By Martin Sadongdong
“The truth will set you free.”
This was the response of Colonel Noel Detoyato, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) public affairs chief, on Friday after the Sandiganbayan dismissed the charges filed against seven military and police officers who were tagged in the “Morong 43” case.
In a resolution penned on July 1 and released Friday, the Sandiganbayan Seventh Division acquitted Lieutenant General Jorge Segovia, Major Gen. Aurelio Baladad, Brigadier Gen. Joselito Reyes, Colonel Cristobal Zaragoza, Major Jovily Cabading, and Police Superintendents Marion Balonglong and Allan Nobleza of violating Republic Act 7438 or An Act Defining the Rights of Person Arrested, Detained or Under Custodial Investigation.
The seven soldiers and policemen were accused of illegal detention, preventing access to legal aid, and torture of 43 healthworkers who were linked to the New People’s Army (NPA) and arrested on the grounds of illegal possession of firearms and explosives at a resort in Morong, Rizal in 2010.
The healthworkers, according to the military and police, were allegedly attending a bomb-making seminar during their arrest, a claim denied by their camp.
However, the anti-graft court granted the military and police’s demurrer to evidence after it said that the prosecution failed to provide enough proof in its claims against the accused.
“The decision is a welcome development and will serve as an inspiration to our officers and men in the field that being true and passionate in their tasks will protect them from unscrupulous groups and personalities whose objective is to slow down the momentum towards peace and order,” Detoyato said.
“The AFP thanks all those who offered their prayers and manifested their support to our officers and men who were the subject of this CPP-NPA-NDFP-initiated propaganda,” he added.
However, Detoyato said that the AFP “is saddened” that some of the 43 healthworkers who were freed eventually went back to communist groups and eventually got killed while defending “a false ideology.”
In 2013, a clash erupted between the Philippine Army and a group of suspected communist rebels in Bulacan, killing three individuals, including a certain Ramon dela Cruz. According to the military, dela Cruz was among the 43 healthworkers earlier arrested in Morong, Rizal.
“Our prayers go for those lost souls. We are calling on our peace-loving fellow Filipinos to help the government once and for all [to] put a stop to these groups identified with the CPP-NPA-NDFP in recruiting the students and sowing intrigue in the labor sector,” Detoyato stated.