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Archive for April 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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2 suspected NPA fighters slain in Bulacan clash

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By Joel Guinto
First Posted 15:34:00 04/24/2008

MANILA, Philippines — Two suspected communist rebels were killed in an encounter with elite Army troops in Bulacan province on Wednesday, a military official said.

The bodies of the two dead rebels were recovered from the scene of the encounter between a platoon from the 18th Special Forces Company and around seven New People’s Army (NPA) guerrillas in a coastal hamlet of Taliptip village, Meycauayan town at around 4 p.m., said Brigadier General Arturo Ortiz, chief of the Special Forces Regiment.

The dead were identified as Marlon Verano, a logistics officer, and a certain Palo, Ortiz said in a text message to reporters on Thursday. A submachine gun and a .38-caliber pistol were also recovered.

The government troops suffered no casualties.

At the end of the first quarter of 2008, the military estimated the strength of the NPA at 5,470, down from 5,761 in the previous quarter, Armed Forces chief General Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said in his quarterly internal security briefing on Wednesday.

Incidentally, Esperon said Bulacan was among provinces where troops have dismantled guerilla fronts.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has given security forces until 2010 to deal a “strategic defeat” to the NPA, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), which has been waging a guerilla campaign from the countryside for close to 40 years.

Marj Garces, Contributor

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Written by joelguinto

Thu+00:002008-04-24T08:05:18+00:00+00:0004b+00:00Thu, 24 Apr 2008 08:05:18 +0000 22, 2006 at 12:45 am04

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Military official found dead in Taguig

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By Joel Guinto, Thea Alberto
First Posted 12:16:00 04/24/2008

MANILA, Philippines — An Army colonel was found dead, with a gunshot wound to his forehead, inside his quarters in Fort Bonifacio on Thursday morning, military and police authorities said.

A neighbor discovered the body of Colonel Roberto Caldeo in his living room at AOC-6, door 5, PMMA East Side Housing, said Lieutenant Colonel Ernesto Torres Jr., spokesman for the Philippine Army, and Chief Superintendent Luizo Ticman, Southern Police District.

Torres said Caldeo was found at 8:30 a.m. although Ticman said in an earlier report that the victim was discovered at 10:30 a.m.

A handgun was recovered on the scene.

Both Torres and Ticman said it was not clear whether Caldeo committed suicide or whether there was foul play.

“We cannot say yet what happened,” Torres said, adding the Army will also investigate the case, on top of a police investigation, since the incident happened inside camp.

“Tinitignan natin lahat ng anggulo but the initial report ay alleged suicide [We are looking at all angles but the initial report is alleged suicide],” said Ticman in a separate phone interview.

Ticman said later that a suicide note aside from the gun was found by Scene of the Crime Operatives.

The 48-year-old Caldeo is currently assigned as staff officer at the Command and General Staff College at military general headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo, Torres said.

Caldeo was a trained member of the elite Scout Rangers and Special Forces in the Philippine Army. Prior to his current posting, he was assigned in Mindanao as commander of the 1st Scout Ranger Battalion and the 33rd Infantry Battalion, Torres said.

“He is a warrior-officer,” Torres said.

Colonel Ricardo Visaya, Caldeo’s classmate at the Philippine Military Academy’s 1983 class, described him as a “good officer.”

“He’s one of the best. He has good quality leadership,” Visaya said.

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Written by joelguinto

Thu+00:002008-04-24T05:20:38+00:00+00:0004b+00:00Thu, 24 Apr 2008 05:20:38 +0000 22, 2006 at 12:45 am04

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DND chief willing to step down if President wants him to

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By Joel Guinto
First Posted 10:59:00 04/24/2008

MANILA, Philippines — Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. is willing to step down from his post if asked by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, and for the meantime, is taking Malacañang’s word that there is no Cabinet revamp for now.

Teodoro issued the statement Thursday in response to reports that Military Chief Hermogenes Esperon Jr. would take over the Department of National Defense after he retires on May 9 and that he would be moved to another Cabinet office.

