Press Statement
19 June 2015

Egregious Tokenism, Tacit Absolution?

Way too late “egregious tokenism tantamount to absolution” of wrongdoing by the most remorseless of human rights violators. This is what the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) Resolution on the 2010 complaint by the Morong 43 health workers essentially means.

In its twenty-six page Resolution issued only on April 21, 2015 and released only recently (or more than five (5) years after the illegal arrest on February 10, 2010), the CHR under the helm of now ex-Chairperson Etta Rosales, finally and at long last discovered that the search warrant used by military and police operatives as justification for the illegal search, seizure and arrest was invalid because it was enforced outside the territorial jurisdiction of the court which issued it, and the same is a general warrant which failed to particularly describe the place to be searched and the things to be seized as required.

The CHR then belatedly concluded that the search conducted was illegal, and the subsequent arrest and detention of the health workers were also illegal.

The Resolution – a legal document that could have been written in all in a day’s work and coming after all the evidence was already in place five years back – tardily validated what every sensible person already knew even at that time: that the Morong 43 community doctors, nurses, midwives and health volunteers were brazenly illegally arrested, detained wholesale, viciously tortured and routinely denied their basic rights while in military and police custody.

The CHR also belatedly confirmed the assertion of the health workers that they were denied their rights under Republic Act No. 7438 (the law defining the rights of persons arrested, detained or under custodial investigation). The Resolution cited that lawyers who tried to see the health workers were repeatedly barred from seeing them and giving immediate and necessary legal counsel.

It revealed for the first time the findings of its investigators, which were submitted five years ago, that they were able to note physical evidence and other indices that the health workers were tortured.

Included in the complaint for multiple violations of human rights filed through the Public Interest Law Center (PILC) and the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL were former President Arroyo, former Defense Secretary Norberto Gonzales, former DILG Secretary Ronaldo Puno, former Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera, Police Dir. Gen. Jesus Versoza, Gen. Delfin Bangit, Lt. Gen. Roland Detabali, Brig. Gen. Jorge Segovia, Col. Aurelio Baladad, Lt. Col. Jaime Abawag, P/Supt. Marion Balonglong, Judge Cesar Mangrobang, Senior Assistant Chief State Prosecutor Severino Gana, Lt. Gen. Cristobal Zaragosa, Maj. Manuel Tabion, Capt. Ramos and other military and police officers.

On the basis of these findings, the CHR recommended the filing of criminal charges for violation of R.A. 7438, the anti-torture law, and arbitrary arrest but oddly only against all the “arresting, detaining and investigating officers”. The CHR also finally opined and recommended that the Supreme Court should take a second look and review the 1985 Ilagan vs. Enrile case doctrine which is routinely used by State security forces to justify illegal arrests and render immediate legal remedies for release unavailing.

The Resolution is objectively a welcome development in the Morong 43’s continuing quest for justice. On its face, it validated a fact long established that there were human rights violations perpetrated during the bloody Arroyo administration and that the infamous Morong 43 case was emblematic of these.

However, it came too late to provide the health workers with the much needed relief during the time that they needed it most – when they were in military custody and were being tortured by their captors and detainers day in and day out for several months before they were finally released on December 17, 2010.

It was also way too late to help bolster their cause for the issuance of the Writ of Habeas Corpus, which could have provided additional support in their argument for the reversal of the Ilagan doctrine.

The victims correctly did not wait for such protracted CHR findings that are now practically academic. They took it upon themselves to file in April 2011 a civil case for damages and in May 2012 a criminal case for torture and other crimes.

In the same way that the criminal case is gathering cobwebs in the Ombudsman (still at the preliminary investigation stage with no resolution in sight) and the civil case is facing all conceivable delays and technical nitpicking at the Quezon City Regional Trial Court (which has not even reached the pre-trial stage), the tardy issuance of the CHR Resolution under the watch of then Chairperson Rosales is lamentable.

The late Resolution will not in any way excuse the CHR under its former leadership from the dubious inaction, manifest negligence and slothful failure to fortwith resolve the complaint considering the urgency of the situation, nor will it explain the CHR’s deafening silence when the detainers and torturers were being promoted and/or assigned one after the other to sensitive positions in the military and police establishments.

In fact, a deeper analysis would suggest that the delay was contrived, if not deliberate, given the fact that overwhelming evidence was already there way back in 2010. There was nothing else that the CHR need to do but to evaluate and make a simple finding. It should not take one day to write the Resolution. It was the victims who did their own work and initiative to file the cases.

Hence, the seemingly positive Resolution, stripped of its pretentious nobleness, is in essence a pyrrhic victory since punishment and accountability has not been meted after all these years.

The nagging question is why was the Resolution only issued when the now ex-Chairperson and all the members of the CHR were on the way out? Was it an afterthought just in case there would be a time for reckoning? Was it a cynical swansong act to cover up for slothfulness or negligence, or worse, partisanship or political design?

What then is the use and value of running to a rights body which twiddles its thumbs while the victims’ life, liberty and dignity are being defiled and trampled upon?

Whatever it may be, these actuations of a rights body under the leadership of the former head ironically actually contribute to the perpetuation of impunity. It is complicity to an injustice. #r


Edre U. Olalia
Secretary General

Ephraim B. Cortez
Asst. Secretary General for Legal Services

National Secretariat
National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL)
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“By calling yourselves the ‘people’s lawyer,’ you have made a remarkable choice. You decided not to remain in the sidelines. Where human rights are assaulted, you have chosen to sacrifice the comfort of the fence for the dangers of the battlefield. But only those who choose to fight on the battlefield live beyond irrelevance.”

– Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno, in his message at the NUPL Founding Congress, September 15, 2007

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– Atty. Romeo T. Capulong, NUPL founding chairperson, in his keynote address at the Fifth Conference of Lawyers in Asia Pacific ( COLAP V), September 18, 2010