By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA — Lawyer Katherine Panguban disputed with her legal counsel, Josa Deinla, the accusation of kidnapping hurled against her recently by the father of the child survivor of Sagay massacre. Panguban helped in restoring the child survivor to his mother’s custody in Negros. But she is now facing charges, attacks, and vilification. All of it are baseless, she said in a press conference November 7 in Quezon City.
When the 14-year old survivor and witness in the Sagay Massacre was turned over to his mother on October 25, the farmworkers and their families heaved a sigh of relief. Since the massacre around 9 p.m. on October 20, the child survivor was taken to the local social welfare office.
“When we arrived in Sagay for the fact-finding mission, the child’s family immediately asked for our help because at the time he was in the custody of the local police and authorities in Sagay City,” Panguban recalled. She accompanied Flordeliza Cabahug to the police station to help her get her son back.
‘Sagay City authorities violate child’s rights’
There were many clear violations of child’s rights committed by the local authorities of Sagay concerning the survivor of Sagay Massacre, Panguban found out. “While he was under the custody of local authorities, he was repeatedly interviewed without his counsel or parent,” Panguban said.
She said the case to return the child to his mother has been complicated enough. It was only later she heard that the biological father who has abandoned the mother and son for 10 years was the one who filed a case against her, accusing her of “serious illegal detention.”
Panguban was instrumental in helping the mother to get back her son. She raised the alarm concerning the police keeping him in custody on October 24, as soon as she ascertained the facts. The resulting uproar prompted the police to deny they had “arrested” the minor. By the evening of October 25, the said minor was turned over to his mother.
Panguban’s counsel, Josa Deinla, blasted the accusation as pure lies. In a press conference at the central office of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), the child’s mother, Flordeliza Cabahug, also rejected the kidnapping charge. She even thanked Panguban for the assistance.
Deinla said that when Cabahug took custody of her child on October 25, “She signed a turn-over agreement with the Office of the Social Welfare and Development in Sagay City, witnessed by Gabriela Rep. Arlene Brosas and other members of the fact-finding mission.” She emphasized that the turn-over was witnessed by the child’s father who also signed the turn-over agreement.”
Deinla and the child’s mother showed the media a copy of the signed turn-over agreement. It named Panguban as the legal counsel. It bears Panguban’s signature, too. The child’s father signed on the line right beside Panguban’s.
There is no basis to the father’s accusation that Panguban “kidnapped” his son, Deinla concluded.
“We don’t think such an accusation will even be aired if there had been no instigation by the police who took custody of the child,” Deinla told the media. She condemned “this form of attack” against lawyers like Attorney Kathy, “while they are providing legal services to clients who themselves are victims (of Sagay massacre, for instance). She also expressed utmost sorrow at the killing last night of a colleague, Attorney Benjamin Ramos. He was secretary-general of NUPL-Negros.
His clients for the longest time are from the poor and oppressed of Negros, including the farmers and political prisoners, said Deinla. She did not connect the killing yet to Sagay Massacre, but she stressed that Ramos had also been red-tagged for a long time. “He went against big landlords in serving clients such as farmers and members of people’s organizations.”
Commission of Human Rights Chairperson Chito Gascon expressed concern about the treatment of human rights defenders and lawyers. He also said they were alarmed by what they heard about the police treatment of the minor.
“What worries us is that there is one survivor, named Lester, who was with the farmers when they were killed. He managed to escape and he now has important information to share. We are alarmed because a report reached us that while he was in police custody, the police didn’t observe his rights as a minor,” Gascon told the media.
He said the CHR will demand an explanation from the police, “particularly about the police forcing the minor to sign a paper or document saying things which the child maintained he did not really witness as happening.”
Gascon wondered if maybe, that’s the reason the police are worried now that Lester is in his mother’s custody. He said it is clear there had been a formal and agreed upon transfer of custody to the mother who has parental authority over Lester. As such, he also expressed puzzlement that a kidnapping charge is slapped against lawyer Panguban.
With CHR, Gascon reiterated that they will offer support and a sanctuary so that the child witness might be able “to tell the truth as he saw it.” He hopes it will shed light on everything that happened in the Sagay massacre. a href=””>