“Kami ay nakahanda anytime kailangan kaming bumitaw or kung kinakailangan na ibang tao ang sa tingin ng ating Pangulo na pumalit sa atin [We are prepared anytime, when we are required to step down or if the President thinks we should be replaced],” Teodoro told radio station dzBB.

“We are all prepared. That is part of our duty as a Cabinet member,” he added.

Asked if he was secured in his post, Teodoro, who has been DND chief for eight months, said: “Based on what Secretary Bunye said.”

Teodoro was referring to the statement of Press Secretary and Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye that a Cabinet reshuffle would not be on the horizon.

“My focus is on doing my job,” he said.

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Thu+00:002008-04-24T05:19:08+00:00+00:0004b+00:00Thu, 24 Apr 2008 05:19:08 +0000 22, 2006 at 12:45 am04

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‘Pullout of Malaysian monitors won’t affect talks with MILF’

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By Joel Guinto
First Posted 19:11:00 04/23/2008

MANILA, Philippines — Armed Forces chief General Hermogenes Esperon Jr. played down the impact of the planned pullout of Malaysian ceasefire monitors on peace talks between the government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

“My sense from the commanders in the area is that the people, that means including the MILF, as well as local residents are so desirous of peace… We would say that the people in the area have greater preference for peace rather than for violence,” Esperon told reporters in Camp Aguinaldo.

Malaysia has announced that it is pulling out its contingent to the International Monitoring Team, which has been overseeing the implementation of the ceasefire between the military and the MILF.

Malaysia is also the third party negotiator for the peace talks, which has been stalled on the issue of ancestral domain.

Recent news reports said Brunei might also pull out from the IMT if Malaysia does so.

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Written by joelguinto

Wed+00:002008-04-23T12:54:53+00:00+00:0004b+00:00Wed, 23 Apr 2008 12:54:53 +0000 22, 2006 at 12:45 pm04

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Esperon willing to testify in ‘Hello Garci’ after retirement

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By Joel Guinto
First Posted 18:53:00 04/23/2008

MANILA, Philippines — Armed Forces chief General Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said he is willing to testify at legislative inquiries into the so-called “Hello Garci” election fraud scandal after he retires, but only if the proceedings are “reasonable.”

Esperon, who will retire May 9, was linked to the alleged cheating operations in the 2004 elections after his name was mentioned in purported wiretapped conversations of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and ex-elections commissioner Virgilio Garcillano, after whom the controversy was named.

He is the last of four generals mentioned in the tape to retire from the military service.

“If I will be called to a hearing, I would attend it if I find it reasonable, meaning I would be advised on what questions will be asked so that I could also be prepared,” he told a news conference in Camp Aguinaldo.

“If it is a democratic process, then I will go for it. We have always upheld the democratic processes, the rule of law,” he said.

In the so-called “Hello Garci” tapes, it was implied that Esperon had a hand in the relief of Brigadier General Francisco Gudani as chief of the 1st Marine Brigade in Marawi City, for allegedly supporting Arroyo’s chief rival, movie actor Fernando Poe Jr., who died seven months after the bitterly contested elections.

Maintaining his innocence, Esperon said that as deputy chief of staff for operations during the 2004 election period, he had no power to relieve Gudani.

Esperon spoke to reporters during a break from a command conference in Camp Aguinaldo. Among the attendees was Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Balutan, Gudani’s former battalion commander.

Gudani and Balutan testified before a Senate investigation into the alleged cheating operations in September 2005. They were investigated for possible court martial for testifying without permission from the military leadership.

As Esperon answered questions on the “Hello Garci” controversy, Balutan was seen smiling before he drank water from a glass.

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Written by joelguinto

Wed+00:002008-04-23T11:05:44+00:00+00:0004b+00:00Wed, 23 Apr 2008 11:05:44 +0000 22, 2006 at 12:45 am04

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