In its decision, the Court of Appeals noted inconsistencies and lies in the statements of the police and the military.
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA — After enduring 11 months in prison for a crime he did not commit, security guard Rolly Mira Panesa was ordered released from detention by the Court of Appeals Fifth Division.
In a decision dated August 27, the CA granted the habeas corpus petition filed by Panesa’s relatives. A copy of the ruling was obtained by Bulatlat.com from Panesa’s legal counsels from the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL).
Panesa, together with his wife and two other companions, was arrested on October 6, 2012 by joint elements of the 2nd Infantry Division, Philippine Army, other units of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police (PNP) along Aurora Boulevard, Quezon City. Following the arrest, Col. Generoso Bolina, Southern Luzon Command spokesman claimed that Panesa is Benjamin Mendoza, the alleged secretary of the Southern Luzon Regional Party Committee of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) with a bounty for his capture amounting to P5.6 million ($128 thousand). In another report, the military claimed that Panesa’s companion is Josephine Mendoza or Ka Luisa, also a CPP official.
“The court is convinced that this is a case of mistaken identity….He [Panesa] is a simple security guard and not a high-ranking officer of the CPP-NPA [Communist Party of the Philippines – New People’s Army],” the decision penned by Associate Justice Rosmari D. Carandang states.
The CA stated that after a careful and thorough evaluation of the testimonial and documentary evidence presented by the parties, the court finds merit in the habeas corpus petition. A writ of habeas corpus applies to all cases of illegal confinement or detention by which a person is deprived of his or her liberty.
“The court is satisfied that Rolly Mira Panesa is being unlawfully restrained of his liberty. There is no legal ground for his detention,” the court stated in its decision. The CA ordered the jail warden of the Security Intensive Care Unit of the Metro Manila District Jail in Camp Bagong Diwa to release Panesa.
Panesa’s lawyer Ephraim Cortez said: “We are elated by the decision of the CA but we are also sad that 11 months of his life have been wasted in prison.”
The NUPL said Panesa’s case is a classic example of justice delayed and justice denied. “Nothing indeed will bring back all those times lost and the damage wrought on his reputation, not to mention the agony and ordeal he and his family went through,” the group said.
In its decision, the CA justices noted inconsistencies and lies in the statements of the police and the military.
“Police officers were lying when they stated that confidential informants were with them before and during the arrest of Panesa. Confidential informants were not with the police at the time of the arrest,” the court said.
Three of the so-called confidential informants testified in court that they were former comrades-in-arms of Panesa. But the court noted that there was no military file or dossier of Benjamin Mendoza and existing military documents bear no description of the physical features of Mendoza.
The court observed that Panesa’ wife, Marites Chioco, whom the military claimed to be Ka Luisa, also a CPP officer, was eventually released. “If it were true that Marites is Ka Luisa, it defies logical reason why the military would casually let go of an equally important CPP official,” the court said.
The court also noted that while Solcom spokesman Bolina, in his testimony in court, claimed that Mendoza’s age is 61 years old, Rolly Panesa does not look like a 61-year-old man. “He looks younger,” the court said.
The NUPL lamented “the long drawn-out and tedious legal proceedings that Panesa had to undergo just to simply prove that he is not what the military says he was and despite overwhelming evidence to establish his identity.”
Panesa presented in court multiple official identification cards and records issued by government agencies. His wife, Marites Chioco and his superior at the security agency also testified as to his identity.
The NUPL criticized the Office of the Solicitor General “for being, wittingly or unwittingly, a party all throughout to the perpetuation of this gross injustice.”
Human rights alliance Karapatan said Panesa’s case proves three things.
“It affirms our assertion that it is a case of mistaken identity,” Cristina Palabay, Karapatan secretary general, told Bulatlat.com. “It also affirms the military’s practice of filing of trumped up charges against individuals on mere suspicion and without factual evidence.”
Palabay also said that the case of Panesa also bolsters their statement that the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) made money out of the arrest of an innocent victim. Palabay said that two weeks ago, no less than AFP chief of staff Emmanuel Bautista handed over more than P19 million ($436 thousand) in rewards to informers.
In a report, the informants for the arrest of Benjamin Mendoza alias ‘Rolly Panesa,’ received the P5.6 million reward.
“Where did the money go?” Palabay said. “Now that it has been proven by the court that Panesa is not Benjamin Mendoza, the reward money should be given back.”
The NUPL also criticized what it calls as the “money-making scheme” of the Department of National Defense-Department of Interior and Local Government. The DND and the DILG maintains a secret list of alleged rebel leaders with corresponding bounty for their arrest. The NUPL requested for a copy of the list but was denied.
The group said the secret hit list is now again proven to be dubious. The NUPL said that a certain Olegario Sebas of Negros Oriental who was similarly arrested for purportedly being another rebel leader was also ordered released by virtue of a habeas corpus petition.
“The payment by the AFP of handsome reward money to supposed informers for the capture of what it referred to as ‘terrorist personalities and communist leaders’ is farcical, withal dangerous,” the group said.
“Thus, the DND-DILG’s secret hit list must be scrapped totally and immediately as it has become the basis to arrest, detain, and torture people on false charges; or worse, disappeared or killed. In addition, those who concocted this not so bright idea should also be held accountable for misusing the people’s money to violate people rights.”
Palabay said the family is considering the filing of torture charges against the perpetrators. She said Chioco witnessed how Panesa was tortured.