Military apologizes for ‘unpardonable gaffe’

    Gen. Arevalo (Photo from FB)

    THE military yesterday made a public apology to the people who it mistakably included in its list of University of the Philippines (UP) students who allegedly died or were arrested after they supposedly joined the ranks of the community New People’s Army (NPA).

    Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Sunday ordered the Armed Forces to apologize for its “unpardonable gaffe.”

    “We are truly sorry for those who were really inadvertently named, so we take responsibility for that,” AFP deputy chief of staff for civil-military operations (J7) Maj. Gen. Benedict Arevalo said in a phone interview yesterday.

    Arevalo’s office first apologized through Facebook on Sunday night, days after lawyer Rafael Aquino demanded an apology from the Armed Forces for “maliciously” including his name in the list.

    The military list indicated that Aquino was supposedly arrested during a rally at the Liwasang Bonifacio in Manila on October 7, 1981. Aquino belied he joined the NPA or was ever arrested.

    Reports said several other people were also erroneously added in the list, including film director Behn Cervantes, Carlos Palanca playwright awardee Liza Magtoto, journalist Roel Landingin, and former Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) president Roan Libarios.

    The list was shown by Lorenzana during a press conference last week to defend his decision to unilaterally terminate the 1989 agreement between the Department of National Defense and the University of the Philippines that barred soldiers and policemen from conducting operations inside UP campuses without prior notice to school officials.

    The list has been taken down from all of the social media accounts of the AFP.

    “We sincerely apologize for those who were inadvertently affected by inconsistencies regarding the list of students who joined the NPA (died or captured) that was posted in the AFP Information Exchange Facebook account,” the AFP Facebook post said.

    “The Office of the J7, AFP is already conducting an internal investigation as to how the list got published. Personnel who are responsible will be held to account. We want to assure the public that we are now reviewing our processes and procedures to ensure that similar incident will not happen again in the future,” it added.

    In a phone interview yesterday, Arevalo said: “I’ll be the one to apologize because I was the one who released it… We got it from different sources, our archives, filing… We’re checking with other offices for verification.”

    Arevalo could not immediately say how people were erroneously included in the list but said the matter is now being investigated. “In due time, we’ll get how the names came about in the list,” he added.

    On whether there is still a need to write the persons inadvertently included in the list, Arevalo said: “We are also consulting our legal department. If they advise us (to write them), we will do it…We have apologized in Facebook, so if it will not suffice, then we will see our next option after that.”

    Sen. Panfilo Lacson yesterday said: “I think it is prudent now for Secretary Delfin Lorenzana to at least suspend the termination of the UP-DND accord and hold a dialogue as he already mentioned he would do… They based their decision to terminate the UP-DND accord, signed way back, on what appears now to be false information. They included personalities that they said were captured or killed in action by the military, but turned out to be alive and not captured at all.”

    Lacson, who chairs the Senate committee on national defense and security, said that because of the AFP’s blunder, he has ordered the committee secretariat “to revisit the final draft of the committee report” when the Senate panel conducted a hearing on the red-tagging issue last year.

    During the hearing, a number of supposed rebel returnees named names, including members of the House’s Makabayan bloc, as members of the NPA movement. The allegation was denied by the lawmakers.

    Lacson said he wants the military to present more proof that the individuals tagged during the hearing as NPAs were indeed members of the underground movement.

    “We will have to ask the military to submit additional documents to validate reports on the personalities which they claimed during the committee hearings we conducted were killed, and if they were actually students of the universities mentioned by Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr. and the other witnesses presented by the AFP,” he said.

    “Naiba ang complexion based on (The complexion was changed due to) these recent developments. Without these new developments, the committee would have relied on the testimonies and presentations made by the AFP which were not specifically rebutted by the other resource persons,” he added.

    Sen. Francis Pangilinan said Lorenzana’s apology is acceptable but the “bad eggs” must be punished.

    “We welcome the apology. However, we reiterate that the AFP should ensure adherence to the strictest tenets of professionalism. Somebody should be made to answer for this,” Pangilinan said.

    In a statement on Sunday night, UP Chancellor Fidel Nemenzo viewed with “grave concern” what he said was red-tagging of former UP students by way of including them in the AFP list.

    “It is unthinkable that despite the millions of taxpayers’ money poured into military intelligence, the AFP is making such baseless accusations, in the process violating the civil liberties and putting at risk the lives of responsible citizens who are actively contributing to nation-building in their chosen professions,” said Nemenzo.

    While acknowledging the list was already taken down from the social media accounts of the AFP, Nemenzo said “the damage has been done.”

    Also, the Pi Sigma Fraternity denounced what it said were “attempts of some unscrupulous personalities to link our brotherhood to the communist underground movement.”

    The fraternity was established in UP Diliman in 1972 and is now composed of 10,000 members, including lawyers, engineers, doctors, soldiers, policemen, scientists and journalists.

    “As a nationalist brotherhood, the fraternity has imbued in all its members that love for country demands their very best– in words and in deeds,” Pi Sigma Fraternity said in a statement.

    “Unfortunately, certain harebrained personalities are trying to vilify the fraternity and its traditions by issuing irresponsible and unfounded remarks implicating us to leftist armed groups. This a big lie, a simplistic and very unpatriotic thinking,” it added.
    While a number of its members have offered their lives to serve the Filipino people, it said:

    “Joining the revolutionary movement is their personal choice. Ours is to honor the commitment we made for the brotherhood to serve the Filipino people. We are Sigmans, and our brotherhood has undertaken one of the most difficult pledges a student will ever make: To be the best for our motherland in all endeavors.”

    The Integrated Bar of the Philippines denounced the inclusion of its former president Roan Libarios and two others in the AFP list.

    In a statement, the IBP said Libarios and lawyers Alexander Padilla and Rafael Angelo Aquino have never been members or supporters of the communist movement.

    “The named lawyers are not members of the NPA. They were never captured. They are very much alive, not dead. They are responsible and respected Filipino lawyers who serve well our country in various capacities and meaningfully contribute to nation-building,” the IBP said. – With Raymond Africa, Jocelyn Montemayor and Ashzel Hachero