CAMP MACARIO PERALTA, Capiz - Army chief Lt. Gen. Noel Coballes yesterday defended the promotion and designation of Brig. Gen. Aurelio Baladad as commanding general of the 3rd Infantry Division, saying he has “good credentials” and “performed very well” in his previous assignments.
The promotion of Baladad as 3ID chief drew negative reactions from left-leaning groups and alliances, who accuse him of human rights violations, citing the arrest of 43 health workers, also known as Morong 43, in Rizal province, three years ago.
While Baladad was being installed by Coballes as the new 3ID chief, a handful of protestors held a picket in front of Camp Martin Delgado in Iloilo City, denouncing the military organization for promoting an alleged human rights violator.
Baladad was among the military officers accused of torture and robbery by the so-called Morong 43, a group of suspected communist rebels who claimed to be rural health workers.
Coballes said the appointment of Baladad, who was commander of the 202nd Infantry Brigade during the arrest of the Morong 43 members, underwent scrutiny from the Army Board Of Senior Officers and Board Of Generals, before it was recommended to and approved by the AFP chief of staff, the Department of National Defense and President Benigno Aquino III.
Valentino Paulino, alias Ka Eldoy, one of the five Morong 43 members, who attended the 3ID change of command, yesterday, had confessed that they were, indeed, NPA members, despite the denials of their colleagues.
Paulino said he and the other arrested Morong 43 members had come from other areas of Luzon, when they were arrested by the police and military. Asked why he confessed to being an NPA member, Paulino, who had been active member of the NPA for seven years since the time of their arrest in 2010, said he wanted to live a normal and peaceful life.
He called on his former colleagues to rethink about their plight in the mountains and join the mainstream society, Paulino said he sought refuge with the military because of threats to his life.
Unfazed by the criticisms against him, Baladad maintained that no human rights violation had taken place during the arrest of the so-called Morong 43 members. “If they were not NPA members, why were they in the company of rebels?” he asked.
He also welcomed the protest action in Iloilo, saying it is the essence of democracy.
The arresting party claimed to have recovered subversive documents and several firearms from the health workers, who were then allegedly undergoing bomb-making training at a resthouse in Morong, Rizal.
The charges against the "Morong 43", however, were withdrawn after the Department of Justice reviewed the case on orders of President Benigno Aquino III.
Human rights group Karapatan described the designation of Baladad as 3ID chief an “exemplary display of impunity” under the Aquino government, while the National Union of People’s Lawyers claimed that human rights violations committed by the military seem to be of no great concern for the government.*GPB