“Morong 43” is a euphemism for forty-three (43) members of the New People’s Army who posed as healthcare workers arrested in Morong, Rizal on grounds of illegal possession of firearms and explosives.

They were arrested in February 2010 and detained for 10 months until then President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III dropped the charges against them in time for Human Rights Day.

Former Justice Secretary Leila de Lima hailed their release as a victory for justice and the rule of law.

The arrests of the Morong 43 has often been cited as an example of Red-baiting in the Philippines.

But what are the facts and unfolding events?

Latest homme de guerre

A few days ago, killed during an encounter in Baco, Oriental Mindoro on June 4, 2020, was Lorelyn Saligumba, one of the Morong 43.

Saligumba, with aliases Fara or Ploy, was the political instructor of Platoon Dos KLG ICM, sub-regional military area 4D of the New People’s Army.

She was wanted on seven counts of murder, as well as frustrated murder, robbery with violence, and intimidation against person. 

Major General Arnulfo Marcelo Burgos Jr., Commander of the 2nd Infantry Division, said Friday that Saligumba’s death “justifies” the law enforcement operations in Morong, Rizal 10 years ago.

“It only proves the government’s position then that they were NPA terrorists and not the health workers which NPA-affiliated organizations said they were in their propaganda campaign during that time,” Burgos said in a statement.

The military said government forces conducted Thursday’s operations following reports that 10 NPA rebels were extorting from the residents. A firearm and improvised explosive device were recovered from the site of the 10-minute encounter.

Saligumba would be the 21st member of Morong 43 who was either killed or captured by government forces.

Almost exactly a year ago, Edwin Dematera alias Dupax, deputy secretary of Larangan 2, Komiteng Probinsya 3 of the NPA in the Bicol Region, was killed in Sorsogon on June 12, 2019.

Dematera was the 20th member of the Morong 43 who was either killed or captured by government forces.

His death sent Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr. to take on Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay, who aggressively fought for the release of the Morong 43 saying they were not NPA rebels but are health workers.

“This is yet another proof of your lies about ‘your health workers’,” he said.

He added that Morong 43 were actually NPA medics, a machine gunner, and others were regular NPA fighters training as medics, when they were captured by government forces.

This fake human rights advocacy of Karapatan, he added, and their persistent lies about Morong 43 as being health workers, forced the government to release 33 of the 43 in December 2010.

“Immediately after release they went back to the mountains,” he added.

Parlade said in just weeks after their release, six of them perished in several encounters with government troops in Laguna, Quezon, and Bicol, debunking Karapatan’s claim that they are not NPA members.

Three abandoned by Karapatan

Parlade said another Morong 43, Lilibeth Donasco alias Jo or Mok, was wounded in a fierce encounter on March 30, 2017 with Army’s 203rd Brigade troops in Bulalacao, Oriental Mindoro and eventually died after four days.

“Earlier, Emilia Marque alias Roxanne was arrested by troops in Calapan, Oriental Mindoro by virtue of several warrants. She is still in jail and is, in fact, complaining that Karapatan has abandoned her. She promised to reveal everything about Karapatan and other fake CPP front organizations in due time,” he added.

Emilia’s brother, Jovito Marquez alias Busay, is also a Platoon Leader of NPA’s MRGU, Islacom in Mindoro.

Meanwhile, five of them have admitted to being NPA members and are now enjoying their freedom back in the mainstream.

One is the “party” husband of Cheryline Cadapan, whom Karapatan claimed to be a “barrio researcher” and not an NPA member,” he said.

CPP and its front organizations, he said, don’t want to refer to them as Morong 43 because they don’t want the public to be reminded that five of them actually admitted already to being NPA members shortly after they were captured.

Distortion

Parlade said Franco Romeroso, a member of Morong 43 who died of a heart attack while in political detention at Batangas Provincial Jail on April 19, confessed that he along with other captured NPA members were not tortured, harassed, or even sexually molested, contrary to the allegations of Karapatan.

