Officer who defied Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is a ‘top soldier’
A Marine colonel who defied then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s gag order to testify in the Senate on alleged cheating during the 2004 presidential elections has been chosen one of this year’s The Outstanding Philippine Soldiers (TOPS).
Col. Alexander Balutan, who now commands the 1st Marine Brigade based in Sultan Kudarat, is one of 10 military personnel who will receive the award given out annually by Metrobank Foundation in partnership with the Rotary Club of Makati Metro.
The lone woman awardee, Air Force M/Sgt. Ma. Teresa Bitong, served in the elite Presidential Security Group during the term of the late President Corazon Aquino and was among the longest-serving female helicopter gunners.
Balutan was cited for leading successful campaigns against Muslim separatist rebels and for forging a peace pact among 18 mayors in Lanao del Sur and Marawi City before the 2004 elections when he was a battalion commander.
Ironically, he faced a court-martial for testifying in the Senate about what he knew of alleged cheating in the Lanao provinces during the 2004 elections where Arroyo ran, and won, a new six-year term against the late movie star Fernando Poe Jr.
‘Hello Garci’ scandal
In 2005, when the “Hello Garci” controversy broke out alleging that Arroyo had conspired to rig the elections, Balutan and his superior, Brig. Gen. Francisco Gudani, were relieved and charged with disobedience for defying direct orders from the Commander in Chief not to appear in the Senate.
But Gudani retired while the charges against Balutan proscribed after two years.
“It’s an honor to be given such an award by credible institutions like the Metrobank Foundation and the Rotary Club of Makati Metro,” he said when reached by phone because he could not attend the announcement ceremonies at Camp Aguinaldo.
Take MILF camp
The award also recognizes his leadership in the operation to take over Camp Belal, then the third largest Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) base.
Bitong was recognized for her service as a helicopter gunner for 13 years who merited a Gold Cross Medal, the third highest military award, in her first foray into combat.
Despite heavy enemy fire, Bitong and her team saved a number of Marines trapped in Upper Kapayawan, Basilan, on Aug. 17, 1993, after several days of fighting.
In 1988, she was part of the security detail of the late President Corazon Aquino during the string of bloody coups d’etat.
The other awardees are former military spokesperson now brigade commander Col. Daniel Lucero, Special Operations Command member M/Sgt. Sixto Navarrosa, Chief Master Sgt. Billy Benebile, and military engineer Col. Alexis Tamondong, all from the Army;
T/Sgt. Rommel Carbon, whose intelligence gathering led to the neutralization of notorious Abu Sayyaf leader Abu Sabaya, and Data Processor 3 Jairus Cenabre from the Navy;
And Col. Raul del Rosario, who in 1997 provided tactical air reconnaissance in the contested Spratlys islands that gathered crucial military data, and veteran instructor M/Sgt. Nelson Mercado from the Air Force.
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