Iron fist for Rangers, kid gloves for Marines
By Dona Pazzibugan
Last updated 03:46am (Mla time) 08/03/2006
Published on Page A1 of the August 3, 2006 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer
A “DOUBLE standard” appears to be in place for officers of two elite military units -- the Marines and the Scout Rangers -- facing court-martial for the purported coup plot of Feb. 24.
And a gag order has been imposed, with Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez saying investigators looking into the supposed plot were barred from speaking about the subject.
“They are not authorized to speak,” Gonzalez told reporters. “We don’t want to have a chorus of voices which may not coincide with each other. Each one has his own interpretation of a story, or makes an interpretation of a statement. That’s not good.”
Nine of the 13 Marine officers linked to the purported plot casually showed up at yesterday’s pretrial investigation before the Judge Advocate General’s Office (JAGO) in Camp Aguinaldo. They were neither handcuffed nor escorted by military police (MP), as would be expected of military personnel facing court-martial for mutiny charges.
They freely conferred with their lawyers and with one another. Later, because they are not in detention, they left in their own vehicles.
In contrast, 17 of the 25 officers of the Army’s elite First Scout Ranger Regiment (FSRR) who were linked to the plot appeared before the same JAGO panel under heavy guard.
They were each handcuffed to an MP escort from the time they were taken from their maximum security detention facility in Camp Capinpin in Tanay, Rizal, until they were brought into the JAGO courtroom.
The cuffs were taken off during the hearing but MPs wielding long firearms stood guard in and outside the courtroom, where family members and other kin waited to reunite with the officers.
One of the wives brought her young son, who was heard calling for “Daddy” at one point in the hearing.
“I was hurt because they came in in handcuffs like criminals,” said 64-year-old Gaudencio Estolas, the father of First Lieutenant Homer Estolas.
The elder Estolas said he had flown in from Cebu to see his son, whom he had not seen for months.
The three-man investigating panel headed by the JAGO deputy chief, Colonel Al Perreras, served the charge sheets on the 26 officers present. They were charged with attempting to begin or create mutiny and with conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman (Articles of War 67 and 96).
Perreras gave the nine Marine officers led by former operations chief Lieutenant Colonel Custodio Parcon, a Medal of Valor awardee, until Aug. 14 to submit counter-affidavits.
Transfer of venue
He said the next hearing would be held at the Bonifacio Naval Station Officers Club in Fort Bonifacio, where the Marine headquarters is based.
But the 17 Scout Rangers, led by former FSRR chief of staff Lt. Col. Nestor Flordeliza, were required to submit counter-affidavits on Aug. 10.
Their lawyers protested when Perreras announced that the next hearing would be held at the Officers Club in Camp Capinpin, which is at least three hours away from Metro Manila.
Abraham Espejo Jr., legal counsel of Flordeliza and former battalion commander Lt. Col. Edmundo Malabanjot, told the JAGO panel there was “no state of emergency, no [threat of] terrorist attack” to justify the transfer of venue.
He said holding the hearing at such a faraway place was tantamount to “depriving our clients of counsel.”
Alex Avisado Jr., legal counsel of former FSRR operations chief Major Jason Aquino and Captain Joey Fontiveros, also said he and other lawyers were given the runaround by custodians and prevented from seeing their clients.
But Perreras ignored the protests, saying the choice of venue was brought about by “security reasons.”
“Why is there a double standard when it comes to the Scout Rangers? They’re too hard on the Scout Rangers,” Espejo later told reporters.
Former FSRR commander Brigadier General Danilo Lim, the alleged principal instigator of the plot to oust President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, was earlier told to submit his counter-affidavit during the Aug. 10 hearing.
Meanwhile, ex-Marine commandant Major General Renato Miranda and Col. Ariel Querubin, who allegedly supported the plot, are expected to appear before the JAGO panel today at Camp Aguinaldo.
‘Just a captain’
Before the start of yesterday’s hearing, Capt. Ruben Guinolbay, former FSRR personnel chief and dubbed hero of the June 2001 siege in Lamitan, Basilan, denied involvement in the purported coup plot.
“I’m just a captain. I can’t possibly lead a coup d’etat,” Guinolbay told reporters who had chanced upon him and the rest of the implicated officers outside the JAGO building.
But he refused to say what the Scout Rangers were up to on Feb. 24. “You should ask them,” he said, referring to the military leadership.
Aside from Parcon, the other Marine officers who showed up yesterday were Lieutenant Colonels Armando Banez, Achilles Segumalian, Martin Villasan, Valentin Hizon, Reynaldo Ocsan and Romulo Gualdrapa, Maj. Francisco Domingo Fernandez and 1st Lt. Belinda Ferrer.
Only Fernandez and Ferrer submitted their counter-affidavits.
Segumalian, who was seen during the Feb. 26 Marine standoff shouting about alleged cheating in Lanao during the 2004 elections, was additionally charged with conduct prejudicial to good order and military discipline (Article of War 97).
“We are prohibited from talking. I hope you understand,” a smiling Segumalian told reporters.
Parcon, who was mobbed by TV news crews and photographers after the hearing, also politely declined interviews.
Among the Marines, Parcon and Querubin are the only two living recipients of the Medal of Valor, the military’s highest honor.
At the DoJ, Gonzalez said the decision not to allow investigators to release details about the inquiry into the purported coup plot was reached during a meeting last week at Camp Crame.
He said that representatives of the National Bureau of Investigation, Philippine National Police, Armed Forces and Department of Interior and Local Government were present at the meeting, and that no spokesperson for the inquiry had been designated.
Gonzalez, however, said that while certain information was restricted from being made public, a total news blackout could not be imposed.
He said the gag order concerned only “sensitive matters.”
“Like, if General (Danilo) Lim went to the NBI and passed Secretary Gonzalez, there is no blackout there,” he said.
“Eventually things will have to be released because that is transparency. But while [the inquiry is] ongoing, we don’t want to do it,” Gonzalez said, adding that the government would have to cross-check the information it had been getting. With a report from Leila B. Salaverria
To sit down with these men and deal with them as the representatives of an enlightened and civilized people is to deride ones own dignity and to invite the disaster of their treachery - General Matthew Ridgway
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