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Archive for April 25th, 2008

Comrades: Caldeo 3rd vet of 2000 Basilan clash in ‘suicide’

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By Joel Guinto
First Posted 17:47:00 04/25/2008

MANILA, Philippines — The colonel found dead in his Fort Bonifacio quarters Thursday was the third soldier who took part in a fierce 2000 battle against Abu Sayyaf extremists in Basilan to die in an alleged suicide, his fellow Scout Rangers said.

Aside from Colonel Roberto Caldeo, the source said a sergeant and a lieutenant of the elite unit allegedly also took their own lives years after the three-day assault on Puno (Mt.) Mohaji in Isabela City in late April 2000, according to a Scout Ranger junior officer who was part of the operation.

Caldeo commanded the 1st Scout Ranger Battalion, which was tasked to assault Puno Mohaji to rescue dozens of teachers, students, and a Catholic priest held hostage by the Abu Sayyaf.

Another junior officer in the Rangers who was stationed in Basilan at the time, said the three soldiers could have been driven to suicide because of depression over the assault, in which six soldiers were killed and 50 wounded. More than 20 Abu Sayyaf fighters were also killed.

“Wala talagang stress management sa Army [There really is no stress management in the Army],” the second source said.

The junior officers spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to media.

Caldeo was found dead with a gunshot wound to his forehead on Thursday morning.

Army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Ernesto Torres Jr. said a note and a handgun found on the scene could indicate suicide, although he stressed that the police investigation into the incident is continuing.

A classmate of Caldeo’s at the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) confirmed his late “mistah” was bothered by the Puno Mohaji incident up until the time of his death.

“I believe so, that [Puno Mohaji] is one of the things he shared with us. A number of soldiers died under his watch,” Colonel Daniel Lucero, president of PMA Class 1983 to which Caldeo belonged, said.

Asked if Caldeo may have felt guilty because of the casualties, Lucero said: “Not actually guilt. It’s care for the affected families [of the casualties].”

“Leading men to battle could mean losing lives,” said Lucero, a former military spokesman who is the current head executive assistant to the Armed Forces Chief of Staff.

Another classmate, Colonel Ricardo Visaya, said Caldeo was “very secretive” especially when it came to personal problems.

Torres said the Army does have a team of medical experts who conduct stress management but conceded that: “We can’t say that 100 percent [of troops] undergo the procedure.”

He explained that those who figure in major encounters are prioritized for stress debriefing but could not immediately confirm if the soldiers involved in the Puno Mohaji operation underwent this.

Torres said ground commanders are expected to be “creative” and conduct stress management on their men. Troops who have not gone home for some time or those with family problems are allowed to go on vacation.

“We have professional medical experts [but] hindi natin laging kasama sila [they are not always with us],” he said.

The first Ranger officer joked that soldiers go to watering holes for stress debriefing.

The Puno Mohaji raid earned for Caldeo the Distinguished Conduct Star, the second highest combat medal in the military, but the honor came three years after the encounter.

It also earned for a young officer, then Second Lieutenant Herbert Dilag, the military’s highest honor, the Medal of Valor. Dilag led a 14-man team on a “suicide mission” that finally overran the bandit camp.

But Caldeo was relieved as brigade commander after the hostages were rescued from Puno Mohaji and was reassigned to the 33rd Infantry Battalion in Sulu province.

The first source claimed Caldeo earned the ire of superiors, one of whom threatened to remove the “tabak” or native sword on the Scout Ranger emblem, as his troops suffered casualties during the Puno Mohaji assault.

“Instead of [getting] praise, we got criticized,” he said.

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Written by joelguinto

Fri+00:002008-04-25T10:02:35+00:00+00:0004b+00:00Fri, 25 Apr 2008 10:02:35 +0000 22, 2006 at 12:45 am04

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Accused officers: Esperon ‘brought shame’ to military

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By Joel Guinto
First Posted 15:16:00 04/25/2008

MANILA, Philippines — Armed Forces chief of staff General Hermogenes Esperon Jr. has performed “below par” and “brought shame” to the military establishment, officers accused of plotting an alleged February 2006 coup attempt said Friday.

“No one has brought more shame to the institution. [Esperon is] the pimp in the prostitution of the military establishment,” former Scout Rangers commander Brigadier General Danilo Lim said on the sidelines of a court martial hearing of mutiny charges he and 27 other officers are facing for the alleged 2006 plot..

“He performed below par. Most of his time was spent containing us, but still he wasn’t able to achieve his objectives. He wasn’t able to meet his goals set in his counterinsurgency campaign,” Marine Colonel Ariel Querubin said at the same hearing.

On Wednesday, Esperon announced that the military was short of its target to dismantle 17 communist guerilla fronts in the first quarter of 2008, dismantling only eight, though he said 10 fronts were “downgraded” while 13 others were in advanced stage of degradation.

Reached for comment, Esperon said in a text message: “Let us not dignify the statement of a megalomaniac destabilizer who thinks he is the savior of the Philippines.”

Taking a swipe at Lim and Querubin, Esperon said praise was due the common soldier who “continue risking their lives and accomplish more that self-proclaimed heroes.”

“They [soldiers] never think that only they can be good. They remain humble and keep on soldiering,” said the military chief who will retire on May 9 and be replaced by Army commander Lieutenant General Alexander Yano.

The court martial adjourned early due to a lack of quorum. Only four members were present when least five of the seven-member court should be present to constitute a quorum.

Lim and Querubin are accused of planning to lead soldiers in a mass withdrawal of support from President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo by joining street protests on February 24, 2006, 20th anniversary of the 1986 People Power uprising that toppled the Marcos dictatorship.

Arroyo has been accused of cheating her way to victory in the 2004 elections with the help of senior military officials, including Esperon.

During Friday’s hearing, Lieutenant Colonel Jose Feliciano Loy, one of the military prosecutors, said the special plea of the highest-ranked accused, Major General Renato Miranda, to drop the charges due to a “nolle prosequi” (prosecution application to discontinue charges) to lack of evidence had been dropped.

Citing results of a review of the case, Loy said: “Unfortunately, all the accused have one way or another participated in the charge.”

But Loy assured the accused that during the course of the hearing, when no evidence is found against any of them, the prosecution would “not hesitate a minute longer” to file a “nolle prosequi.”

Loy said the prosecution had “10 to 20” witnesses, including Esperon, who was the Army commander in 2006.

“I want him [Esperon] to be the first witness. If you present him, I want to be the first to examine him,” defense counsel Homobono Adaza said.

To which, Loy replied, “no problem.”

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Written by joelguinto

Fri+00:002008-04-25T09:10:06+00:00+00:0004b+00:00Fri, 25 Apr 2008 09:10:06 +0000 22, 2006 at 12:45 am04

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