MANILA, Philippines – The security guard arrested in Quezon City last year on allegations that he was a communist rebel leader was finally released late Friday night on orders of the Court of Appeals.
The human rights group Karapatan said Rolito “Rolly” Panesa walked out of detention at 9:54 p.m. and was back with his relatives and counsel Jun Oliva of the National Union of People’s Lawyers, three days after the CA ordered “his immediate release from confinement.”
Earlier in the day, Karapatan, which had been helping Panesa in his legal battle since he was arrested by the military in October, was set to celebrate his release and present him in a press conference scheduled at 4 p.m.
In a statement, Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay accused the Philippine Army of delaying the release and of ordering the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology’s legal division to keep Panesa in BJMP custody.
Panesa was arrested by the Army’s 2nd Infantry Division and the Philippine National Police on October 5, 2012, while he was walking home with his family on Aurora Boulevard.
The military alleged that Panesa led a double life as “Benjamin Mendoza,” a leader of the New People’s Army of the Communist Party of the Philippines in the Southern Tagalog region, who was wanted for various criminal cases in a Lucena City court, including rebellion and murder. The government earlier offered a P5.6-million reward for Mendoza’s capture.
Panesa’s family and supporters accused the military of torturing Panesa to make him admit he was Mendoza.
The Court of Appeals’ 5th Division on Tuesday granted a writ of habeas corpus that paved the way for the release of Panesa, who had been held since Oct. 8 at the Security Intensive Care Area of the Metro Manila District Jail at Camp Bagong Diwa, Taguig City.
“This court is convinced that this is a case of mistaken identity. The arrested and detained person, Rolly Mira Panesa, is not the same person as ‘Danilo Benjamin Mendoza,’ who is the subject of the order of arrest and commitment order,” according to the CA decision signed by Associate Justice Rosmari Carandang.
Prior to Panesa’s release, the NUPL said: “If there is any classic example of justice delayed and justice denied, this [case] no doubt fits the bill.”
The NUPL noted that the case underwent “long-drawn and tedious proceedings” despite the body of evidence clearing Panesa of the charge, including official IDs and government records establishing his identity.
The military based the accusations on the testimony of two alleged “comrades” of Mendoza, who identified Panesa as the wanted rebel leader.
The CA noted that Panesa’s name was not included in the government’s order of arrest for rebellion and that Mendoza “had no known alias of Rolly Panesa.”
The court also said it was “puzzled” by the charge because, during Panesa’s court appearances, “it was easily recognizable that the detained person … does not look like a 61-year-old man.” Mendoza was listed in the charge sheet as 61 years old. Panesa maintained he was only 48.
It also noted that the two supposed informants were not with the police at the time of Panesa’s arrest, and that the documentary evidence submitted by the military never described what Mendoza looked like.
The petition for a writ of habeas corpus was filed by Panesa’s common-law wife Marites Chioco and his sister Jiose Panesa.
Named as respondents in the petition were Insp. Bernardino Edgar Camus, SICA jail warden; Maj. Gen. Alan Luga, commanding general of the AFP Southern Luzon Command; Maj. Gen. Eduardo del Rosario, commanding general, 2nd infantry division, Philippine Army; Chief Supt. James Andres Melad, regional director Philippine National Police regional Office IV; and Senior Supt. Manuel Abu, chief of the regional Intelligence Office of the PNP Regional Office IV.