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Pandora’s desaparecidos

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CEBU CITY– Resignation on principle “is a lost art,” humorist Will Rogers once groused.. “Here…you have to impeach ‘em.”

The Lower House committee on justice here will impeach Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez. “Sufficient in form,” the committee ruled of charges that she ignored graft cases linking former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and the then First Gentleman.

These included the aborted $329-million ZTE broadband network plan to the “Joc- Joc Bolante’s” P728 million fertilizer scam. But for the first time, impeachment went beyond domestic walls.

The UN Commission on Human Rights, on March 23, slammed the Ombudsman for inaction on the murder of Navy Ensign Phillip Andrew Pestaño aboard the RPB Bacolod City. This 23-year old officer blocked loading of 14,000 board feet of “hot logs” and shabu on the navy vessel.

The Ombudsman recognized, in August 2007, the need to further investigate. “None ever took place”, the UN noted. Ms. Gutierrez would not even meet Pestano parents: Felipe and Evelyn.

“The State party is bound to conduct an investigation and ensure that there is no impunity,” the UN Human Rights Committee pointed out. The Philippines fractured the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”

Pestano’s parents are principal complainants in the impeachment. They’re joined by former Akbayan representative Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel and General Danilo Lim.

After the UN statement, the Ombudsman shook off years of stodgy coma. Like the panicked Pandora of ancient myth, it tried to slam shut the Pestano case box — with a hastily cobbled dismissal.

Too late. Years of inaction saw Pestano’s murder and forgotten Navy desaparecidos displayed for the world to gawk at. Government must report within 180 days, “what enforceable remedies and solutions were taken,” the UN wrote.

“Impeach the Ombudsman,” Inquirer’s editorial demanded. The House Committee on Justice will receive evidence to determine “ sufficiency of cause” on Sept 21. If 91 congressmen see the obvious, they’ll lob charges to the Senate “We’re cautiously optimistic,” Rep. Walden Bello says. “Momentum is on our side.” So are key administration legislators. Including Deputy Speaker Lorenzo “Erin” Tanada, Raul Daza, and Isabelle Climaco. Arroyo turncoats signed up.

Is this the end of impeachments hostaged by Malacanang? Joseph Estrada let Elections Commissioner Luzviminda Tancangco off the hook.. Lower House allies opened escape hatches for serial charges lodged against Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

Wedging the Ombudsman into the dock will test political scientist Arthur Schlesinger’s note: “The genius of impeachment lay in the fact that it could punish (the office holder) without punishing the office”

Pestano’s parents look beyond their 15 year search for closure. They hope an opened “Pandora’s box” will also bring justice long denied to lowly Navy enlisted men who disappeared.

Among t he desaparecidos is Zosimo Villanueva. From the naval station in Tawi-Tawi, he tipped Pestano on the loading of hot logs and drugs on. BRP Bacolod City. A Caviteno, Villaneuva lived with his Muslim wife in Bongao .

After Pestano was murdered, Villanueva “disappeared” while on a mission. Lost at sea, said other sailors who returned. He’s still missing. The Navy produced no official investigation report.

The Philippines, in fact, glossed over Villanueva’s death. the UN pointedly observed. The disappearance remains uninvestigated. “Foul play is suspected.”

Fidel Tagaytay served as radio operator when BRP Bacolod City meandered all over Manila Bay before docking off Roxas Blvd — when Pestano’s body was found. As radio operator, Tagaytay, was privy to communications from Navy headquarters to the ship.

In a handwritten note, Tagaytay’s wife,Leonila sent the Navy a handwritten letter stating: Fidel had been ordered to report to Navy headquarters. Since then, he too disappeared. There has been “no action / investigation by the Navy,” the UN snapped.

What was Ensign Alvin Farone’s role? He was aboard BRP Bacolod City. Pestano was slain somewhere on the boat and dumped in his cabin, Senate Report 800 notes.

Farone was hospitalized at the Navy medical facility in Sangley Point, following a fall. That is on record. It is known that he contacted Marissa, Pestano’s sister. He wanted “to tell what really happened to Phillip”.

A long silence followed. The next time Farone called he was confined in V. Luna Military Hospital. His gangrenous foot was going to be amputated Marissa and mother were turned away when they tried to visit Farone at V. Luna. “No longer here,” was the reason offered.

Marissa learned later that Farone was brought to the Kidney Center. His leg had been amputated. Apparently, Farone was returned to V. Luna after the amputation. After two weeks, Marissa learned that Farone died.

“Dead men tell no tales.” In their UN complaint, the Pestanos claim that Farone’s demise was “suspicious. It should have been investigated’. Again, the Philippines didn’t even comment on this case. Shouldn’t have this this death been probed, if only to shield the good name of Navy and Armed Forces medical centers?

“They were faceless, powerless enlisted men,” notes Counsel Enrique Angeles who shepherded the case through the UN. “Like the Villanuevas, Fidel’s wife had no resources to pursue the case.

“They were like trees, felled in the forest. No one sees. No one knows. No one cares. But perhaps, impeachment may spark a glimmer of hope.” Perhaps.”

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