Journos question Ombudsman ruling on journalist’s wrongful arrest

Aug. 13, 2021

DAVAO CITY – Veteran journalist and Davao Today columnist Margarita ‘Ging’ Valle will appeal to higher courts the decision of the Ombudsman to acquit police officers who wrongfully arrested her in June 2019.

Journalist groups also join her call for justice, that authorities need to be held accountable for lapses and abuse in their duty.

In an online press conference arranged by the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), Valle and her lawyer Attorney Kat Panguban presented the Ombudsman’s decision to reject their appeal to reverse its October 2020 decision.

The case stems from the wrongful arrest of Valle by the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) Region 9 on the morning of  June 9, 2019 as she was boarding her flight at Laguindingan Airport in Misamis Oriental.  Valle said she was not presented with the warrant of her arrest, was held incommunicado for hours as she was brought to the CIDG headquarters in Pagadian.  She was later released at night after appeals made by fellow journalists and the CIDG said their informant could not verify her as the suspect Elsa Renton, a communist party leader wanted for murder and arson.

‘Lies. Maneuverings’

The Ombudsman sustained its decision made in August 2020 that the arrest made on Valle was proper and that this was a case of mistaken identity.

Panguban pointed out that the Ombudsman decision failed to produce evidence that will overturn the presumption of regularity in the performance of official duty among the police and military officers involved.

“Official documents showed that Elsa Renton was arrested and released. Official evidence and documents that Ging Valle and Elsa Renton are not one and the same person. The Ombudsman,however, did not recognize the evidence we presented,”she added.

Valle filed cases of kidnapping, serious illegal detention, arbitrary detention, violation of the Anti-torture Act and administrative charges againts elements and officers of the CIDG 9 including top officials General Albayade,Brigadier General Jacinto Bareng,Lieutenant Colonel Marlowe Patria,and PNP spokesperson Colonel Bernard Banac.

The Ombudsman suspended two respondents of the case: Police Colonel Tom Tuazon and Police Captain Moh Madzie Aziz K.Mukaram for simple neglect of duty and meted three months suspension without pay.

Panguban said that they will appeal the decision to the higher courts stating that Valle was detained and arrested without any lawful cause, and not a subject of any warrant of arrest.

Valle read her statement saying the decision only showed again the “lies, maneuverings, paulit-ulit na (repeated)… excuses (made by the police and military).”

“‘Simple’ neglect of duty excuses command responsibility and accountability, and therefore, only the small fry are held responsible, while (top officials) go scot-free,” she said.

Confronting fear
Holding back tears, Valle said the arrest has made it difficult for her to resume her journalism, saying she is far from her true self leaving her blank in writing and muster mundane tasks such as household chores.

“It is hard enough, as it is, to detach my mind from the ‘personal’, emotional part of this development, in this so-called mistaken identity brouhaha, and yet, like it or not, I must confront it head on, just to ‘survive’, if not to claim back my equilibrium that has long been destroyed and so difficult to take back,” Valle said.

“Fear is my “daily” fare, for so many reasons, like most of us, perhaps, even if we don’t openly admit it.  Anyone who have experienced or witnessed, one way or another, the harshness and rudeness of this regime, the brutality that critics are dealt with that we learn as we go about each of our jobs/roles as journos… will always make us feel the dread and uncertainty,” she added.

Valle started her journalism work in the defunct Media Mindanao News Service in 1984. She later worked with Mindanews and wrote columns for SunStar Davao.  She had also been engaged with development work.

She vowed to continue to stand for justice by not allowing the same incident to happen to any journalists or any citizens.

“That flimsy excuse of saying that I was just another case of “mistaken identity” can also happen to any journalists in the field who are just doing their jobs.  We cannot let it happen again, perhaps in our little ways, and we must be vigilant as ever, against attempts at gagging the press like what this administration has been and is currently doing.”

Groups support for Valle

NUJP Chairperson Jonathan de Santos said the Ombudsman decision does not appease the worries of Valle or the journalists’ search for justice.

“In minimizing the incident…. I don’t know what consolation it gives to Ma’am Ging or to anyone who has been a victim of mistaken identity,” de Santos said.

He also questioned how justice would be attained if decisions come out like this.

“The Palace and even the PNP would tell us to file cases to hold wayward police accountable.  That’s what we did, but they now say what happened was a neglect of duty. The punishment for the two police officers is a three month suspension.  The case is longer than that suspension,” he said.

The NUJP has documented 230 cases of media harassment from June 2016 to July 2021, which include arrests and detention, filing of libel cases, intimidation, surveillance, red tagging and cyber attacks.

“We call for the stop on the harassment of journalists, especially those in the regions who are only doing their jobs to inform us on what is happening in their areas,” de Santos said.

International Association of Women In Radio and Television said that the decision is unacceptable given the incident has greatly affected Valle and local journalists.

“We implore reason and sense of justice from those who swore to uphold it.  A soft-spoken, dedicated, and passionate journalist that she is, this will not deter Ms. Valle from exposing the truth, and in mainstreaming the plight of the marginalized,” IAWART Chairperson Linda Garcia said during the online presser.

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