PNoy tells AFP to be neutral on pork issue

MANILA — President Benigno Aquino III on Wednesday reminded Marine Brig. Gen. Alexander Balutan to remain neutral and refrain from issuing statements that could create “negative consequences.”

The President made the statement after Brig. Gen. Alexander Balutan, chief of the 1st Marine Brigade based in Sultan Kudarat, said on his facebook account that the news on the pork barrel scam was “disheartening.”

“I do not see anything wrong in what Gen. Balutan has said. But perhaps it is proper to remind him that he is a current general and we have a standing policy that our military and police should remain neutral be cause they have monopoly of force,” Aquino said.

“Staying neutral is important so we do not have situations of conflict,” the President said.

In his Facebook post which he later removed, Balutan said the misused pork barrel funds could have been used to help the military in its campaigns in Mindanao.

“In each day that we have stared death in the eye, many of us have sacrificed our lives. Now that the P10 billion PDAF is unearthed, that should have been used to solve the lingering social issues leading to armed conflict. The deaths of these Marine heroes are rendered useless,” Balutan said.

Responding to comments to his post, Balutan said: “We are fighting a war in the countrysides that these corrupt (government) officials have created against desperate, oppressed people who see no possibility of improving their lot. They use the lingering social inequity/issues as convenient excuse and justification to rebel against the (government) and the AFP/PNP takes the brunt of the people’s frustrations. Now, who is the real enemy of the state?”

Balutan, however, said he was not espousing a bloody revolution when asked by a Facebook user what he wanted the public to do.

As this developed, the Armed Forces dismissed reports that Gen. Balutan was relieved from his post.

“No, he is not relieved from his position,” AFP public information office chief Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala said.

He added what Balutan posted on his Facebook account is private and meant only for him and his friends.

But Zagala clarified that military officials should be careful in making similar statements as they are in the uniformed service.

“As members of the AFP (they) should maintain a certain degree of discipline and remain non-partisan no matter how the issue is justifiable to some. The AFP should remain neutral in (all) issues,” Zagala said.

He added that Balutan would not be punished for his facebook posts.

“He will not (be punished) because it was never his intent to say those things in public, it was a sentiment and a lot of Filipinos have sentiments and this sentiment of his meant only for his friends and his family and never to be made public,” Zagala said.

Navy spokesperson Lt. Cmdr. Gregory Fabic echoed Zagala’s statements.

“As an individual, we are entitled to our own views. We even have the right to freely express our opinions given the fact that we are a democratic state. Yet, the Philippine Constitution provides that all members of the AFP shall take an oath or affirmation to uphold and defend the constitution and it shall be insulated from partisan politics. Thus, the command remains its apolitical stand to whatever issues attributed by political practice or exercise,” he added.

Fabic said what Balutan posted on his Facebook account is more of a personal expression and not the stand of the PN and the Marine Corps.

In 2011, Balutan was awarded as one of the Ten Outstanding Philippine Soldiers by Metrobank Foundation.