DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 10 June) — Fidelina Margarita “Gingging” Valle was too early for her 7:30 p.m. flight back to Davao City and was waiting for her brewed coffee and sandwich at the Dunkin’ Donuts store inside the Laguindingan Airport in Misamis Oriental at around 10 a.m. on Sunday when her nightmare began.
The 61-year old development worker, freelance writer and Davao Today columnist would not be able to board her plane or eat what was supposed to be a late breakfast, having traveled at dawn from Pagadian City in Zamboanga del Sur where she conducted a training workshop, to the airport in Misamis Oriental 200 kilometers away.
She would find herself back in Pagadian by afternoon, under Kafkaesque circumstances in a Mindanao under two years of martial law declared by the country’s first Mindanawon President, Rodrigo Duterte. Duterte placed Mindanao’s 27 provinces and 33 cities under martial law on May 23, 2017 supposedly only for 60 days but asked for extensions thrice which Congress approved, the last one until December 31, 2019.
Valle narrated in a brief telephone interview late Monday afternoon that “six to eight” men in civilian clothes approached and surrounded her, the head of the team telling her she was under arrest.
Although shocked at what was happening, Valle, who had covered various cases of human rights violations as a reporter of the Media Mindanao News Service and correspondent of Mr & Ms Special Edition during martial law under President Ferdinand Marcos, was saved by her presence of mind. She questioned her arrest and refused to go with the team on the grounds that she had no counsel, no witnesses, that she had to call a lawyer.
She said she insisted on her right to a phone call which the head of the team eventually granted.
The report from the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) in Region 9 that Philippine National Police (PNP) spokesperson Col. Bernard Banac released to reporters Sunday afternoon indicated the time of Valle’s arrest at 10:30 a.m.
But Sister Mila Gimeno of the Missionaries of the Assumption, whom Valles phoned to report her arrest, told MindaNews on Sunday that she received Valle’s call at 10:07 a.m., that just before their conversation was cut off, she could hear Valle say “gibira na ko, gibira na ko” (they’re pulling me, they’re pulling me).
Valle would be held incommunicado for at least eight hours. The next time Sister Mila received a call from her was shortly before 6:30 p.m.
At 6:36 p.m. Valle managed to send a message to a chat group: “Nia ko (I am here at) CIDG Pagadian Lumbia. Pls help.’ That would be the only message. She did not respond to queries.
“I could not breathe”
Sister Mila said she could not understand what Valle was saying in the early Sunday evening call because “sige’g hilak” (she kept crying).
“I could not breathe,” Valle told MindaNews.
The blood pressure of the hypertensive Valle had shot up to precarious levels. She refused food and medicines until Sister Mila in a loud voice told her she had to eat so she could take her medicines and lower her blood pressure.
Sister Mila said a captain took the phone from the crying Valle and told the nun to go to Pagadian the next day as they could not get anything from Valle who kept crying. But the Davao-based nun said the religious in Pagadian would go there in her stead.
Multiple murder, Arson
Valle, according to the CIDG report forwarded by Banac, was arrested on the basis of a 2011 warrant of arrest allegedly for “multiple murder with quadruple frustrated murder and damage to government property” issued in Calamba, Misamis Occidental “with no bail recommended” and a September 2006 WOA for alleged arson, with bail recommended at 24,000 pesos.
The report named the suspect as “Elsa Renton@ Tina Maglaya / Fidelina Margarita Valle y Avellanosa.”
Banac, the PNP spokesperson, sent MindaNews an update at 8:17 p.m. that Valle was “now for release,” that it was a case of mistaken identity.
“Upon arrival of the witness who physically identified the subject, witness further averred that the suspect has major resemblance but is not the actual suspect who is the subject of the warrant,” he said.
Aside from going through mental and emotional torture, Valle said was “physically drained” as she had not been able to eat breakfast and although they offered her food, she had lost her appetite.
She left Pagadian for Laguindingan airport at dawn, was arrested at 10 a.m., brought to a police camp in Iligan City where her mug shots were taken and she was made to wear a CDIG Detainee shirt. “Grabe ka dehumanizing. Gifinger print pa jud ko”
From Iligan, she was brought back to Pagadian.
Travel time from Laguindingan to Pagadian is four hours by private vehicle.
Some 30 minutes after the captain spoke with Sister Mila, