“I WILL not give up without a good fight.”
Finally, it was the mandirigma (warrior) in retired Maj. Gen. Alexander F. Balutan speaking when at the Manila Times roundtable Thursday last week, he expressed resolve to fight it out with the tandem of Atong Ang-Sandra Cam over control of the PCSO. The lady in the duo has made little effort to conceal her real motive in making a big thing out of the PCSO Christmas party: to grab the PCSO board chairmanship. Early on, when the controversy broke open, General Balutan declared publicly that if Cam became the PCSO chairman, he would resign.
That statement instantly sent shivers down my spine. A no-nonsense military officer, General Balutan has had a history of defying presidents on matters of doing right. The public will recall that on September 28, 2005, the Senate committee on national defense and security chaired by Sen. Rodolfo Biazon conducted a hearing on the controversial “Hello Garci” tape, earlier exposed by former National Bureau of Investigation Deputy Director Samuel Ong, purporting to contain a wiretapped conversation between President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Comelec Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano to the effect of rigging the presidential election in 2004 in the president’s favor. Invited to that hearing were the top military brass at the time, including Gen. Generoso S. Senga, the Armed Forces Chief of Staff; Lt. Gen. Hermogenes C. Esperon, Commanding General of the Philippine Army; Vice Admiral Mateo Mayuga, Inspector General, Philippine Navy; Rear Admiral Tirso R. Danga, Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence, J2; Brig. Gen. Mario Q. Quevedo, Chief Intelligence Service of the AFP; Brig. Gen. Francisco V. Gudani, Assistant Superintendent, Philippine Military Academy; and Col. Alexander F. Balutan, Assistant Commandant, Corps of Cadets, Philippine Military Academy.
Hours before the start of the hearing that day, President Arroyo issued Executive Order 464 enjoining all officials of the executive branch, including military personnel, to seek presidential approval of their appearances in legislative proceedings. All save two of the cited military officers did not attend the hearing. The exceptions: General Gudani and Colonel Balutan. In utter defiance of the president, the two Marines standouts proceeded to affirm in the hearing what the Garci tapes exposed: that the 2004 presidential elections were rigged in Maguindanao. Under oath, General Gudani disclosed that he had to be put on forced leave so that any machinations for rigging the presidential elections in Maguindanao, which was his area of responsibility as 1st Marine Brigade Commander, could take place rid of his objections; General Gudani would have none of such electoral cheating. And under oath, Colonel Balutan affirmed all of General Gudani’s declarations at the hearing.
With regard to the ongoing congressional investigation on the PCSO, my great concern is that given the apparent inclination of the investigating bodies to craft a ruling adverse to General Balutan—who stands by his conviction of being Simon pure, as his own words put it: “My military service is clean and impeccable.”—these proceedings might just lead to consequences akin to what transpired as a result of rulings reached in the investigation of the Hello Garci tapes.
Without General Gudani and Colonel Balutan intending it, their affirmation of the cheating exposed in the Hello Garci tapes spawned upheavals akin to the ones that overthrew Marcos in 1986. The streets were filled with rallies and demonstrations calling for Arroyo to resign, and she responded with increasing resort to fascistic means in suppressing dissent. Seemingly moving in parallel with the intensifying Gloria Resign movement was the institution of court martial proceedings against General Gudani and Colonel Balutan. The two officers sought to counter this move by raising the matter to the Supreme Court, questioning the validity of Executive Order 464. The Supreme Court ruled that the President had all the right to regulate participation of her men in legislative proceedings.
And that, finally, made court martial proceedings against General Gudani and Colonel Balutan a matter of course.
But then going back to the Hello Garci Senate inquiry, Sen. Panfilo Lacson, then a member of the investigating committee, uttered a most relevant statement: “You don’t do injustice to a Marine and get away with it.” The 26th of this month must serve notice that 12 years ago to that date, Senator Lacson’s words proved prophetic. Marines in their hundreds led by Lt. Archie Segumalian, Commander of the 2nd Marine Battalion, and Col. Ariel Querubin, Commander of the 1st Marine Brigade, took over their camp at Fort Bonifacio—the historic Marines standoff of 2005.
The apparent reason for the mutiny was the sudden unceremonious relief of then Marine Commandant Maj. Gen. Renato Miranda. But there is no denying that that was also the time court martial proceedings were being readied for General Gudani and Colonel Balutan because of their defiance of President Arroyo—and it, too, is a fact that with the ebbing of the Marines standoff, nothing was heard anymore of the court martial proceedings against them.
Intriguingly, Senator Lacson, as head of the Senate panel investigating General Balutan now, seems headed for bringing the nation again to what he prophesied against back in 2005. How fortunes change. But, as in Greek tragedy, that’s just how the fates work. You do something now in order to prevent a feared occurrence in the future, but what you do is precisely the thread for that occurrence to take place.
It is called irony.
And by publicly damning General Balutan who is unsullied in his career in government, what have Atong Ang and Sandra Cam incurred but just this, irony. Instead of taking the warrior out of the President’s graces, they have entrenched him there even more deeply.
At the Times roundtable last week, General Balutan revealed that he had endeavored to get President Duterte’s say on the controversy. And he expressed elation at the President’s response, delivered in a speech in a recent Cebu affair: “Just do your job well. Bend no rules for anyone, including my friends.”