DOJ finds arrest of women tribe members illegal, orders reinvestigation
LUCENA CITY—Pope Francis’ speech at Malacañang yesterday calling on, among others, respect for indigenous peoples struck close to home in the case of two female members of the Agta tribe who had been arrested on suspicion by the military that they were communist guerrillas.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) has found the arrest irregular and ordered a reinvestigation.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said the arrest of Marites Marquez, 43, and her cousin, Rosario Loreto, 37, was illegal because of procedural lapses, including the absence of a warrant.
In an order dated Jan. 7, De Lima ordered the “complete record” of the arrest of the two Agta women “returned to the office of origin for the conduct of a reinvestigation in light of the illegality of the arrests of the respondents.”
A copy of the DOJ order was given to the Inquirer by Fr. Pete Montallana, coordinator of the Indigenous People’s Apostolate of the Diocese of Infanta.
“God is alive!,” Montallana said in reaction to the DOJ order.
The priest, along with relatives of the two women and indigenous peoples’ groups, had been working for the release of the two women from the police jail in Tanay, Rizal province.
Marquez and Loreto were accused of kidnapping, serious illegal detention and robbery in relation to the abduction of retired Army soldier Lino Hernandez by six armed persons in the evening of Sept. 26, 2014, in Barangay (village) Tinucan, Tanay.
The abductors, four of whom were women, introduced themselves as members of the New People’s Army, according to Hernandez’s wife, Virginia. Virginia said her husband’s shotgun had been taken.
Hours after the abduction, soldiers and policemen arrested Marquez and Loreto in Barangay Sta. Ines based on testimonies of witnesses pointing to the two women as part of the group that abducted Hernandez.
Hernandez remains missing to date. The NPA command operating in the area has been mum on the case.
“It is elementary that an arrest without warrant” is valid only if the person being arrested is caught in the act of committing a crime, De Lima said in her order.
De Lima said “at the time of the arrests, the arresting officers did not even have an iota of personal knowledge of facts and circumstances” linking the two women to the abduction or to communist guerrillas.
De Lima ordered the Rizal provincial prosecutor to withdraw the information for kidnapping and serious illegal detention against the two women.
De Lima also dismissed the case of robbery against them.
Montallana said the women’s supporters would ask the DOJ to immediately dismiss the charges and free the two women.
The priest admitted that Marquez is a former NPA rebel who left the armed struggle in 1997 and surrendered to the mayor of General Nakar town.
She said Marquez, a single mother, has been earning a living by gold panning to feed her two children.
The Agta tribe makes its home in the Sierra Madre mountain range but is caught in the middle of the armed conflict between government soldiers and communist guerrillas.