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DETAINED FOR ALMOST 9 HOURS

CIDG frees journalist, admitting ‘case of mistaken identity’

Margarita Valle - Ronald Lunas

Davao City-based journalist Margarita Valle takes a puff at an inhaler to stave off an asthma attack while at the Bishop’s House in Pagadian City past 10 p.m. on Sunday, June 9, 2019. Sr. Tess Cordova of the Sisters of Good Shepherd (right) talks to her at the Bishop’s House where she would be spending the night before returning to Davao City. (Photos by LEAH AGONOY / Inquirer Mindanao)

PAGADIAN CITY, Zamboanga del Sur, Philippines — The arrest of a veteran community journalist, 61-year-old Margarita Valle, was a case of mistaken identity.

The Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) here admitted the mistake after holding Valle around close to nine hours on Sunday by virtue a nearly decade-old arrest warrant for a murder case.

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Valle’s full name is Fedelina Margarita Avellanosa Valle. She was mistaken for Elsa Renton — also known as Tina Maglaya and Fidelina Margarita Valle.

Renton, a suspected member of the communist movement, is the subject of a 2006 arrest warrant for arson and a 2011 arrest warrant for multiple murder with quadruple frustrated murder and damage to government property.

These details were provided by Virginia Pestañas, a member of Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP), which coordinated with the CIDG for Valle’s release.

Arrested on the way home to Davao City

Valle, 61, was at Laguindingan Airport in Misamis Oriental when arrested by CIDG agents at 10:30 a.m.

Valle, a mother of four, just came from a training workshop with the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines in Cagayan de Oro City and was waiting for her flight to Davao City when arrested.

Her whereabouts were unknown for several hours.

Then, in a telephone interview with the INQUIRER at past 6 p.m., Col. Tom Tuzon, director of the CIDG in the Zamboanga Peninsula (Region 9), regional said Valle was in their custody in Pagadian City, which is around 200 kilometers — or about four hours travel time — from the Laguindingan airport.

Valle walked out of the CDIG office here at 9:38 p.m. after her release was coordinated with the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) in Zamboanga del Sur.

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Sgt. Antonio Detolios of the CIDG in Zamboanga del Sur told reporters waiting outside the CIDG office here that Valle’s arrest was “a case of mistaken identity.”

Not harmed but rights violated

“I was not harmed,” Valle said following her release.

She said, however, that her rights were violated because she was forced to go with the arresting team without counsel.

She said her supposed arrest warrants were flashed before her, but she was not allowed to read them.

“They took [my] pictures, but they did not ascertain of my identity. For so many hours, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., I have no contact with my family since they took my cellphone. That by itself is a violation,” she said.

Valle said she wanted everything about her arrest to be noted so that President Rodrigo Duterte would know that what was done to her was not right.

“Anybody can be arrested by allegations. Anybody is vulnerable,” she said.

He said that when they arrived at the CIDG, they immediately took her mugshots and fingerprints despite her insistence that her identity could be easily verified by searching for her name on Google.

“My life is an open book,” she said.

Spending the night at Bishop’s House

Valle was escorted by Pestañas and other TFDP members to the Bishop’s House in Barangay Balangasan in this city.

There she was met by nuns and priests, led by Bishop Ronald Lunas of the Diocese of Pagadian.

Valle would spend the night at the Bishop’s House before returning home to Davao City.

Seasoned journalist

The National Union of Journalist in the Philippines (NUJP) – Davao Chapter strongly condemned the Valle’s arrest.

The organization said it was unlikely that the arresting officer would not know her as she had been a community reporter for nearly four decades, starting in the 1980s.

Valle was one of the pioneers Media Mindanao News Service during the Marcos regime. Later, Valle also became an administrative officer for MindaNews in 2001 and a writer for Sunstar Davao until 2018.

“Aside from being a seasoned journalist with vast experience in reporting various issues in Mindanao, Valle is also known for her community development work partnering with different nongovernment organizations focusing on Peace Development, Environmental Protection and community capacity and ability programs. She is also active in advocating for Human Rights in Mindanao,” the NUJP-Davao chapter said.

“Valle’s arrest adds up to the growing number of trump up charges against people with critical views of the Duterte administration and human rights violations committed by state forces under the guise of Martial Law implementation in Mindanao,” it added.

It said that the arrest of Valle showed “a clear twisted logic of the Duterte administration that foolishly believes in the conspiracy theory of people linking with the communist party using same pretext and plot weaved by past administrations.”

The group also feared that the community journalists in Mindanao would become targets of threats, harassment, and killings, especially with Mindanao still under martial law.

In a separate statement, Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate said the charges against Valle were not only meant to silence her but also intended “to send a chilling message to others like her that they can be put in a similar situation once they continue with their advocacies.”

“The supposed charges against her are clearly trumped-up and are designed to unjustly harass and vilify her, considering her advocacy for the lumads and for peace in Mindanao, both as a journalist and as an academician,” Zarate said.

(Editor: Alexander T. Magno)

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TAGS: arrested journalist, CIDG, Margarita Valle, mistaken identify
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