military officers are there to defend the citizens, for which they get benefits and privileges and guns for the role they play. When they turn those guns against government, they do not just commit rebellion, they commit treason. They betray the very thing they are sworn to uphold. The only compelling justification in the case of Lim and company is that they did so against a government that had no right to exist, that did not represent the citizens. They did so against a usurper, one who made fighting back a matter of self-preservation. The presidential amnesty given them naturally implies that justification, specifically the part about GMA’s illegitimacy. Otherwise, nothing justifies it. Treason is unjustifiable.

You grant that the Morong 43 are NPA sympathizers, or NPA themselves, then their case is far simpler and more forthright. They are rebels, they exist to fight government, they enjoy no pay or privileges in doing so. On the contrary they suffer privations and are hunted down as outlaws. Their added justification for fighting government over the last six years is that it is a coup regime, wrought by ballot if not by bullet. For which they have paid the gravest price: Hundreds of their fellows have been killed or made to disappear; many, like Jonas Burgos, judged, juried and executed without proof of their being NPA.

Between those two groups of political prisoners, the second is far more easily pardonable. That is tacitly implied by the peace talks with the NDF. You do not negotiate with bandits, you negotiate with rebels, or with people you consider to have principles. Yet the military mutineers have been released and the Morong 43 not so. Why so?

The only reason I can think of is that government doesn’t want to piss off the military. That’s what P-Noy’s own mother, Cory, did after 1986, and succeeded only in emboldening them to mount one coup after another. Led by Juan Ponce Enrile who, in one of life’s sublime ironies, or in one of this magic realist country’s not so magical twists, is now a staunch P-Noy ally. There’s no other explanation for it, certainly nothing approaching legal or moral. It’s just plain double standards.

It’s also just plain injustice. Government has no business appeasing the military, it has every business punishing the military. Or those of them that helped GMA mount a rule so vicious it made rebellion an act of grace. Or those of them that helped GMA steal the vote in Muslim Mindanao and propped up the even more vicious rule of the Ampatuans in Maguindanao to accomplish it. Or those of them that helped GMA stamp out any and all resistance against her, scuttling rallies, arresting protesters, mounting a cynical war against enemies of the State—State defined as the state of health of GMA and her husband, which buried hundreds of political activists, many of them in the flush of youth, in shallow graves. Or those of them that should even now be facing the Truth Commission to tell the truth about how they made the truth, quite apart from people like Jonas Burgos, disappear from the face of the earth.

What’s to study? The matuwid na landas is clear enough: Release the Morong 43.

And jail those that put them in jail.

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