The Invitation

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Monday, August 11, 2014


IT USED to be that one gets the heebie-jeebies when a civilian gets invited to go to a military camp. The legacy of martial rule comes to mind.

Or get to face many of the top military brass. One gets to think his days are numbered. The invitee has a future – all dark. Salvaged? Desapericido? Tortured?

Otherwise, many civilians stay clear of the Philippine Army like the institution was bad news.

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Last Friday, the invited civilians, however, were tortured – with delicious if not exactly politically correct food. Lechon comes to mind.
At least, there were organic vegetables from the camp’s Negros First-Army Wellness Farm.

Otherwise, everything was almost, if not all, politically correct. The top brass included Maj. Gen. Aurelio Baladad, 3rd Infantry Division chief, Col. Jon Aying, the current 303rd Infantry Brigade commander, and even Marine Col Francis Yulo, who I thought all along was a peace advocate civilian.

We learn new things. And relearn new ones from the new Armed Forces of the Philippines.

This time around, when Col. Jon Aying sent me an invitation letter, I rearranged my schedules so I can attend the 28th founding anniversary celebration of the 303rd Infantry Brigade with the theme “Kaagapay ng mga Negrense sa Bayanihan Tungo sa Kapayapaan at Kaunlaran.”

Jon was the rock star. And guys like me and other civil society stalwarts posed for selfies for the man of the hour.

The speeches during the celebration talked not of NPA body counts and firearms recovered but on the number of balik sibilyans (former armed rebels) and their mass base who received financial and livelihood assistance from the provincial government of Negros Occidental.

The 303rd IB presented certificates of appreciation to its Oplan Bayanihan civilian partners from the local governments, the clergy from various faith communities, and civil society organizations of winning the peace.

Save for the snappy dress uniforms, the mood felt more like a fiesta, and with civilians made to feel at home.

None of the speakers touched on a crucial concern that used to define civilian-military relationship. That is, that of respect and protection of human rights in situations of armed conflict.

For three or more years under then Col. Oscar Lactao until Col Jon Aying became the 303rd commander, the Commission on Human Rights in Negros Occidental awarded the brigade with high passing marks for its adherence to the rule of law and promotion of human rights.

When Jon assumed his current post, he read the riot act to the soldiers in the province. “I will be harsh to those who will violate human rights,” said he in his assumption speech.

Perhaps, the best compliment to the 303rd IB is the sound of silence from left-wing human rights organizations. Indeed, no news on extra-judicial killings, forced disappearances, torture, and other forms of violations are going the way of the dodo. That is, going extinct.

More than that, Jon required soldiers of the 3rd Civil-Military Operations Battalion, 303rd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, Philippine Army to enhance their operational skills on development work and conflict resolution, among other skills.

I consider it a privilege to have shared my court-annexed experiences on conflict resolution with members of the CMO Battalion last year. I wonder now how they do their job as mediators.

Yes, Jon, thank you for the invitation to attend the 303rd anniversary celebration. I’m sure many of my civil society friends and fellow human rights defenders are finding it easy to be on the same side of the table with you. A salute to the soldiers of the Filipino people!

(bqsanc@yahoo.com)

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on August 11, 2014.

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