24 June 2014
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines protests the promotion of Army colonel Medardo Geslani to brigadier general.
It is doubly unfortunate that the promotion of Geslani was announced on Monday, June 23, 2009, exactly 55 months since the November 23, 2009 Ampatuan massacre.
Geslani’s promotion is yet another insult on the memory of the 58 victims of the massacre, 32 of whom were media practitioners.
This is, in fact, the second time that an Army officer whose inaction or dissimulation allowed the massacre to happen has been promoted.
The first, of course, was now retired Lieutenant General Alfredo Cayton who, at the time of the massacre, was a major general commanding the 6th Infantry Division, which has jurisdiction over Maguindanao.
It was Cayton who assured the journalists who would eventually perish in the convoy that it was perfectly safe to travel from Buluan to Shariff Aguak even if 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.
As for Geslani, at the time commander of the 601st Brigade, his failure, or more accurately, refusal to act on a request from Mangudadatu for security escorts for the convoy and, again, when he was informed by an intelligence team that scores of gunmen had stopped the convoy in Barangay Salman, Ampatuan and had taken the vehicles toward the hinterlands, followed by a backhoe, that may have sealed the fate of the Ampatuan 58.
Incidentally, a few months before the massacre, a convoy of 50 journalists covering the massive displacement of civilians in Maguindanao caused by fighting between the military and the MILF was arbitrarily stopped and the media practitioners told that they had to get clearance from the brigade commander – no other than Geslani.
The military, of course, undertook its own “impartial” investigation after the massacre and, as expected, absolved the two officers of any responsibility whatsoever.
Cayton’s promotion, albeit undeserved and condemnable, may be understood in light of when it took place, towards the end of the term of the president under whose watch the massacre took place and of whom the family accused of planning and carrying out the slaughter were among the closest allies.
But for Benigno Aquino III to approve Geslani’s promotion is yet another betrayal of his promise to make justice and human rights the cornerstone of his presidency.
Then again, as recent events have shown, this is consistent with the depths of his commitment to ensuring justice for the Ampatuan 58, which he showed quite clearly when he could not even get the number of media victims right.
Rowena C. Paraan