Freed security guard challenges AFP, PNP

Patricia Evangelista
The 'high-ranking communist leader' for whom the AFP pays out a P6.5-million peso bounty now sues the AFP and the PNP for torture and unlawful arrest

FIGHTING BACK. Security guard Rolly Panesa files his complaint at the DOJ. 4 Sep 2013 Photo by Patricia Evangelista/ Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – The “high-ranking communist leader” – for whom the Armed Forces of the Philippines paid out a P6.5-million bounty – is now suing the AFP and the Philippine National Police before the Department of Justice (DOJ).

Rolly Mira Panesa filed Wednesday morning, September 4, a complaint at the DOJ for violation of Republic Act 9745, the Anti-Torture Act of 2009, as well as Republic Act 7438, on the Rights of Persons Arrested.

Panesa is holding the respondents accountable for violation of Articles 269, on Unlawful Arrest, Article 363, on Incriminatory Machination, and Article 183, on Perjury, of the Revised Penal Code.

Panesa, a 48-year-old security guard, was arrested on Oct 5, 2012, for crimes of rebellion and murder charged against Danilo Benjamin Mendoza, the alleged secretary of the National Democratic Front’s Southern Luzon Regional Party Committee. Mendoza is also believed to be part of the Communist Party of the Philippines’ Central Committee.

Panesa was mistakenly identified as Mendoza by rebel returnees working with the AFP.

Mistaken identity

Panesa has consistently denied any links with Mendoza. He was incarcerated for 11 months until he was released Friday, August 30, after the Court of Appeals granted him a writ of habeas corpus.

“This court is convinced that this is a case of mistaken identity,” said the Court of Appeals. “The arrested and detained person, Rolly Mira Panesa, is not the same person as ‘Danilo Benjamin Mendoza.’ Rolly Mira Panesa is his real name. He is not and does not look 61 years old. He is a simple security guard and not a high-ranking officer of the CPP-NPA.”

Asked about the age difference, Philippine Army spokesman Col Randolph Cabangbang said the information on Mendoza’s age originally came from the AFP.

“Apparently the information on his being 61 came from us,” he said in Filipino. “The 61 is probably wrong, but we still contend he is Benjamin Mendoza. If the age was their only concern, we may have made a mistake on the age, but still, he was the one our assets identified.

The court added, in its habeas corpus decision, that Panesa’s identification by witnesses was “improperly suggestive.” They called the process “illegal procedure,” and said  “the police, purposely or otherwise, suggested or implanted in the minds” of the informants that  Panesa was indeed Benjamin Mendoza. 

The court also said “the police were lying when they stated that the confidential informants were with them before and during the arrest of Rolly Panesa.”

Where’s the money?

On August 12, two weeks before the Court of Appeals released its decision, Armed Forces Chief Gen Emmanuel Bautista released the P6.5-million bounty for information leading to Mendoza’s capture.

The funds were paid in cash and received by a hooded individual.

Progressive groups, including the National Union of People’s Lawyers, questioned the release of funds and called the bounty system a “money-making scheme.” 

Cabangbang said law enforcement personnel, as well as government employees, are not permitted to receive bounty money.

“We can never earn off this,” he said. “At any rate, we’ll never take interest in receiving this kind of money because it puts your life in danger. You have to change your name, move to another place, because it’s dangerous. We will never take interest in rewards like that.”

Ramon Zagala, AFP public affairs chief, said the process for the payment of the bounty was legal and covered by Joint Circular 2006-1.

“The chief of staff did his ministerial duty to award the payment to the rightful claimant of the reward, as recommended by our chief of intelligence.”

Torture

The respondents include members of the composite team of 2nd Infantry Division of the Philippine Army and the PNP Regional Office IV, as well as the rebel returnees who acted as witnesses against Panesa. Also included in the criminal complaint is Maj Gen Alan Luga, now Vice Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces and former commanding General of the AFP’s Southern Luzon Command.

Panesa claimed he underwent torture in the hands of the PNP and the AFP. Medical records, from before he was turned over to Camp Bagong Diwa, show signs of beating, with Panesa sustaining heavy bruises, cracked teeth and broken eardrums.

“I don’t know if they injected me with something or if they made me sniff at something,” Panesa said in Filipino. “I lost consciousness and woke up at Camp Vicente Lim. I was cuffed and blindfolded, I couldn’t see, it was my wife who told me where we were.” 

The military claims to have no knowledge of torture or any other illegal acts against Panesa.

“The arrest of Mendoza is a law enforcement operation,” said Cabangbang. “We supported the PNP in serving the arrest warrant. At no point was he under the custody of the AFP. From his arrest he was brought to the PNP headquarters in Camp Vicente Lim. Our only contribution is information.”

One and the same

In spite of the court decision claiming Panesa has nothing to do with Benjamin Mendoza, the army continued to assert that Panesa and Mendoza are the same individual.

“Based on the data gathered by the AFP intelligence unit,” said Ramon Zagala, AFP public affairs chief. “We believe he is one and the same person and that he was positively identified from those inside the organization and those who returned already to the folds of the law.”

On August 30, the Office of the Solicitor General filed a Notice of Appeal stating their intent to appeal their decision to the Supreme Court.  – Rappler.com 

 

 

 

 

 

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