Harsh but fair

Buencamino writes political commentary for Action for Economic Reforms.  This article was published in Business Mirror November 29, 2006  edition, p. A6.

No one could tell me why AFP Chief Hermogenes Esperon went ahead and charged Major Gen. Renato Miranda and company with mutiny, despite the finding of his own investigation panels that the case didn’t have a leg to stand on. The only one who had the answer was Gen. Esperon himself so I constructed a virtual one-on-one interview with him. Below, in his own words, is his explanation.

“Good day, general. Thank you for granting me this exclusive virtual interview. What made you decide to charge those soldiers”?”

“They (PTI [pre-trial panel] and PTA [pre-trial advice] reports) are the basis for my decisions in directing the court martial of the 30 officers.”

“I have here with me a leaked copy of those reports. Would you care to comment on them?”

“I will not comment on the contents of the PTI report and the PTA. I will not tell you the contents.”

“I’ve read the reports and…”

“Suffice it to say that they are my references. Whatever are their contents, they served as my references in arriving at my decisions.”

“… what I was about to say was, you  disregarded their content.”

“I do not have to abide by the PTI report and by the PTA… that is my prerogative as the chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.”

“Is there a difference between exercising prerogatives and taking liberties?”

“Today, I hereby approve the trial by a special general court martial of 30 officers for violations of Articles of War.”

“Are you serious?”

“How serious we are? I’ve just announced that we’ll try them by court martial.”

“But, based on this leaked report, your own investigation panels said, ‘There is no adequate basis for appreciating the existence of a prima facie case to indict or prosecute any and all the officers charged.’”

“We now know about the taped interview of General Danilo Lim, and so you can start from there. Just try to listen again to what General Lim said in his tape interview, which was prepared to be broadcast in connection with what they have [sic] planned to do.”

“But your own panels said, ‘Mere intention however deliberate and fixed, or conspiracy, however unanimous, will fail to constitute mutiny. Words alone, unaccompanied by acts, will not suffice.’”

“The Articles of War 67 do not only cover covert acts of mutiny but also attempts to create, begin or incite mutiny. It also covers cause or attempt to commit mutiny.”

“But your own panels said, ‘In fact, not one from the respondent officers defied the instructions of CSAFP (then AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Generoso Senga) to do everything to stop the plan on joining the mass actions.’ You have nothing on those soldiers. You don’t have a case.”

“The purpose of this court martial is to prove if evidence will hold.”

“You want to prove that nothing will hold? Will you testify at the court martial?”

“As chief of staff, if I further say statements or submit statements to the general court martial, I could be influencing the statements of others. I am a reviewing officer to the proceedings of all these and so I do not want to be the accuser this time and the judge.”

“But what about your earlier statements, like the one about the tape?”

“I stand by that statement that I submitted.”

“Then you aleady influenced the others.”

“I will not be the one trying them. It will be the general court martial.”

“I see. And who will appoint the members of the court martial?”

“I have directed J1 (deputy chief of staff for personnel) and the Judge Advocate General to immediately convene the general court martial, name the members, one president and four members, as soon as possible.”

“I see. You order and then approve the appointment of the members of the court martial, then you tell them when to convene, and finally, as reviewing officer, you decide whether or not to accept their verdict and sentence. What do you think will happen?”

“As far as I’m concerned, my job is to try them by general court martial, the matter of pardon is beyond me.  If it is not the death penalty…I do not want to speculate on that. I’m not an expert, but it could be reclusión perpetua….”

“Sounds like you’ve already decided on the verdict and the sentence even before the trial can begin…”

”That’s how the military justice system works. It is harsh but we can assure you that it is fair.”

“Who’s ‘we’?”

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