RIWAYA: Presumption of innocence, NOT presumption of guilt

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 15 July) — Responsible journalism and lawful arrests under rule of law are both crucial.

If you click this link https://fb.watch/v/eJS1cK0lM/, you can view SMNI news’ “Arestado ang magkapatid na kasapi ng Abu Sayyaf na responsable sa mga kidnap for ransom sa Mindanao.” | via Vergil Bernardo Parba

Is SMNI (Sonshine Media Network International) aware that it violated engendering responsible peace journalism principle when its reporter used the term “pangunahing SALARIN” instead of using the neutral, unbiased term “pangunahing SUSPEK”? The latter term must be used prudently and fairly pending conviction and promulgation of judgment in court because according to the Bill of Rights under the1987 Philippine Constitution, Article III, Sec. 14 (2), “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall be presumed innocent until the contrary is proved.”

This legal principle applies to law enforcers as well because it is both a mandate and trust conferred by our legal justice system and anchored in the fundamental law of the land: the 1987 Philippine Constitution also provides that “No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, and property without due process of law.”

This observation is in relation to the reported warrantless arrest case recently of five alleged Abu Sayyaf members who were arrested in their rented house in Taguig City, Metro Manila, on July 10, 2021.  The incident report was transmitted to me via messenger initially by Vandrazel Birowa, a consultant of Zamboanga Basilan Integrated Development Alliance (ZABIDA). His help was sought by the immediate family in Zamboanga City of two of those arrested namely: Taupik Galbun and Saik Galbun who are the brothers of informant named Aradamis Galbun. After verifying report, I wrote an article about it on Mindanews.

https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=2010784112407572&id=100004280080712

According to SMNI News, it was an arrest with warrant and with the help of citizens. On its online TV video news report, the clip featured a general saying that Taupik and Saik Galbun are Abu Sayyaf (ASG) members who were responsible for kidnappings in Mindanao specifically of members of Jehovah Witness and beheadings of victims and that the modus operandi of these two were to pose as construction workers.

https://www.facebook.com/1573272043001978/posts/2946277725701396/

https://fb.watch/v/eJS1cK0lM/

However, Sandra, wife of Saik, claimed that her husband was arrested without a warrant in the middle of the night around eleven o’clock of July 10, 2021 in their rented unit at the third floor of a building in Bicutan, Taguig City. In my telephone conversations with her, Sandra narrated that unidentified men in dark blue uniform kicked their door open; that at gunpoint they were ordered to lie flat on their stomach on the floor; that when Saik tried to stand up when she was ordered to rummage through her belongings as these men looked on, her husband was warned not to move or else they would shoot him. She further  recounted her ordeal that her husband even asked why was he was being arrested but to no avail but she herself was just told by the men that they would just take her husband for questioning. Sandra affirmed that her husband and Saik’s brother Taupik are not ASG members but both of them just actually work as mason in construction jobs.

As legal intervention to protect the inalienable rights of all accused, this case was immediately reported to the Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA), National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF) Central Office and NCR Legal Division, and in turn forwarded to Commission on Human Rights and Bangsa Moro Task Force.

Prof. Alih Sakaluran Aiyub, spokesperson of the National Ulama Council of the Philippines (NUCP) will take urgent action in the interest of peace and justice for all upon learning of the case because it reminded him that it pertains to an almost two decades kidnapping case.

Could this be out of inadvertence, another case of mistaken identity or erroneous stereotyping via inconclusive generic profiling?

When I googled about kidnappings and beheading of some Jehovah’s Wiitness members by ASG, I found out these  links: dateline 24 July 2019 https://www.gmanetwork.com/news/news/nation/702177/nbi-arrests-2-suspected-abu-sayyaf-men-wanted-for-2002-kidnapping/story/. It oddly struck me that there were related news about ASG suspects being arrested for crimes of kidnapping some Jehovah Witness members where two preachers were tragically beheaded. What’s bizarre was the fact that in the news photos, there was always one “bald headed ASG suspect” and the dates of arrests were all successively on the same month July of 2019, 2020, and 2021.

On 24 July 2019, Nicole-Anne Lagrimas of GMA News reported:

“The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) on Wednesday said it has arrested two suspected Abu Sayyaf men allegedly involved in the kidnapping of members of Jehovah’s Witness in Sulu in 2002…NBI agents and military and police officers arrested Anwar Sabarul Mohotoh and Julmain, who both face standing arrest warrants for kidnapping and serious illegal detention, on July 12 and July 17, respectively….The two arrested men are wanted in connection with Abu Sayyaf bandits’ abduction of six Jehovah’s Witness members and their Muslim guides in Sulu on Aug. 20, 2002. Two of the kidnapped preachers were beheaded. Some victims escaped, and the last remaining victims were reportedly rescued by the government in May 2003. — RSJ, GMA News”

This link https://newsinfo.inquirer.net/1313901/nbi-nabs-3-suspected-asg-men-in-2002-kidnap-of-jehovahs-witnesses-members is an article written by Cathrine Gonzales on July 29, 2020 where photos of the arrested suspects were posted with this caption: “Three suspected members of the Abu Sayyaf Group allegedly involved in the kidnapping of six members of Jehovah’s Witnesses in August 2002 pose for mugshots after they were arrested on July 17, 20, and 21 in a series of operations by the National Bureau of Investigation Counter-Terrorism Division (NBI-CTD) in coordination with the police and the military. (Photos from NBI)”

Is there some kind of a “July Fever Bald Arrests” transpiring? But my comic relief was dissipated by the fact that all lives matter both of the victims as much as the innocent who were wrongfully accused to languish in jail, only after long years wasted to be proven NOT GUILTY.

Birowa even recounted to me one case of wrongfully accused by mistaken identity albeit when he and lawyer rushed to Manila from Zamboanga, captors admitted it was a mistake but it still took two years for the arrested Badjao ustadz to be released by judicial order. As it turned out, he was arrested because his first name was Mohammad and the real suspect’s surname was Mohammad also.

In another case, a member of the Bangsamoro parliament was in the past wrongfully accused and unlawfully arrested as alleged ASG member involved in kidnapping but Alhamdulillah he was released because there was a death certificate evidence that proved the real culprit died long ago.

Same tragic incident happened to Ustadz Jaiton Timuay when he was nabbed by Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) sometime in March 2008 after an Islamic symposium at Philippine Red Cross venue in Zambanga City; he was detained in Recom 9, CIDG Unit but later jailed in Basilan. No less than Commission on Human Rights (CHR) Region 9 Deputy, Mufti Abdulwakil Tanjilil, Atty Laisa Alamia, Atty Yasser Apion, and the late Atty Asbi Edding legally assisted him to no avail, only to be proven NOT GUILTY in court in 2010. Atty Alamia commented that it was all because Timuay matched the John Doe profiling “tall, dark and Muslim.”

Sometime in April 2008, I read a small poster: “It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.” Ironically, I read it on the wall of  RECOM 9, CIDG Unit where Ustadz Timuay was incarcerated. Today, I discovered it was quoted from English jurist William Blackstone in his seminal work ‘Commentaries on the Laws of England,’ published in the 1760s.

Thus, relative to this July 10, 2021 most recent case, I appealed and recommended to NUCP Spokesperson Prof Alih to in all probity engage NBI, CIDG and DILG in a multistakeholder’s meeting on how to end tragic mistaken identity / warrantless arrests with the hope that “local mechanisms will be in place and that constituents as well as enforcers are significantly aware of due process of law so that they can work hand in hand in the spirit of peaceful and just collaboration to stop the cycle of wrongfully accused due to mistaken identity and unlawful arrests” while terminating Islamophobia, violent extremism and terrorism in our country.

Moreover, I reiterate my stance: “YES! We are with the government just as we are with the rest of humanity in denouncing and preventing all forms of terrorism and violent extremism but indeed it is alarming that victims of mistaken identity or wrongfully accused as Abu Sayyaf Group Muslims in the Philippines are unlawfully arrested, and detained for long years only to be proven NOT GUILTY at the end. How tragic for them to be uprooted from their families especially so you cannot bring back long lost years. Lucky for those who survived and Qadarullaahi for those who are lost and never found; likewise to those who died in detention.”

Let us all be reminded including ruthless criminals who gloat under impunity that “No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, and property without due process of law.”

Art III Bill Of Rights, 1987 Constitution further states under Section 14 (1) that “No person shall be held to answer for a criminal offense without due process of law.”

And according to Section 14 (2), “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall be presumed innocent until the contrary is proved, and shall enjoy the right to be heard by himself and counsel, to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation against him, to have a speedy, impartial, and public trial, to meet the witnesses face to face, and to have compulsory process to secure the attendance of witnesses and the production of evidence in his behalf. However, after arraignment, trial may proceed notwithstanding the absence of the accused provided that he has been duly notified and his failure to appear is unjustifiable.”

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Warina Sushil A. Jukuy describes herself as a” Muslim Tausug of Lupah Sug in diaspora, displaced twice from Sulu to Davao City in 1974 and again since 2009. She thrives as a Peace Warrior using mortar and pestle, pen and ink, colors and voice, and keyboard.”)

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