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MANILA, JULY 27, 2006 (STAR) By Jaime Laude - Is the "Medal of Valor" an immunity for mutineers?

The question was raised by military prosecutors over the possible outcome of the trial of two decorated officers implicated in the Feb. 24 failed coup attempt.

This early, military and civilian lawyers apparently realized the prosecution of Marine Col. Ariel Querubin and Lt. Col. Custodio Parcon could be a litmus test for the government in trying the two Medal of Valor awardees for their alleged involvement in the failed coup attempt.

Military and civilian lawyers conceded the two officers enjoy some protection and privilege since they have received the highest award the military can give to any deserving soldier.

Having the highest military combat award, Medal of Valor awardees, under existing laws enjoy enormous protection and privileges offered by the state, which include a P20,000 additional allowance on top of his salary and other benefits.

Also known as Medal of Honor, the Medal of Valor awardees, by law and military tradition are accorded the highest respect in the land that even the President and other elected officials of the land are required to salute them first.

"Granting if these officers are convicted of the crimes now attributed to them, how can the court possibly dishonorably discharge them as the honor awarded to them by the President is very specific... and that the award and the honors that go with it is for life…" a senior military lawyer said.

Querubin and Parcon, along with 38 other officers from the Marine Corps and the Army’s elite First Scout Ranger Regiment, have been implicated in the alleged power grab that forced President Arroyo to place the entire country under a state of emergency.

A total of 165 officers and soldiers have been named in the coup plot and were recommended to face a pre-trial investigation that could possibly put them under court-martial proceedings.

While agreeing that being a Medal of Valor awardee is not a guarantee against administrative and criminal suits, the lawyer said the end result of these legal proceedings remains to be seen.

"A Valor awardee could be charged. Pero, malabo mag-prosper ang mga ordinaryong kaso kasi sa pre-trial pa lang siguradong laglag na yan," he said.

Seeing a stalemate scenario, the military lawyer said Valor awardees on trial could even dictate the tempo of the proceedings against them.

"What happens when a Medal of Valor awardee enters a military courtroom wearing his medal. Of course, members of the military tribunal are required to salute him and offer him all the courtesy due him and his medal," the lawyer said.

He said the scenario can be made possible since the Valor awardee can always invoke to his advantage all the privileges accorded to him by law, either inside the courtroom or any of his activities.

"When this privilege is invoked at the pre-trial stage, the case filed against a Valor awardee is as good as dead," he stressed.

The lawyer cited the case of the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos who was never disowned of his medals and citations even after he was disgraced from power in 1986.

Marcos earned the Medal of Valor while serving as an intelligence officer during World War II in Bataan against the overwhelming Japanese imperial troops.

Surviving awardees like Lt. Col. Arturo Ortiz and Lt. Col. Bartolome Bacarro, echoed the same observation. They said the Valor award has lifetime privileges.

"Hindi na pwede itong bawiin dahil ibinigay ito dahil sa mga ginagawa mo," said Bacarro, who earned his Valor award after he repelled a large force of New People’s Army (NPA) communist insurgents in Cagayan Valley while he was still a young lieutenant.

Ortiz also agreed the award carries a lifetime privilege. But he conceded the award is not a shield against prosecution in committing any offense. — With Cecille Suerte Felipe

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