“I want to see them rot in jail. These officers, owing from their corrupt institution, were cruel. They do not respect people or care about rights; they will surely do this again to someone else if given the opportunity, falsely charging another person for money.”
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA — The police officers implicated in the illegal arrest, torture, and detention of a security guard in 2012 have been acquitted by a Municipal Trial Court in Calamba, Laguna for the grave coercion case filed against them.
In a 15-page decision, Judge Leah Angeli Vasquez-Abad of the Calamba MTC Branch 1 said that after careful consideration, “the court finds that there is no moral certainty and a reasonable doubt exists on the guilt of all the accused for the crime charged.”
The grave coercion charges were filed in July 2014, two years after Rolly Panesa, a security guard, was abducted, tortured, and detained. State security forces later surfaced him accusing him of being Benjamin Mendoza, whom the military claimed is a ranking New People’s Army leader in Southern Luzon with a bounty on his head amounting to P5.6 million ($133,000).
The respondents to the case are: Police Insp. Bonifacio Guevarra, SPO1 Christopher Flores, PO2 Ariel dela Cruz, PO2 Joseph Fernandez, and other John and Jane Does. They were named by Panesa as those responsible for his abduction.
“He was sure that the accused inflicted physical injuries on him while he was being investigated,” read the decision, which the respondents denied and even claimed that the injuries he sustained were due to the fact that Panesa resisted arrest.
Judge Abad said Panesa, “was not able to identify with certainty the persons who actually inflicted the injuries on his person whenever he refused to confess at the time he was being interrogated that he was Benjamin Mendoza.”
The court, however, acknowledged the presence of negligence on the part of the police officers, and thus ordered that each will be liable to pay Panesa P10,000 (US$ 187) worth of civil damages and P5,000 ($94) for moral damages.
Panesa, in a statement posted in Karapatan’s website, expressed his disappointment on the court decision.
He said, “I want to see them rot in jail. These officers, owing from their corrupt institution, were cruel. They do not respect people or care about rights; they will surely do this again to someone else if given the opportunity, falsely charging another person for money. The acquittal of the guilty is how the police are enabled to commit more violations.”
Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said Panesa’s case is a “perfect example of how government institutions have preserved a climate suitable for rights abuses and impunity.”
On May 16, the Regional Trial Court Branch 26 of Calamba, Laguna also absolved the same police officers charged for violating the Anti-Torture Law of 2009 and Republic Act 7438.
The Court of Appeals ordered the release of Panesa when it granted the habeas corpus petition in August 2013. In that decision, the appellate court categorically stated that Panesa is not Benjamin Mendoza and there was no justification for his continued detention. The CA also dismissed on Jan. 14, 2014 the motion for reconsideration filed by police and military officials involved in the arrest, torture and detention of Panesa for 11 months.
Palabay lamented that until now, many more are imprisoned for trumped-up charges filed against human rights defenders and individuals. “Not only were they subjected to harrowing experiences during illegal arrests, long-time imprisonment adds to the injustice done against them. The perpetrators, however, are out to commit more abuses without a worry in the world,” Palabay added.