JOURNALISTS raised a howl of protest against the promotion of an Army officer “whose inaction or dissimulation allowed the (Maguindanao) massacre to happen.”
On Monday, Army Colonel Medardo Geslani was elevated to the rank of Brigadier General, a move that the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) finds as “yet another insult on the memory of the 58 victims of the massacre, 32 of whom were media practitioners.”
The timing of the announcement of Geslani’s promotion was rather odd, coming exactly 55 months since the massacre happened on November 23, 2009.
In honor of fallen colleagues and to keep alive the issue of journalist killings, the NUJP has been holding monthly commemorations of the incident.
Betrayal of promise
“... 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,” the NUJP said in a statement.
At the time of the massacre, Geslani was commander of the Army’s 601st Brigade, which has jurisdiction over parts of Maguindanao including Ampatuan town where the massacre took place.
A member of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) ‘Sandigan’ Classs of 1982, Geslani is now Deputy Commander of the Tradition and Doctrine Command (Tradoc) of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
Geslani is the second Army official to get a promotion even as questions hang on their involvement, whether through action or inaction, in the shape up of the grisly Maguindanao massacre which is considered to be the worst ever single attack on the press.
The first was then Major Gen. Alfredo Cayton, who retired as Lieutenant General. At the time of the massacre, Cayton was commanding general of the 6th Infantry Division which has jurisdiction over Maguindanao.
At the time of his retirement in 2010, Cayton was Army vice commander.
The NUJP noted that “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...”
Both Cayton and Geslani also refused to act on requests by the Mangudadatu family to be provided with security escorts, citing the limited number of soldiers available that time.
Official probe done by the AFP leadership in the aftermath of the massacre absolved Geslani and Cayton of any responsibility.
A few months before the massacre, a convoy of 50 journalists was arbitrarily stopped and held for an hour along the national highway in Guindulungan, Maguindanao supposedly upon orders of either Cayton or Geslani.
The soldiers manning the checkpoint told the media practitioners to get clearance to enter the area from their brigade commander.
The journalists were covering the humanitarian crisis in Maguindanao caused by the yearlong fighting between the military and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels in the wake of the botched Moro homeland deal.