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Monday, February 26, 2007

 

Pullout of Erap security a ‘mistake’

By Anthony Vargas, Reporter

THE military said on Sunday that the sudden pullout of the security detail of Joseph Estrada was an “honest mistake” and that the detail was now back with the former President.

The Armed Forces chief of staff, Gen. Hermogenes Es­peron Jr., told reporters the soldiers assigned to protect Estrada were recalled to the mother units for a briefing on the elections in May.

“They [Estrada’s security detail] were gathered to keep them updated on matters about election… about current issues and that is a regular matter,” Es­peron said.

Estrada’s detail was pulled out on Saturday, the day the opposition coalition held its proclamation rally in Plaza Miranda.

Former presidents and their immediate family are entitled to no less than three soldiers as guard detail. Estrada had 15 soldiers assigned to him.

The opposition criticized the withdrawal of Estrada’s bodyguards at a time when the military itself is claiming there was a communist plot to assassinate him.

“It was an honest mistake on the part of security… but the matter of recalling his [Estrada’s] security detail every now and then is routine,” Esperon said.

He said the bodyguards of the other presidents were also temporarily withdrawn for administrative reasons.

“They are given lectures and release again so they know what they are doing in the field. They are not there just to secure or make them look good before the VIPs,” Esperon said.

Estrada, who is facing plunder charges, has been under house arrest in his rest house in Tanay, Rizal.

The AFP chief had said that reports of the assassination were yet to be verified but that they were probably accurate.

In Malacañang, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita repeated the explanation of Esperon but added that the pullout should not raise any concern.

Esperon also raised the possibility of permanently withdrawing military personnel detailed to elected officials.

Estrada’s son, San Juan Mayor Joseph Victor Ejercito, called the stripping of the ex-president of his security detail a “renewed political persecution.”

“That is a part of a political persecution. Again, every time there is a campaign season such things happen. He is entitled to security being a former president. It is a clear violation of his privilege,” Ejercito said.

He also said the pullout was one of the Palace’s “inconsistent” moves. “Why remove these trusted security that he is entitled to they claim there is a threat to Estrada’s life,” he said.

Ferdie Ramos, Estrada’s media officer, said a letter from the Armed Forces dated February 15 ordered the recall of the security detail.

Estrada received the letter last Saturday.

The letter, signed by AFP adjutant, Gen. Cmdr. Paterno Labiano, on behalf of Esperon, did not state the reason for the withdrawal, but said the order was effective January 14.

But the military spokesman, Lt. Col. Bartolome Bacarro, said the recall order was a “generic directive” to all military escorts of politicians, but that it did not cover Estrada.

Bacarro said Estrada’s security detail was “sent recall orders but were not recalled,” adding that Esperon’s order was mainly “for accounting purposes.”

Ramos said that while the Estrada camp wants certain restrictions on the former President relaxed, his security and safety remain important in view of the alleged death threats.

Bacarro clarified that it’s not the Presidential Security Group but the AFP’s Headquarters and Headquarters Support Group that is providing close-in security to former presidents.

Estrada, considered as the opposition’s figurehead, was recently barred by authorities from receiving visitors other than his direct family and lawyers, on the recommendation of National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales.

Estrada’s camp believes Gonzales merely wanted to isolate Estrada from his political allies and prevent him from becoming a rallying figure of the opposition in the May 14 elections.
With Sam Mediavilla and Francis Earl A. Cueto

   
 

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Severino O. Frayna Jr., Benjie Dela Rosa
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