After grief, let justice be served
COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva1 () - April 24, 2009 - 12:00am

It’s been more than two weeks since the tragic incident on April 7 when eight presidential aides died in a chopper crash in Mt. Pulag in Ifugao mountain range. They were en route as advance party to an engagement of President Arroyo when their ill-fated Bell 412 Chopper met bad weather conditions that caused the fatal crash.

Their bereaved families have laid them to rest. The charred remains of the late press undersecretary Joe Capadocia and former presidential appointments secretary Malou Fostrom were cremated. The four military officers led by the late Brig. Gen. Carlos Clet were buried in full military honors. The Chief Executive came to their wakes and burial rites to commiserate with the grief and loss of their loved ones.

This sad incident should have ended there. But apparently there’s still a crying need to hold somebody, or some people accountable for this fatal chopper accident. Such sentiments continuously poured. But whether these sentiments are valid or not, this incident must not be just left to God’s will.

It is in this spirit we would like to share with you one such sentiment from a letter-sender who kept his identity anonymous. The sender of the letter would like us to think he is a “mistah” or a classmate of the late Brig. Gen. Carlos Clet, senior military aide of President Arroyo. Clet, who belonged to Class 1980 of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA), was the highest-ranking officer who perished in this chopper crash. The letter goes:

“I want to contribute to the issue regarding the ill-fated Presidential Bell 412 1946 crash.

“The President should immediately relieve Presidential Security Group Chief B/Gen. Celedonio Boquiren Jr. and Presidential Airlift Wing chief Col. (Arnold) Mancita for allowing the Presidential Bell 412 RP-C 1946 to fly at 4:20PM in a route which is noted to have very erratic weather condition during the afternoon onwards. This resulted to a crash with eight of the President’s senior aides on board, burned to death.

“The unlicensed pilots of the crashed civilian presidential chopper were not proficient and looks like they were not instrument-rated for the Bell 412 (Non-military helicopter). They barely had 200 flying hours as they were still on transition flight with the Presidential Bell 412. The previous assignment of the said pilots was more on Admin and Aide de Camp of two PAF Commanding Generals.

“Some people believed that Boquiren allowed such very late flight so as to abort B/Gen. Carlos Clet from assuming the post of Boquiren as PSG Chief upon the latter’s retirement this month. Was it a way to kill B/Gen. Carlos Clet because B/Gen. Clet was not among the batch of PMA Class 1978 unlike Boquiren and his two predecessors, Lt. Gen. Delfin Bangit and B/Gen. Romeo Prestoza which PMA Class ’78 adopted President Arroyo? Is PGMA giving Boquiren special treatment because of this, that is why he is not being relieved? Will PGMA still wait for Boquiren’s retirement or should she be fair to her SMAs who died while in the service of the country by relieving Boquiren immediately?

“I remembered the time Boquiren was lambasted by former PAF Commanding General Pedrito Cadungog in front of all the PAF Commanders in the Hall of Flags for grabbing the PSG post from B/Gen. Clet.

“If the PSG Chief came from the Army or Navy who is not expected to be well-versed about flying, he could be excused from serious responsibility for the chopper crash but Boquiren is considered an expert as he came from the Philippine Air Force, a pilot and was the head of the Presidential Airlift Wing before he grabbed the PSG Chief post from the late B/Gen. Clet using his Class ’78 influence. Boquiren is presumed to be well-experienced on flight conditions that may endanger all Presidential flights. Obviously, he failed to exercise good judgment and control thus he should take responsibility for it, aside from covering up Mikey Arroyo.

“In hindsight, doesn’t PGMA trust other PMA Class that she often appoints only from PMA Class 1978? Is her plan to appoint Philippine Army chief Lt. Gen. Victor Ibrado as AFP Chief of Staff just a way to get away from criticism for her apparent preference on Class 1978? Many PMAers were wondering why during the memorial service of the late B/Gen. Carlos Clet which I have attended myself, prominent members of PMA Class 1978 especially Boquiren did not attend the service. Were they scared of the soul and having some sense of guilt reason not to show up and pay their last respects to their dead comrade?

“It is an important call for PGMA to promptly act upon in order to give justice to those who died in the chopper crash, or will PGMA again appoint Boquiren to head the CAAP as he is eyeing to take over Director General (Ruben) Ciron. And will the GSIS (?) just keep a blind eye on the violations as the pilots do not even have the required CAAP Commercial Aircraft License.

“Let us pray for our dead ‘Mistah’ that their soul will have eternal rest.”

We have no way of checking the veracity of all these allegations. But we cannot also just brush aside claims of the letter-sender that these things did happen or not happen. After this incident has already been investigated, let the ax fall where it should.

This reminded me of another tragic incident involving the S211 trainer jet of the Philippine Air Force (PAF) in November 2007 that up to now remains missing along with its pilots, Captains Gavino Mercado Jr. and Bonifacio Soriano.

The pilots of the ill-fated trainer jet made last contact with another S211 Nov. 26 while they were conducting maritime patrol to search for 26 Filipino crewmen of a ship that capsized due to raging waves. At least, in the case of the Chemtrad light plane that crashed in Isabela on April 2, the plane had finally been located. Three weeks later, the decomposing remains of its seven passengers were retrieved.

Sen. Mar Roxas II reportedly also met chopper trouble yesterday while en route to a speaking engagement in Tarlac. Fortunately for Mar, who has already publicly declared his possible bid in the coming May 2010 presidential elections, his pilots judiciously observed standard operating procedures to land the chopper to safety. When confronted with poor visibility, they landed in the middle of a ricefield in Apalit, Pampanga. Mar called up radio stations yesterday to assure the public they were fine, except for frayed nerves, perhaps.

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