Zamboanga City cops pass hat for 72-year-old detainee
ZAMBOANGA CITY, Zamboanga del Sur, Philippines — More than 21 years ago, Alfredo Lacanilao Santos Fernando asked his landlord-employer if he could spare him a coconut tree. He needed lumber to repair the hut that he had built on a piece of farmland in Barangay Pamucutan here, where he worked as a caretaker.
Fernando got his wish. For extra cash, he sold the coconuts picked from the same tree that he was given, using the money to buy nails and other building materials.
But unknown to Fernando, some of the landlord’s family members disapproved of the gesture. They accused him of theft and filed a formal complaint against him in early 2000.
On Nov. 21, 2021, members of Zamboanga City Police Station 8 based in Barangay Sinunuc arrested Fernando, now 72, on a warrant issued by Zamboanga City Regional Trial Court Branch 4.
It was not immediately clear why the case took so long to reach this point. But according to Maj. Wilfredo Palamos Jr., the acting station commander, Fernando, who can barely read and write, may have ignored court summonses all these years until the judge was forced to order his arrest.
“We think that the farm owner failed to inform the other family members, so when he was caught by the [landlord’s] brothers, a complaint was filed against him. Since he cannot read or write, he just ignored the court documents [sent him],” Palamos said.
In for a shock
When his men received the court order, Palamos said, they conducted a background investigation on Fernando.
“We were told he was a tall, stocky person, a big guy in his late 40s. So we formed a team of four to proceed to Pamucutan, in case there are problems. If he resists arrest, at least we can easily handle him,” the police official added.
The team included not just the designated warrant server but even the station’s chief intelligence officer.
“When we reached the place, we were all shocked. What we saw was a frail, ailing old man, crawling from his sleeping mat,’’ Palamos recalled in an interview with the Inquirer. ‘’Our hearts were crushed when we saw his condition.’’
The septuagenarian was still living in his old hut — the same structure he repaired using wood from the supposedly “stolen” coconut tree — except that it was already crumbling and missing parts of the wall.
The officers later learned from nearby residents that “Tatay Fred” — who looked after the farm for over three decades — had been bedridden for a long time, with no one to take care of him and generally relying on his neighbors for food.
Palamos said they decided to bring him to the police station — but not to treat him like any detainee.
“We served the warrant on him, but we made sure he was taken care of by our personnel. We fed him, clothed him, and gave him medicines and vitamins,” Palamos said.
The station chief also ordered his men to know more about Fernando’s family and about the complainant, whose identity he declined to disclose.
Staff Sgt. Mark Baridji, the chief investigator, processed the barangay documents to certify Fernando’s status as an indigent so there could be a legal basis to lower the prescribed bail of P10,000.
The court eventually lowered bail to P2,500.
“We then passed the hat for him,” Palamos said. “We have parents, too. Most of our parents are already in their senior years and it breaks our heart to see his condition … Our parents taught us to be compassionate. Fernando deserved more.”
The officers later located a sister of Fernando in another village within Zamboanga City.
On Jan. 24, after the court ordered his release, Fernando was reunited with his sibling, an ambulant vendor in Barangay Curuan.
Palamos said he was optimistic that the charge against Fernando would eventually be dismissed since the complainant had already died.