OUR editorial today will not endear us to our friends in the military, for we are supporting the grievance of the National Union of Journalists (NUJP) over the promotion of an officer who could have prevented the 2009 Ampatuan massacre.
NUJP protests the promotion of Army Colonel Medardo Geslani to brigadier general.
It says the promotion is another insult to the 58 victims of the 2009 Ampatuan massacre, 32 of whom were media practitioners covering the filing of candidacy of a political foe of the Ampatuan clan, Esmael Mangudadatu.
Geslani commanded the 601st Brigade in Maguindanao at the time. He refused to act on a request from then Vice-Mayor (now Governor) Esmael Mangudadatu to provide security escorts for the convoy led by his wife and sisters. The governor had learned that scores of gunmen had stopped the convoy in Barangay Salman, Ampatuan, and had taken the vehicles toward the hinterlands, followed by a backhoe. Had Geslani acted favorably on the request, perhaps the murder of the Ampatuan 58 might have been averted.
How can the military high command give this officer a promotion?
As far as journalists are concerned, Geslani had also been a villain once before. A few months before the massacre, the military stopped coverage by a group of 50 journalists of the massive displacement of civilians in Maguindanao caused by fighting between the military and the MILF. The media men were told that they had to get clearances from Geslani to be allowed to do their work.
Geslani’s promotion was ironically—and painfully —announced on Monday June 23, exactly 55 months after the November 23, 2009 Ampatuan massacre in Maguindanao province. Are the powers-that-be in our country’s security services so spiritually entwined with the lords of politics and life, who kill their political rivals and journalists out to expose their evil deeds? Did it give them pleasure to rub salt to the wounds of the victims’ families?
Before Geslani’s promotion the high command also insulted the victims of the massacre by honoring now retired Lieutenant General Alfredo Cayton. At the time of the massacre Cayton was a major general in command of the 6th Infantry Division, which has jurisdiction over Maguindanao. He had assured the journalists who were killed that it was perfectly safe to travel from Buluan to Shariff Aguak. There is reason to suspect that he was either aware that something bad awaited the Mangudadatu convoy with the journalists or he was incompetently unaware of what was going on in his jurisdiction.
NUJP says “it boggles the mind how the Army, which never ceases to boast of its intelligence prowess, could have missed the fact that, three days before the massacre, Maguindanao police and members of the Ampatuan clan’s private militia had already set up checkpoints on the highway leading to the provincial capital, or that as early as then, word was spreading like wildfire that the family that ruled Maguindanao had vowed that Mangudadatu would never run against their own.”
Had Cayton been more competent or alert to intelligence, he could have prevented the murder of the 58. He was, notwithstanding his failure or even suspected complicity with the Ampatuans, promoted to Lieutenant General, which is higher than Major General. [It is funny that the Lt-Gen rank is higher than Maj-Gen. This is because Maj-Gen really comes from Sergeant-major General.]
This promotion of Geslani punctuates the Aquino Administration’s lack of concern for the quality of the topmost officers of the Philippine military and for the feelings of the families and friends of the journalists who were murdered.