MANILA, Philippines – A 50-year-old tabloid columnist tagged in the alleged kidnapping of an Indian national last week has denied the accusations, saying he was only covering what he thought was a legitimate police operation.
In an interview on Sunday night, Arnel Petil said he and his driver Richard Versoza, 39, did not kidnap Jaswant Singh.
Petil, a columnist for Remate and X-Files, said he thought he was only covering a legitimate police operation to supposedly serve a warrant on Singh.
“If I knew that the policemen were up to something, then I would have said no. I honestly thought there was a story for my column,” Petil said.
Petil and Versoza were arrested Friday night for the alleged abduction. They were with four others, who remain at large.
The two men are now facing kidnapping raps, a non-bailable offense, while Versoza was also charged with illegal possession of firearms and violating the election gun ban.
Recalling the events, Petil said their companions, who introduced themselves as policemen and National Bureau of Investigation agents, had approached his driver about their plan to serve arrest warrants for a man named Gupreet Singh.
Sensing a possible story for his column, Petil agreed, even lending his owner-type jeep.
“I do not personally know those men. It was my driver who knew them. But as a journalist, I was interested because I knew there’s a story worth pursuing,” he said.
Petil said that last Friday night at around 7:30 p.m., he, Versoza and four others went to Singh’s house, supposedly to serve the warrant.
The tablod columnist and his driver, however, stayed behind in the jeep, parked several meters away from the house.
“As a journalist, I’ve accompanied countless operations and raids. I know better than to go ahead of the policemen who are doing their job. That’s why I stayed behind and waited for the details,” Petil said.
After Singh was loaded into the jeep, Petil then drove the vehicle to the Batasan police station in less than 10 minutes. Only he, Versoza, Singh, and a supposed NBI agent rode the jeep, while the others rode a different vehicle. During the ride, no one harmed Singh, contrary to the complaint.
“I even had a hidden camera with me, which I always use in operations to record the event. But that night, it was so dark, it was unable to record anything,” he recalled.
Upon arriving at the parking lot of the Batasan police station, it took less than three minutes before a commotion ensued. Policemen suddenly pounced on them and arrested them, while other Indian nationals, reportedly Singh’s companions, were shouting angrily.
“If I really wanted to kidnap someone, I wouldn’t drive straight to the police station. I would drive around in circles,” he pointed out.
Petil said he and Versoza introduced themselves as mediamen only covering what they thought was a police operation.
But their pleas fell on deaf ears.
“No one listened to us. Our companions ran off, leaving us behind. They didn’t even bother to contact us after what happened. If we were really doing something illegal, we would have run off, too. But we did not, in good faith, because we are journalists doing our job,” Petil said.
He also denied having anything to do with the abduction of another Indian national last June 2012. Petil said Versoza is willing to name the lawmen, who got them into trouble before the courts.
Petil also theorized that a police official may be getting back at him for writing column pieces about irregularities involving the official’s subordinates.
“I have been a journalist for 30 years. All of that was ruined because we were accused of kidnapping someone,” said Petil, visibly said and shaking his head.