DAVAO CITY (December 6) – With the stringent qualifications that the Philippine Military Academy requires of its cadets, everyone presumes that the Armed Forces of the Philippines would never run out of talented, or at least, sensible officers. In a society marked by complex changes, choices and conflicts, people might prefer sense – especially common sense — over talent, although the two may be complementary attributes.
This is not to say that Army spokesperson Col. Antonio Parlade Jr. lacks either sense or talent – or both. But his statement on Sunday that the National Democratic Front’s call for the release of political prisoners collectively called the Morong 43 only affirmed that they’re members of the New People’s Army wasn’t only issued posthaste; it also leaves the audience wondering whether the military’s PR machine can do nothing better but spew out sound bites that reflect lack of discernment.
No, the NDF’s call was no vindication for the Army in the same way that the reported renunciation of five of the 43 detainees of their supposed NPA links could not be taken against the rest. If Parlade’s eager reaction to NDF peace negotiator Luis Jalandoni’s call proved something, it is that the military, the Army in particular, continues to rely on guilt by association to justify the illegal arrest, torture and continued detention of the Morong 43. And if the hyped renunciation of five of the detainees showed anything, it is that their jailers have apparently exerted unbearable pressure to force them into submission.
Parlade, according to published reports, insisted that the detainees should admit their involvement in the NPA before demanding for their release. If a highly placed Army official can issue such arrogant statement in public, one can only surmise the level of pressure applied on the detainees behind the walls of the military camp where they are being imprisoned.
Parlade’s indiscretion seeks to sideline the main issue behind the questionable detention of the Morong 43 – sense of justice. The only proof the Army can offer is their paranoia which they think should rule supreme over all the provisions on due process and plain decency.
The Army spokesperson committed another slip when he asked why the NDF has made noise about the Morong 43 but didn’t support the brother of slain Luneta hostage-taker, police Capt. Rolando Mendoza, who complained of government harassment. This, he insisted, proves their being NPA members.
Not too long ago, the women’s group Gabriela came to “Nicole’s” side when she decided to pursue a rape case against three US servicemen. Can it be said that the victim was a communist just because a group suspected of being such aided her?
Parlade was shooting from the hip; he was speaking outside of the context of the peace talks on which the NDF hinged its call for the release of the detainees, akin to comparing a poem to a painting. Without having to say it, the NDF sounded off its call based on an earlier agreement it signed with the government on the protection of the basic rights of civilians or non-combatants. The ball is now in government’s hands. President Aquino, as a gesture of goodwill and sincerity, can get it rolling by using his power and influence in rendering justice to the Morong 43.
The Army, still obsessed with short-term gains like body counts, will surely object to their release. But the President should assert his authority and not let the hawks ambush the peace process. He should also discipline officers like Parlade and warn them against issuing statements that tend to influence policy direction. As this column has said in a previous article, military officers should be reminded that, as a mere adjunct of the executive, the AFP is not entitled to publicly speak its mind on policy matters.
(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)