Cotabato media groups seek action vs Marines accused of mauling

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/04 December) – The leadership of the Philippine Marines should heed mounting demands from various sectors to act on the case of a captain of the Marine Battalion Landing Team 7 and his men who were accused of beating up a 33 year-old polio victim in Cotabato City, four media groups said in a statement today.

“The commanding officer of MBLT 7, Lt. Col. Dorotheo Jose Jalandoni, said over the weekend they are now investigating the misbehavior of his subordinate, Captain Rey Torres, and assured he would be punished,” said the Kampilan -6th Infantry Division Press Corps, PNP-ARMM Press Corps, NUJP and KBP Cotabato City Chapters.

“Don’t worry, on top of the punishment, mare-relieve din si Rey,” they quoted Jalandoni as having said in text message Saturday.

“But the victim and indignant local Muslim and Christian communities are still awaiting their unit’s punitive action against them,” they added.

The groups said local people wanted a quick action on the incident to prevent it from tarnishing the government’s confidence-building efforts with Muslim sectors as well as its peace overtures with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Moro National Liberation Front.

Lawyer Anwar Malang, chair of the Mindanao Human Rights Action Center, has offered free legal assistance to Christopher Balleza, 33, the paraplegic Torres allegedly mauled past 10:00 p.m. on Nov. 28 in Bagua area in Cotabato City, near a roadside Marine security post guarded by a team from the MBLT-7.

“If he wants to pursue a criminal case against them, we can help him do so,” Malang said.

Members of various press organizations in Southwestern Mindanao will meet on Wednesday to discuss the case of Torres and his men.

Ali Macabalang, a long-time journalist who now heads the Bureau of Public Information of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), condemned the incident, branding it as inimical to the military’s confidence-building measures with local Moro communities.

“We don’t need such kind of officer in an area where the Philippine government has a peace process with local inhabitants. He should be sent to Iraq or Afghanistan,” Macabalang said in an interview with Catholic-run station dxMS here the other day.

In interactive email groups, officials of various peace advocacy groups, some of them assisted by international humanitarian organizations, have urged the commandant of the Philippine Marine Corps, Major Gen. Rustico Guerrero, to immediately intervene.

The incident involving Torres and his men was related to a shooting incident near an auto shop where Balleza works as painter, witnesses said.

Torres and his men arrived at the scene to respond and vented their ire on Balleza and his uncle, shop owner  Hector Crecencio, when they asserted they knew nothing about the incident and for their not being able to identify the gunman.

Torres strangled Balleza before pinning him down to the ground after punching him in his right and left cheeks and on his chest, the media groups’ statement further alleged.

As witnesses approached, Torres ordered his men to fire their guns at the shop and at a lamppost to obscure the scene, they added.

As of 8:00 a.m. of December 1, Guerrero had assured the incident would be investigated, through a text message he sent to his classmate in the Philippine Military Academy Class 1981, Chief Supt. Bienvenido Latag, director of the ARMM police.

“Under investigation na `Bok’… for immediate relief na ang captain…,” said Guerrero’s text message to Latag, which he forwarded to members of the ARMM Police Press Corps.

The endearment “Bok” is used by PMA cadets and graduates to address classmates in casual conversations.

Cotabato City is a common area of coverage of the PNP-ARMM and the Region 12 police office.

Radio stations in Cotabato have since been flooded with appeals by various sectors for the immediate relief of the Marines involved in the incident, the media groups’ statement noted.

Meanwhile, Lt. Col. Leopoldo Galon, Group Commander of the 5th Civil Relations Group of the AFP in the Eastern Mindanao Command told MindaNews: “That officer (Torres) is a recidivist. Early this year, he mauled one of my NCOs detailed in Cotabato. We filed an administrative case against him but he beat us to the draw. He was able to get a CHR (Commission on Human Rights) clearance before we filed an HR complaint against him both in Cotabato and Davao City, that’s why he got his captain rank.”

“We passed the administrative case to the Philippine Marines headquarters in deference to his superiors. I lost track of it because my personnel went on schooling. It’s payback time!” Galon added.

On the recent alleged mauling, Galon said that since “he (Torres) is not organic to Eastmincom so his administrative case should be handled by his mother unit. We just indorse the complaint.” (MindaNews)