Morong 43 file countercharges for arbitrary detention;sue Gloria Arroyo, military, police for P15 million in damages

Members of the Morong 43 today filed a civil case for damages in Quezon City against former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, former Defense Secretary Norberto Gonzales, former Chief of Staff Gen. Victor Ibrado and other top-ranked military officials arising from rights violations during their detention last year.

It is the first countercharge filed against the former president, now congressman, Arroyo for human rights violations committed during her nine-year term.

The Morong 43, a group of health workers undergoing training in Morong, Rizal, were arrested and detained for 10 months on charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives. They were released last December 17, 2010, after President Benigno Aquino eventually ordered the Justice Department to withdraw the information against the “illegally arrested” group in the face of an overwhelming and broad clamor for their release.

Morong 43 counsel Atty. Edre U. Olalia said, “The government clearly admitted the arrest of the Morong 43 did not stand on legal grounds. Now the Arroyo administration must face the consequences of its actions.”

Doctors Merry Mia Clamor and Alexis Montes, nurse Gary Liberal, and community health workers Teresa Quinawayan, Reynaldo Macabenta and Mercy Castro are claiming moral and exemplary damages amounting to P2.5 million each, for physical and psychological torture, and other acts of harassment and threats. Central to these acts was the military forcing them to admit that they were members of the New People’s Army.

They are also claiming actual damages for personal effects such as cellphones, laptops and money in wallets taken by the military when the group was arrested at a farmhouse in Rizal last year. Total damages can reach more than P15 million, “ an amount that cannot in any wise assuage the harrowing experience that they went through ” according to the plaintiffs.

Co-counsel Atty. Ephraim B. Cortez said the complaint is based on Civil Code provisions which make any public officer who violate the constitutional rights of individuals liable for damages. “It is not possible to undo the illegal acts of the state, so the law turns to compensation as a remedy for the victims. Although the reparation cannot fully undo the damage, it will affirm human and legal solidarity with victims of gross violations of human rights,” he said.
While Arroyo, Gonzales and Ibrado did not personally direct the arrest and subsequent detention of the health workers, Olalia said they should be accountable because of Oplan Bantay Laya, the Arroyo government’s counter-insurgency program.

The complaint also impleads as defendants former commanding general of the army Gen. Delfin Bangit, former commanding army officer of the 2nd Infantry Division Gen. Jorge Segovia, former army commanding officer of the 16th Infantry Division Lt. Col. Jaime Abawag, army men Lt. Col. Victorino Zaragosa, Major Manuel Tabion, and Col. Aurelio Baladad, and police superintendents Marion Balolong and Allan Nubleza. The illegal arrest and arbitrary detention of the Morong 43 were human rights violations perpetrated by foot soldiers and policemen under Arroyo’s aggressive policy of Oplan Bantay Laya. All activities under the program were with the ‘knowledge, acquiescence, tolerance, inducement and/or upon the orders of Arroyo and Gonzales’,” said Olalia, quoting from the complaint.

Olalia, who is secretary-general of the group’s counsel National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), said the complaint also assails Oplan Bantay Laya as the framework of the huge number of extra judicial killings, enforced disappearances and other unsolved human rights violations. NUPL served as the Morong 43’s counsel along with the Public Interest Law Center.

Hence, this will only be the beginning. This is part of a series of countercharges that will be filed against the Arroyo regime by the victims of human rights violations and their families.”

We hope this first filing will encourage all other victims and families to file similar well-grounded countercharges in different fora versus top officials and high-ranking perpetrators as part of the continuing search for justice and the battle against impunity,” Olalia said.

NUPL and its different chapters all over the country is already preparing other cases against Arroyo and other top officials who served during a term tainted with the worst human rights record after Marcos. “The message is clear: you cannot get away with it just like that,” Olalia emphasized.
The group, which is the Philippines’ largest organization of human rights lawyers at present, earlier this year launched a campaign against impunity. “When the state fails to meet its obligations to effectively investigate violations and to take adequate measures in respect of the perpetrators by ensuring that those suspected of responsibility are duly prosecuted, tried and punished without delay,” says its campaign rationale, “impunity exists.”

The campaign is supported by other organizations such as the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, the International Association of People's Lawyers, the Lawyers Rights Watch of Canada, the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers of the UK, the Japanese Association of Lawyers for International Solidarity Action, the Progress Lawyers Network of Belgium, Droit Solidarite of France and the National Lawyers Guild of the US, among others. They have previously joined the broad clamor for the release and for justice for the Morong 43.

In September last year, hundreds of delegates of the Conference of Lawyers in the Asia-Pacific V (COLAP V) from several countries unanimously called for the unconditional release of the Morong 43 and vowed to support any move by Filipino lawyers and organizations to bring the perpetrators to justice and to fight impunity. #

References: Atty. Ephraim B. Cortez, NUPL assistant secretary general for legal services (09164093986); Atty. Edre U. Olalia, NUPL secretary general (09175113373)

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