AFP defends arrest of UP graduates

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MANILA, Philippines – The military on Monday justified the arrest of two University of the Philippines (UP) graduates in Nueva Ecija and said that no human rights were violated during the operation.

Armed Forces chief Gen. Gregorio Catapang belied allegations that the UP graduates were kidnapped, saying the two were arrested for failing to show the license of the firearms found in their possession.

“I think records will show there was no human rights violation and we did it based on the rule of law and it was a legitimate operation,” Catapang told reporters in Camp Aguinaldo.

Officials said the two UP graduates were nabbed last Saturday in a house owned by a certain Ely Taray in Barangay Padilla in Carranglan town. Law enforcers said Taray is a suspected local communist leader who is facing murder and frustrated murder charges.

Previous reports identified the arrested suspects as Gerald Salonga and Guiller Martin Cadano, both of whom were labeled by the 7th Infantry Division as platoon guides of the New People’s Army (NPA). Taray, however, evaded arrest.

Armed Forces spokesman Maj. Gen. Domingo Tutaan Jr. said the raid was covered by search and arrest warrants issued by the court.

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“In the first place, they (authorities) placed the suspects under arrest when they failed to present the license of the firearms,” he said.

Police reports said the arresting team had recovered a 9 mm Smith & Wesson firearm with defaced serial number with 23 rounds of ammunition, a 9 mm firearm with 14 rounds of ammunition, two hand grenades and subversive documents.

Human rights group Karapatan, however, offered a different version of the story.

Cecille Ruiz, head of the human rights group Karapatan in Central Luzon, said Salonga and Cadano were abducted by soldiers and were forced to admit that they are NPA members.

“The two were watching a movie as part of their integration activities in the barangay when they were kidnapped by soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Battalion who arrived in two pickup vehicles,” Ruiz said.

“The two were charged with illegal possession of firearms and explosives. The explosives charge was added in order to disqualify them from posting bail because it’s a non-bailable offense,” she added.

Ruiz said Salonga and Cardano were blindfolded by their captors and were forced to admit that they are connected with the communist movement.

Catapang, however, said Karapatan’s allegations are baseless.

“We emphasize that we have to respect the rule of law,” the military chief said.

Allegations that soldiers kidnapped the two UP graduates surfaced as the world is commemorating the International Humanitarian Law (IHL) month, an occasion that emphasizes the need to respect human rights.

Soldiers from all over the country renewed their commitment to adhere to the International Humanitarian Law and to uphold human rights in all their operations.

“We should execute our duties and responsibilities to protect our citizens caught in the midst of armed conflicts in the country, and guarantee total respect for their human rights as prescribed by IHL,” Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said during the flag ceremony in Camp Aguinaldo Monday.

Catapang said the military is committed to protect the public especially those who are not parties to conflict.

“Peace can only be truly just and lasting if it is based on respect for life, human rights, and dignity,” he said.

The military’s image has been tainted with allegations that it resorted to abductions and extrajudicial killings to pursue its anti-insurgency campaign.

Among the human rights violations being blamed on soldiers is the disappearance of activist Jonas Burgos, who was reportedly kidnapped by armed men in Quezon City in 2007.

An Army officer, Maj. Harry Baliaga Jr., has been tagged in the Burgos case. Baliaga has denied any involvement in the kidnapping of Burgos and has expressed readiness to face the charges against him.

Another high-profile case was the disappearance of student activists Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeno, who went missing in Bulacan in 2006.

Militant groups have accused retired Army general Jovito Palparan Jr. of being the brains behind the alleged abduction of the two students. Palparan remains at large eight years after the incident.

The military has repeatedly claimed that it does not tolerate human rights violations among its ranks.

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