Ombudsman clears police, military officers in mistaken arrest of Davao journalist
MANILA, Philippines — The Office of the Ombudsman has dropped the charges filed against several police and military officers for the mistaken arrest in June last year of Davao City-based journalist Fidelina Margarita Valle.
Two separate resolutions approved by Overall Deputy Ombudsman Edilberto Sandoval agreed with the claim of the officers that the arrest was simply a case of mistaken identity as the real suspect, Elsa Renton, also used the name Fidelina Margarita Valle as an alias.
Renton, alleged to be a communist rebel, has arrest warrants issued on her for arson and murder.
Journalist Valle was released some nine hours after she was arrested in Cagayan de Oro and detained in Pagadian at the Zamboanga Peninsula regional office of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG).
She later filed complaints of illegal detention, among others, against several officers involved in her arrest.
Among the respondents in the case were Oscar Albayalde, who was then a general heading the Philippine National Police (PNP), and Jacinto Barent, then a brigadier general heading the 1st Infantry Division.
The Office of the Ombudsman presumed regularity of the police operations despite Valles’s claim that the officers were acting in a private capacity.
“The operation was supported by valid grounds, viz: warrants of arrest, confidential information, and Oplan Pagtugis and Oplan Salikop. Albeit there was a “mistake in identity”, the perceived deprivation of liberty of complainant was not for any evil purpose,” the Ombudsman said.
“While there may be lapses in the operation, the arrest was legal at that time since the arrest officers were under the impression that Elsa Renton and complainant are one and the same person. The arrest was a clear case of mistaken identity. The mistake may be attributed to the arresting officers’ overzealousness or lack of accurate, complete, and verifiable information,” it added.
The Ombudsman also dismissed administrative cases of grave misconduct, grave abuse of authority, and conduct unbecoming of a public official.
Following are the other respondents who were cleared of the charges (the positions and ranks indicated were those at the time the charges were filed):
- Lt. Col. Marlowe Patria, chief of the 53rd Infantry Battalion
- Col. Bernard Banac, spokesperson of the Philippine National Police
- Col. Tom Tuzon, chief of the Zamboanga Peninsula office of the CIDG
- Col. Redentor Retusto, chief of the Zamboanga del Sur Police Provincial Office
- Col. John Guyguyon, the deputy director of the Zamboanga Peninsula Police Regional Office
- Lt. Col. Modhin Pantaran, chief of the Zamboanga del Sur Police Provincial Intelligence Branch
- Col. Mardito Angulan, chief of the Regional Mobile Force Batallion 9
- Capt. Moh Madzdie-Aziz Mukaram, CIDG Zamboanga del Sur Field Unit leader
- Col. Michael Pareja, chief of the Iligan City Police Station
- Col. Raniel Valones, Aviation Security Unit 10 chief
- Maj. Alfredo Lim, Aviation Security Unit 10 assistant chief
- Capt. Royce Tabuculin, Laguindingan Municipal Polic Station chief
- Senior Master Sgt. Cristina Verceles, Laguindingan Airport Police desk officer
According to the Office of the Ombudsman, no evidence was presented proving that the high-ranking police and military officials — Albayalde, Banac, Bareng, and Pa — ordered the arrest and could therefore be held responsible under the doctrine of command responsibility.
On the other hand, Tuzon and Mukaram were found liable for simple neglect of duty, meaning that they would be suspended for three months without pay.
After the incident, several activist groups and progressive lawmakers speculated that the arrest was not really a case of mistaken identity but part of an effort to silence the reporter.
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