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Colonel, sergeant to keep disputed medals–official

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By Joel Guinto
First Posted 13:18:00 05/08/2008

MANILA, Philippines — (UPDATE) Despite procedural lapses, an Army colonel and his sergeant will most likely keep their controversial Medals of Valor, with a review board set to turn down a protest by fellow recipients of the highest combat award in the military, the chairman of the board said.

Lieutenant Colonel Noel Buan and Sergeant Leopoldo Diokno were originally awarded Gold Cross medals on April 8, 2004, the same day their Army unit figured in a clash with the Abu Sayyaf in which extremist leader Hamsiraji Sali was killed.

The awards were later upgraded to Distinguished Conduct Stars and, during a visit by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to Southern Command (Southcom) headquarters in Zamboanga City several weeks after the encounter, to Medals of Valor.

Former Armed Forces vice chief of staff Lieutenant General Antonio Romero, chairman of the review board, acknowledged that the awarding of the Gold Cross to Buan and Diokno on the day of the encounter raised questions as to whether the decision to give the medals had been deliberated on.

However, this “lapse” was not enough to take back the awards, since the two officers deserved the honors on the merits of the encounter, Romero told reporters in Camp Aguinaldo.

He also said Arroyo never gave direct orders to upgrade the two soldiers’ awards to Medals of Valor.

“The announcement [of Aroryo] is maybe [the awards can be upgraded], she did not order to upgrade the award to a Medal of Valor,” Romero said.

Romero said the report of the review board needs only his signature before it is forwarded to the chief of staff for approval.

He said he would act on the report in a week, ahead of his June 25 retirement from the service.

Asked if the board recommended the stripping of awards, Romero said: “Based on the written recommendations, there is none. That is why I am reviewing it thoroughly.”

“What we saw were errors in procedures. The facts of the case, the encounter, was there, they got the top leadership of the [Abu Sayyaf] group. They even lost two men,” he said. “Our analysis is, when you look at the act itself, you can’t say that the award has to be recalled.”

Romero said the review board noted that the then Southcom leadership was “overexcited with the accomplishment of the unit” and quickly gave them Gold Cross medals.

Asked if the board concluded that based on merit, Buan, now with the National Capital Region Command, and Diokno deserved the award, Romero said: “Yun ang parang conclusion ngayon, conclusion na [That appears to be the conclusion].”

In 2005, several Medal of Valor awardees, led by now Special Forces Regiment commander Brigadier General Arturo Ortiz, questioned the award of Buan, accusing him of having deceived Sali, who was reportedly planning to surrender.

Ortiz refused to comment in detail about the review board’s findings until he is furnished a copy of its report, but stressed that the Medal of Valor is “sacred.”

“We hope the review board considered the questions we raised, especially the issue of treachery,” Ortiz said.

Around 10 of the close to 20 living Medal of Valor awardees signed the protest against Buan’s award, among them Colonel Ariel Querubin and Lieutenant Colonel Custodio Parcon of the Marines, and military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Bartolome Bacarro, Ortiz said.

Asked about the allegations of treachery, Romero acknowledged that Sali and his men had the “intention” to surrender, but that the Abu Sayyaf commander had also positioned his fighters in a way that they were poised to pounce on Buan and his troops.

Romero said Sali’s men could have been planning to trap the Army troopers in the same way Moro rebels did to the late general Teodulfo Bautista on Jolo Island in the 1970s.

“Ang kaso kasi, may mga reports na may mga groups around the area so baka sila yung mapain [The problem is, there are other groups in the area, and the Army men could end up trapped,” Romero said.

In 2005, Ortiz and Parcon quit as members of the Medal of Valor board when the body changed its rules after Arroyo “suggested” that Buan and Parcon be given the honor.

The board conferred the award on a two-thirds vote of its members, when in the past a unanimous vote was needed.

The five-man review board, which was formed to hear the protest, has spanned three chiefs of staff since 2005 — Efren Abu, Generoso Senga, and General Hermogenes Esperon Jr., who will relinquish his post to Lieutenant General Alexander Yano on Monday.

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Written by joelguinto

Thu+00:002008-05-08T08:47:23+00:00+00:0005b+00:00Thu, 08 May 2008 08:47:23 +0000 22, 2006 at 12:45 am05

Posted in Uncategorized

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