Complications of the Morong 43 case withdrawal
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2010-12-14
It’s doubted if the order of President Noynoy Aquino III (P-Noy) to the Department of Justice (DoJ) last Friday to withdraw the State’s case against the group called The Morong 43 will end that controversy. Judging from the various reactions, the withdrawal of the Morong 43 case could have made things more complicated.

P-Noy had solid legal grounds to order the withdrawal of the case. The arrests violated the set legal protocol. That being the case, the letter of the law was followed by the P-Noy administration which has an avowed commitment to champion human rights and the rule of law here and abroad. If P-Noy can support Aung San Suu Kyi from far away Myanmar, then he should be also supporting human rights and the rule of law here.

It’s also not a case of favoring the Left over the Right, as some simplistic minded media commentators would suggest. P-Noy has no affection for the Left. They viciously fought him during the 2010 Presidential Elections and are now fueling non-issues with agitprop in order to undermine his administration. In their agitprop agenda against P-Noy the Left may have found an unwitting ally in Secretary Ricky Carandang and his so-called Messaging Group.

The arrests of the Morong 43 should have been conducted according to legal protocol regardless if they’re comrades of the outlawed Communists. In this regard, the Morong 43 themselves have reinforced public perception that they are Leftists with all that display of the clenched left fist, thrust up into the air — an icon that the world associates with Communists.

Thus, the withdrawal of the Morong 43 case was decided on the basis of whether or not the legal protocol for arresting persons was followed. It was not and so the government opted to withdraw the case.

Now comes the tricky part. Should the Morong 43 decide to file a case against those who arrested them, how will the government react to that? If the case is prosecuted by the Department of Justice and the complainants win and are awarded damages — the government will pay the price.

If the illegal arrest case of the Morong 43 is prosecuted against the military personnel responsible, won’t the government be seen by its own soldiers as siding with rebels who are out to exact retribution and further destabilize the establishment? How does P-Noy face his troops as their Commander-in-Chief when his DoJ is prosecuting a case which is being inflicted by suspected enemies of the state against government soldiers? For the Left, that scenario would be on top of their Christmas wish list — a damned if you do and damned if you don’t dilemma for P-Noy.

That would be a propaganda nightmare for P-Noy, to say the least. During President Cory Aquino’s term, the promoters of the various coup attempts tagged the late president — and mother of our current president — as a Leftist coddler for having released Chairman Joma Sison from jail. At a time when there were intense battles between the military and the NPA (New People’s Army, military wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines), to be tagged a Leftist coddler was a big emotional issue among the soldiers.

How will Sec. Ricky Carandang craft the appropriate message to diffuse the explosive situation that this scenario will create? What will Ricky say to placate the soldiers and the largely anti-Communist Filipino public?

Maybe, Ricky will make a “Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap (no corruption, no poor)” pronouncement. During the deliberations for the formation of the Communications Group, Jing Magsaysay (then a candidate for Communications Group Secretary) reportedly asked Ricky Carandang what his idea of P-Noy’s messaging strategy is. Ricky was said to have replied: “Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap.” Recently, Ricky presented to the cabinet his Messaging Strategy which was crafted around that theme.

An administration’s theme cannot compensate for substandard information management for every major issue or crisis. When ex-cop Rolando Mendoza killed Chinese hostages or when the kuliglig drivers rioted, the government cannot simply say “Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap.” Against Leftist agitprop, P-Noy will be politically overwhelmed if that is all that the government will say!

The restart of the Peace Talks with the Left is another dimension to the Morong 43 case withdrawal. The prospect of attaining peace from the four decade old insurgency became an added incentive for the government to withdraw the case. The Left had asked that the Morong 43 be released as a gesture of confidence building.

As a measure of confidence building on their part, the Left should also not pursue an illegal arrest case against the military personnel which could place the government in an awkward position. That case will just be an irritant but cannot pose a serious threat to the P-Noy administration. The military will see through the Leftist agitprop and it won’t erode P-Noy’s standing with them.

Joma Sison and his ilk should finally grow up and adapt to the new post-Communist world following the direction that former Communist states like Russia, China and Viet Nam had taken. Marked by the end of the Cold War and having recently marked a John Lennon milestone — let’s all cooperate as Filipinos and give peace a chance.

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