“They were treated properly and this was confirmed by the Morong 5, when they guested in Karen Davila’s Headstart show at ABS-CBN,” he explained.

They admitted that said Morong 43 were not released because they were proven innocent but they were released as a gesture of goodwill during the celebration of International Human Rights Day on December 12, 2010.

President Benigno Simeon Aquino III ordered the Department of Justice (DOJ) to withdraw the case filed against the so-called “Morong 43” health workers arrested in February on suspicion of being communist rebels.

Aquino actually hemmed and hawed before the announcement. His earlier statements indicated he will not touch the Morong 43 issue but would leave it for the courts to decide. But he came amid criticisms for his government for his decision to skip the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Norway where Chinese dissident and human rights activist Liu Xiaobao will be honored.

Aquino’s order to withdraw the information against the health workers are contained in a memorandum dated December 8, 2010 that Executive Secretary Paquito “Jojo” Ochoa Jr. sent to Justice Secretary Leila De Lima.

“There is an urgent need to address their plight even solely on humanitarian grounds. Furthermore, it is consistent with the spirit of the season that the ‘Morong 43’ be freed from detention and spend Christmas with their families,” Ochoa said in his memo.

Fraudulent case build-up

What we are now discovering is that a foreign hand was responsible for the turnaround. In fact, the Aquino order is the handiwork of three women.

Aside from Aquino, those present at the International Human Rights Day celebration were De Lima, Commission on Human Rights chairperson Loretta Rosales, and United Nations resident coordinator Jacqueline Badcock. De Lima and Rosales were both signatories to the implementing rules and regulations of the Anti-Torture Law of 2009. As secretary of justice, De Lima’s department supervises the state prosecutors in the cases against the health workers.

This distortion of facts revolving around Morong 43 became even more vicious because on February 2012, Secretary de Lima accused the military and police of committing “psychological torture” against the health workers during their detainment. 

The Commission on Human Rights issued a ruling on June 20, 2015 to validate the torture of the Morong 43 as well as the illegitimacy of the arrests.

The CHR has recommended action against all their arresting, detaining and investigating officers for violating Sec. 4 of Republic Act 7438 pertaining to rights of persons arrested.

The decision, however, was handed down five days after present chair Jose Luis Martin C. Gascon was appointed by BS Aquino III on June 15, 2015 vice Rosales.

As a result, charges of torture were eventually brought before the Sandiganbayan’s Seventh Division against seven public officials, namely Generals (now retired) Jorge Segovia, Aurelio Baladad, and Joselito Reyes; and Brigadier General Cristobal Zaragoza, police officers Marion Balonglong, Allan Nobleza, and Jovily Cabading.

Four years after, on July 22, 2019, the Sandiganbayan dismissed the case on the grounds of insufficiency of evidence.

Each of the seven officials was also charged with eight counts of violation of Republic Act 7438 or the Rights of Persons Arrested, Detained or Under Custodial Investigation.

In a 39-page ruling penned by Associate Justice Zaldy Trespasses and concurred by Associate Justices Maria Theresa Dolores Gomez Estoesta and Georgina Hidalgo, the court held that the prosecution failed to prove that the health workers had a lawyer at the time of their arrest.

The Sandiganbayan decision drew a response from Brig. Gen Edgard Arevalo saying that the dismissal of the case against named three retired and lone active generals further goes to show that the AFP abides by the mandates of the Bill of Rights.

“Further, the ruling implies that the allegations are unfounded even as we maintain that the charges are meant to legally harass security forces who were in a legitimate combat and law enforcement operation,” Arevalo said.

But CHR chair Chito Gascon’s term ends May 22, 2022 and the lawfare staged by the so-called progressive party-lists in Congress and various legal fronts of the Communist terrorist groups, still pollutes our justice system.

So with the death of Lorelyn Saligumba, the final chapter of Morong 43 continues to be written not under the jurisdiction of courts of the land, but in the bloody wastelands of the battle field.

As Solcom commander Antonio Parlade once said, what goes around comes around. (ia/SovereignPH.com)