Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Marine witness in ‘Hello Garci’ honored by TOPS MARINE Col. Alexander Baluta

By Victor Reyes
Malaya, Tuesday, June 7, 2011

MARINE Col. Alexander Balutan, the officer who claimed to have witnessed the rigging of the 2004 presidential elections by allies of former President Gloria Arroyo in Lanao del Sur, was chosen one of this year’s Ten Outstanding Philippine Soldiers (TOPS).

Balutan, now commander of the 1st Marine Brigade based in Sultan Kudarat, said it is an honor for him to be recognized by the Metrobank Foundation and the Rotary Club of Makati Metro which sponsored the search.

In a phone interview, Balutan said he is proud to be looked up to as a role model for Filipino soldiers amid allegations of corruption in the 120,000-strong Armed Forces.

Balutan was not able to attend the initial presentation of the TOPS awardees in Camp Aguinaldo as he is supervising relief operations in Central Mindanao. The winners were announced by Metrobank Foundation chair Aniceto Sobrepeña.

A member of the Philippine Military Academy class of 1983, Balutan was credited Balutan for getting political leaders in Lanao and Marawi City to commit to a peace covenant months before the 2004 presidential elections, and for capturing the Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s Camp Bidal during the military’s all-out war against the secessionist group in 2000.

He was also recognized for leading six "major" operations that resulted in the death of seven MILF rebels, apprehension of 19 others and rescue of a number of kidnap victims.

In September 2005, Balutan and then 1st Marine Brigade commander Brig. Gen. Francisco Gudani told the Senate inquiry on the controversial ‘Hello Garci’ tapes how they witnessed the rigging of the elections in Lanao del Sur. The two Marine officers defied the military leadership’s order not to appear before the Senate inquiry without explicit authority from commander-in-chief Gloria Arroyo, who herself was being implicated in the vote-rigging.

Military probers subsequently subjected Balutan and Gudani to a pre-trial investigation preparatory to possible court martial for violation of Article of War 65 (willful violation of a superior officer) and AW 97 (conduct prejudicial to good order and military discipline). The cases did not reach the military tribunal for a formal trial as they prescribed after two years.

Col. Daniel Lucero, Balutan’s classmate and present commander of the Army’s 103rd Brigade in Lanao del Sur, was also chosen a TOPS awardee for his "24/7 availability to the media, along with his skillful handling, allowed him to effectively respond to the negative feedback thrown against the AFP during his assignment as spokesman."

It also noted that the 18th Infantry Battalion was given the Army’s streamer award in 2001 while Lucero was battalion commander.

Incidentally, it was Lucero’s battalion that spread a poster of wanted Abu Sayyaf terrorists in various places in Basilan. The poster erroneously included the picture of a Manila-based female journalist who frequented Mindanao to cover military activities in the region.

The eight other awardees are Col. Raul del Rosario, assistant chief of Air Staff for Intelligence, for leading a tactical air reconnaissance in the disputed Spratlys in 1997; Air Force M/Sgt. Ma. Teresa Bitong for "providing guard to the late President Corazon Aquino during the most fraught years in her presidency." She was awarded a Gold Cross Medal for serving as helicopter gunner while extricating wounded soldiers Basilan in 1993; Army engineer Col. Alexis Tamondong, Army M/Sgt. Sixto Navarrosa, Army Chief M/Sgt. Billy Benebile, Marines T/Sgt. Rommel Carbon, Navy Data Processor 3 Jairus Cenabre, and Air Force M/Sgt. Nelson Mercado.

The 10 will receive their trophies and P300,000 each on June 27 in ceremonies to be graced by President Aquino.


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