DEFENSE Secretary Delfin Lorenzana yesterday ordered the relief of the military’s top intelligence officer for negligence in the preparation of a list of University of Philippines (UP) students who were identified to have already died or were captured after joining the ranks of the New People’s Army (NPA).
The list was shown by Lorenzana during a press conference last week to support his decision to terminate a 1989 agreement between the DND and UP that prevents soldiers from conducting operations in UP campuses without prior notification.
Ordered relieved by Lorenzana was AFP deputy chief of staff for intelligence (J2) Maj. Gen. Alex Luna, a member of the Philippine Military Academy class of 1989, who assumed the post in October last year.
“The publication of an erroneous list, originating from his office OJ2 (Office of J2), of alleged NPAs killed by the military is an unforgivable lapse,” Lorenzana said in ordering the relief of the Army general.
“His (Luna) negligence only shows a lackadaisical attitude towards his job resulting to confusion and damage to reputation. We do not take these offenses lightly and I want to hold the people involved accountable,” added Lorenzana.
Lorenzana said the strong language he used in announcing the relief of Luna was “needed to jolt the whole organization into taking their jobs seriously.”
“There is an investigation going on but I based my decision under the principle of command responsibility: a commander is responsible for whatever his unit does or fails to do. They all know this,” he said.
Lorenzana said Luna will be assigned to the office of the AFP chief.
Asked if Luna will be tried by a court martial or military tribunal, Lorenzana said: “No, that offense is not court-martialable.”
The defense chief got flak after he presented the list, with several UP alumni publicly disputing their inclusion in the AFP inventory and demanding that the Armed Forces apologize for the gaffe. Those who were outraged included lawyer Rafael Aquino, film director Behn Cervantes, Carlos Palanca playwright awardee Liza Magtoto, journalist Roel Landigin, and former Integrated Bar of the Philippines president Roan Libarios.
On Sunday, Lorenzana called the mistake an “unpardonable gaffe” and said the Armed Forces will apologize for it.
The following day, AFP deputy chief of staff for civil military operations Maj. Gen. Benedict Arevalo apologized to those who were erroneously included in list, which the military posted on its social media account.
Arevalo said it was his office who released the list, the content of which, was supposedly taken from various sources. Nevertheless, he said he had admonished his personnel for posting the list online.
The military has yet to announce a new AFP deputy of staff for intelligence to succeed Luna.
Before assuming as J2 in October last year, Luna was the commander of the Joint Task Force National Capital Region, which is leading the government’s campaign against communists, terrorist sand other threats in Metro Manila.
Before that, he was the commander of the Army’s 801st Brigade in Eastern Samar and was the Army assistant chief of staff for intelligence (G2).
AFP spokesman Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo said Armed Forces chief Gen. Gilbert Gapay has ordered a probe into the circumstances that led to the gaffe.
“In the light of questions raised on the accuracy of the published list, AFP chief General Gilbert Gapay has ordered on 25 January 2021 the conduct of an investigation to determine the circumstances surrounding the incident,” said Arevalo.
“The findings and recommendations from the inquiry seek to determine who are responsible for the release of the assailed information and how we can improve our systems on vetting and releasing of information,” added Arevalo.
Arevalo said Lorenzana has issued a memorandum to Gapay, ordering the relief of Luna as J2.
“This does not mean however that we are halting the investigation. The probe continues so we can establish what went wrong and what may still be improved to ensure that the incident will not happen again. The AFP is committed to improve its systems and processes as we continue to serve our country the best way we could,” said Arevalo.
Aquino, who is a human rights lawyer, lauded the sacking of Luna as a welcome development but said he still feels threatened by his inclusion in the list.
“I appreciate the pockets of relative sanity that persists within the security sector that are apparently more sensitive to such principles as professionalism and accountability,” Aquino said in a statement.
He, however, said that he and his family still feel threatened by what happened considering the previous cases of individuals being killed after they were tagged or linked to the communist movement and its armed wing.
“My family and I continue to feel threatened and insecure on account of my inclusion in the said list. Weighing heavily on my mind, however, and on the minds of my fellow UP alumni who were included in the list, is what all this meant for Filipino activism. If this could be done to us, how much easier a similar outrage be inflicted upon our countrymen who do not have the same access to media and legal resources, including ordinary students and their teachers?” he also said.
For his part, Sen. Francis Pangilinan, himself a UP graduate, said: “Tama ang pasya na panagutin ang pagkakamali dahil imahe at reputasyon ng buong AFP bilang isang professional at disiplinado na institusyon ang nadungisan sa pangyayari (The decision to hold accountable the person who was responsible for the mistake was correct because it is the image and reputation of the entire AFP as a professional and disciplined institution that is at stake).” – With Ashzel Hachero and Raymond Africa