NBI agents in GenSan charged for extortion try

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/22 July) – Police authorities have filed a complaint for violation of the anti-piracy and anti-highway robbery law against an official of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) in Region 12 or Southwestern Mindanao and seven of its agents over an alleged extortion attempt on a junkshop trader here two weeks ago.

Chief Insp. Leo Sua, Pendatun police station chief here, said Friday they filed the complaint before the City Prosecution Office against NBI Region 12 supervising agent Atty. Darwin Lising and seven other members of his team for supposedly trying to extort some P400,000 from trader Rommel Lumanta in exchange for the release of a truck loaded with scrap metal that was earlier apprehended by the NBI.

He said they filed the complaint based on accounts made by Lumanta, a CCTV (closed-circuit television) footage and several recorded cellphone conversations that allegedly showed Lising negotiating for a payout for the apprehended vehicle.

“They (Lumanta couple) met them and Atty. Lising introduced himself. It was confirmed in the CCTV footage that it was indeed Atty. Lising (who figured in the extortion attempt),” Sua told reporters.

In an earlier interview with reporters, Lumanta said the alleged extortion try started after his 10-wheeler truck was stopped by NBI agents last July 9 along the national highway in Barangay Tinagacan here.

He said the NBI agents, who were allegedly led by Lising, took custody of the vehicle on suspicions that it was then carrying stolen cable wires.

Instead of bringing the truck to the NBI-Sarangani District Office in Barangay Lagao here, he said the agents also brought the vehicle to a vacant lot in Barangay Calumpang.

“I told them we were just transporting scrap metal but they refused to acknowledge our explanation. It was then that they started to offer a settlement of P1 million for the release of the truck. We made a counter-offer of P200,000 but they insisted on P400,000 as final settlement,” Lumanta said.

In their alleged recorded mobile phone conversation, Lising asked Lumanta to make the payout at the NBI regional office located at the South Cotabato gymnasium in Koronadal City.

Lumanta said he immediately reported the incident to Police Station No. 5 personnel, who immediately set up an entrapment the next day at the city police headquarters at the Camp Fermin Lira here.

But he said the NBI agents backed off from meeting them after police operatives made a visit at the truck’s impounding area before the entrapment operation could take place.

In an alleged recorded cellphone conversation between Lumanta and Lising, the latter angrily snapped at the trader for bungling their settlement negotiations.

“Ang ayos ayos naming kausap e. Ano ba gusto mo, ha? Tirahin namin dito ang mga pulis? Kami-kami mismo magpatayan dahil sa ‘yo?” (We’re easy to talk to. What do you want? You want us to shoot the cops here and kill each other because of you?) Lising was saying to Lumanta in the alleged phone conversation that was also aired by a local television station here.

Lumanta said the NBI agents later released the vehicle unconditionally after the controversy became public.

Lawyer Angelito Magno, NBI Region 12 director, initially defended his subordinates, saying the incident was a legitimate operation of the NBI regional office.

“We have an ongoing investigation regarding the alleged theft of cable wires, which is punishable under Republic Act 7832,” he said in an interview with a local television station.

Magno admitted that Lising have had several phone conversations with Lumanta but insisted that it was intended for their investigation and not for the settlement of the alleged payout.

“As to the extortion angle, I don’t have any idea about that. I only heard through (media) reports that there were alleged recorded or taped phone conversations. They can always file the case against my men and they should come out with the evidences if they really have them,” the official said.

Meantime, Sua said that aside from violation of PD 532, they are also filing charges of arbitrary detention against Lising and his men, whom he refused to identify pending the ongoing evaluation of the complaint by the City Prosecution Office.

He said the arbitrary detention case was for the holding of Lumanta’s truck, its driver and two helpers for several days even without any formal charges filed against them.

“They are public officers and they held those private persons without any proper charges,” Sua said.

The police official said they already sent the CCTV footages and the recorded phone conversations to the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) here for evaluation and digital forensic investigation.

He added that they expect to receive the results of the digital forensic investigation on the supposed evidences within the next few days. (Allen V. Estabillo / MindaNews)