Davao City

Brawner to troops: Stand tall, focus on work amid Plaza murder backlash

Ferdinand Zuasola
Brawner to troops: Stand tall, focus on work amid Plaza murder backlash

Army chief Lieutenant General Romeo Brawner Jr. gestures during a news conference in Cagayan de Oro in 2021.

Photo by Bobby Lagsa/Rappler

As police work to bring the suspects in the murder of Yvonette Chua Plaza to court for trial, the Army has been plunged into a public relations nightmare

DAVAO ORIENTAL, Philippines – As the military reels from a scandal that has sent shockwaves through the nation, Army chief Lieutenant General Romeo Brawner Jr. has issued a call to arms to his demoralized troops: stand tall in the face of public condemnation over the alleged involvement of a general and his subordinates in the murder of Davao City-based model-entrepreneur Yvonette Chua Plaza.

The allegations have sullied the reputation of the military institution, and the murder cast a shadow of suspicion over the heads of a general and a group of soldiers under the 10th Infantry Division in the Davao Region.

And as citizens cry out for justice and the police work to bring the suspects to court for trial, the Army has been plunged into a public relations nightmare. 

In the face of the scandal, Brawner called on soldiers to remain professional and focus on their jobs, maintaining the culture of excellence during the change of command ceremony at the 10th Infantry Division headquarters in Camp General Manuel Yan Sr. in Mawab, Davao de Oro, on Friday, January 27,  

He acknowledged the backlash and negative public perception of the Army as a result of the police’s findings and complaint for murder against former 1001st Brigade commander Brigadier General Jesus Durante III, a colonel, and six enlisted soldiers. 

Two John Does were also linked to Plaza’s December 29, 2022 vigilante-style murder in Davao City.

“We are being bashed, the Philippine Army and this division (10th ID), by a lot of people because of the activities of a few of our members. Let us remain professional. Let us focus on our job and give it the best we can and always maintain a culture of excellence. Let’s not listen too much to the noise outside. Let’s not allow this to affect our morale. Let us just do our job the best we can,” Brawner said.

At the same time, Brawner said the Army would never condone criminal acts committed by any of its personnel, regardless of their ranks.

He was in Davao de Oro province to install Major General Jose Eriel Niembra as the new 10th ID commander under which the 1001st Brigade falls.

Durante has been relieved, too, of his duties as commander of the Army brigade to allow an impartial and thorough investigation into his alleged involvement in the murder of Plaza. 

Brawner said that the murder was not military service-related.

Like Durante, Niembra also headed the Presidential Security Group (PSG) during the administration of former president Rodrigo Duterte. He preceded Durante in the PSG.

As 10th ID chief, Niembra would be responsible for Army operations in the whole of Southern Mindanao. He replaced retiring Major General Nolasco Mempin. 

Niembra, a native of Polomolok, South Cotabato, has served as Army inspector general, and chief of the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP).

He was also the commander of the 701st Infantry Brigade in Davao Oriental and the 58th Infantry Battalion. 

On Wednesday, January 25, the Davao police accused Durante of masterminding the murder of Plaza and filed a complaint against him and nearly a dozen other mostly Army soldiers.

The nine other respondents are the following:

  • Colonel Michael Licyayo
  • Staff Sergeant Gilbert Plaza
  • Sergeant Delfin Sialsa Jr.
  • Corporal Adrian Cachero
  • Private 1st class Rolly Cabal
  • Private 1st class Romart Longakit
  • civilian and military man Friday Noel H. Japitan
  • Two John Does, referred to as Junior and Master Sergeant

On Sunday, January 29, Brigadier General Oliver Maquiling, the commander of the Davao Oriental-based 701st Brigade, said he and his troops were unaffected by the public criticism as an offshoot of the Plaza murder because “it is a personal matter and not work-related.” 

Maquiling said, “The incident came as a shock to us. However, it is important to note that as an organization, we have a zero-tolerance policy towards criminal behavior, regardless of the individual’s role or position. The morale among our team remains high.”

The 701st Brigade is responsible for military operations in all of Davao Oriental and some parts of Davao de Oro, Agusan, and Surigao provinces. – Rappler.com

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