By RONALYN OLEA
MANILA — A youth activist who was tortured for 10 days by people he believed to be soldiers rebutted the defense of the respondents in his petition for amparo. In a hearing on January 27, Noriel Rodriguez belied claims by the military that he is a rebel returnee and that his abduction had been staged.
On Sept. 6 last year, Rodriguez, a member of Anakbayan, was forcibly taken by five armed men in civilian clothes in Gonzaga town, Cagayan province. Rodriguez said the men were elements of the 17th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army. They tortured him to force him to sign documents. On Sept. 17, he was released to his mother Wilma and his brother Rodel.
With the help of his legal counsel Rex JMA Fernandez, Rodriguez filed a petition for writ of amparo on December 7. Named respondents are President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Armed Forces Chief of Staff General Victor S. Ibrado, Philippine National Police chief Jesus Verzosa, Lt. Gen. Delfin Bangit and several military officials of the 5th Infantry Division and 17th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army.
Rodriguez has also asked the high court to grant him and his family Protection Orders, an Order of Inspection of Place, and Production of Documents and Writ of Habeas Data.
The petition is being heard by the 11th Division of the Court of Appeals presided over by Associate Justice Hakim Abdulwahid.
Assistant Solicitor Amparo Cabojate-Tang and other counsels of the respondents said that Rodriguez surrendered to the military on May 28, 2009. Citing statements by Cpl. Rodel Cabacan and Julius Navarro of the 17th IB, the counsels said that Rodriguez worked as a “double agent” for the military and the New People’s Army (NPA).
The soldiers also charged that Rodriguez personally led military operations against the NPA in September last year. They claimed that Rodriguez had agreed to stage the bogus abduction by the military so the NPA will not be suspicious of him. The said bogus abduction occurred on Sept. 16 in barangay Tabel, Gonzaga, Cagayan.
In his affidavit, Rodriguez said he was forced to join military operations twice in September. In the first operation, his waist was tied with a rope, with the other end held by a soldier. “They were forcing me to identify NPA camps. When I did not, they beat me up,” Rodriguez told Bulatlat in an earlier interview.
“They took pictures of me in an area being claimed by soldiers as an NPA camp. They wanted to make it appear that I guided them to that place,” Rodriguez said.
The soldiers denied that Rodriguez was tortured or maltreated. He was supposedly “treated as a brother.” They also said that Rodriguez acquired bruises and wounds because of the difficult terrain.
1st Lt. Ryan Matutina, commander of the Bravo Company of the 17th IB, even said they did not want Rodriquez to leave their camp as they have developed kinship with him.
In his supplemental affidavit, Rodriguez maintained that he was not a rebel returnee and that he was indeed tortured. “All the documents that they presented with my signature were signed by me under duress. I was not even allowed to read them before signing.” Rodriguez said the soldiers threatened him that they would kill his family and mutilate his genitals if he refused to sign those papers.
The said papers have been submitted to the court as evidence.
Rodriguez criticized the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) Region 2 for telling his mother and his brother that he was a rebel returnee.
In searching for him, Rodriguez’s mother and brother went to the CHR Region 2 office on Sept. 16 where Antonio Cruz of the CHR Cagayan told them that Noriel was a rebel returnee. They were told to go to the 17th IB camp in Alcala, Cagayan the next day.
Rodriguez said people at the CHR Cagayan did not bother to talk to him nor did some investigating prior to their meeting on Sept. 17 at the military camp. He criticized the CHR for buying the military’s line that he was an asset. The CHR, he said, never requested to talk to him without the presence of the military.
“How could I surrender if I am not a member of an illegal organization?” Rodriguez said.
The CHR, Rodriguez added, never asked him if he needed a lawyer before he was forced to sign three documents. He deemed as violations of his rights the CHR’s failure or refusal to tell him of his right to remain silent and of his right to get a counsel of his own choice.
In an interview, Fernandez, Rodriguez’s lawyer, dubbed as illogical the military’s line of “staged abduction.”
“How can you be an asset when you surrendered? Why was he [Rodriguez] released]? Isn’t it that assets just report back [to their military superiors]?” Fernandez asked. “The logic of the so-called staged abduction was shattered.”
Fernandez further said that while Rodriguez was under the custody of the military, which the latter had confirmed, Rodriguez was not given a lawyer. “Four armed soldiers ‘accompanied’ them all the way to their house in Sta. Ana, Manila.”
Fernandez, who handles many other human rights cases, thinks the military is “experimenting” on Rodriguez’s case. “If they succeed in their lies, they would use this as a precedent,” he told Bulatlat. “But things like this would not always work for them.” (Bulatlat.com)