Cops, soldiers in Davao journalist's 'mistaken' arrest cleared by Ombudsman

Christian Deiparine - Philstar.com
Cops, soldiers in Davao journalist's 'mistaken' arrest cleared by Ombudsman
Veteran columnist Margarita Valle is pictured at a press conference in Quezon City on June 12, 2019.
The STAR / Michael Varcas

MANILA, Philippines — Police and military officers behind the arrest of Davao-based journalist Margarita Valle in 2019 over mistaken identity were cleared of criminal and administrative charges by Ombudsman investigators on Wednesday. 

Valle had filed kidnapping, serious illegal detention as well as violation of the anti-torture act to name a few against cops who arrested and detained her in early July of last year for almost 10 hours. Police had "mistakenly" took her for Elsa Renton, an alleged member of the communist movement facing multiple charges.

The panel of investigators said the arrest was legal despite lapses, as officers were "under the impression that Elsa Renton and complainant are one and the same person."

"The blurry photograph of Elsa Renton, in some way, has semblance to the physical characteristics of complainants such at both are elderly and have short hair," the September 7 resolution received by Valle's lawyers on October 26 read.

The illegal detention charge could also have been proper if Valle remained under custody, despite authorities having knowledge of the mistaken identity. 

Ombudsman also struck down her anti-torture act violation charge against the officers as records were "bereft of evidence" that cops used violence, coercion or intimidation against her. 

But while such was the case, investigators said the arresting team could have temporarily brought Valle to the Laguindingan municipal police station that has jurisdiction of the arrest while waiting for more information on her identity. 

"Noteworthy is that complainant is a senior citizen and a long travel to Camp Abelon, Pagadian City would cause unnecessary emotional and physical stress," the resolution added.

Valle's relatives have long said that her arrest was not a case of mistaken identity but an attack on human rights defenders and journalists. 

"She was a clear state target," said Valle's son Rius. "Mistaken identity is but a ludicrous propaganda of the Philippine National Police in the advent of the public outrage and pressure to surface and release our Nanay Gingging."

As for administrative charges, Police Col. Tom Tuzon and Police Capt. Madzie-aziz Mukaram who ran the Oplan Pagtugis that arrested Valle, were given three months suspension for simple neglect of duty, not for grave offense of conduct unbecoming of a public official which Valle had charged. 

"Their positions dictate that they should exercise utmost diligence and prudence," the resolution read. "However, in this case, they failed to give proper attention required to a task."

Also included in the raps were then PNP chief Oscar Albayalde and ex-PNP spokesman Bernard Banac who were cleared too after insufficient evidence to invoke command responsibility. 

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines in a tweet said Valle is set to appeal the Ombudsman's ruling next week.



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