Tawi-tawi police chief: Gaticales let suspect in human trafficking go

ZAMBOANGA CITY (MindaNews/04 March) – The provincial chief of the Philippine National Police in Tawi-tawi said  Vema L. Gaticales, team leader of the Surveillance and Monitoring Team of the Municipal Inter-agency Committee Against Human Trafficking (MIACAT), was detained and charged for obstructing justice for letting a suspect go.

Senior Supt. Rodelio Jocson told  MindaNews in a telephone interview that Gaticales was arrested, detained and charged by the Bongao municipal police following the complaints of two victims of trafficking in persons (TIP).  He said the Provincial Prosecutor found Gaticales lliable for releasing Sulma Sayadih, a Tausug woman in her early 60s, who was a suspected facilitator in human trafficking.

Jocson said  Gaticales, having encountered Sayadih in similar circumstances for the second time, could have called the police and have Sayadih investigated.

Gaticales, formerly of Radyo ng Bayan in Bongao and now secretary of the Sangguniang Bayan of Bongao and team leader of MIACAT,  was charged by provincial prosecutor Jerry Cuento for   violation of Presidential Decree No. 1829 which penalizes  Obstruction of Apprehension and Prosecution of Criminal Offenders. She was detained for five days and was released after posting bail of P12,000.

In the sworn affidavit of the two victims rescued by MIACAT on February 19, Sayadih was identified as among those who facilitated their travel outside of the country via Tawi-tawi. The two filed their complaint with the Bongao municipal police on the same date.

In her affidavit, Gaticales said Sayadih had introduced herself as the aunt of one of the two victims but could not present an identification card to prove her claim. Having no proof to establish her relationship, Gaticales said she followed the usual MIACAT procedure by informing Sayadih of the consequences of her actions under the Anti-trafficking Law, including the possibility of being apprehended and jailed.

She said Sayadih withdrew her claim and decided to go home, leaving behind the two victims at the municipal hall of Bongao. The two were later turned over to the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

She told MindaNews  their procedure the past two years is that no arrest is made based on claims they are relatives unless it is during an entrapment operation.

Jocson said that at the time of Gaticales’ arrest, he was in Zamboanga City attending a wedding.

He said he was informed of Gaticales’ arrest by Atty. Darlene Pajarito, head of the Zamboanga Anti-trafficking Task Force. He added that upon receiving the call from Pajarito, he called the mayor of Bongao and asked him to look into the matter since it is “MIACAT laban sa MIACAT” (MIACAT against MIACAT).

Jocson said he took offense at Gaticales’ insinuation that the Provincial PNP had a hand in her arrest and the filing of charges against her.

“The Provincial PNP is part of the effort to curb human trafficking in Tawi-tawi,” he said.

He added that the rescue of victims of TIP is a collective effort of various units, including the provincial PNP.

The Municipal Welfare and Development Office of Bongao reported that MIACAT-Bongao was responsible for the rescue of 999 TIPs since 2011: 797 in 2011 and 202 as of February 19 this year.

Gaticales told MindaNews that she acknowledges the efforts undertaken by the provincial PNP in the campaign against human trafficking along with the other agencies in the province.

Earlier Gaticales raised her plight to the attention of the Regional Inter-agency Committee Against Trafficking (RIACAT) based in Zamboanga City and requested for an investigation on the alleged motive and role of the provincial police in Tawi-tawi in the filing of a case against her.

Gaticales’ husband, P01 Jonard Ladjahassan, a member of the provincial police but detailed to the MIACAT,  told MindaNews that on February 21, his uncle Patta Tarabas, a tricycle driver who is a neighbor of Sayadih, brought Sayadih to the Provincial Prosecutor to help secure Gaticales’ release. At that time, charges against Gaticales had already been filed.

It is not clear why Sayadih was not presented to the police.  (Jules Benitez, MindaNews)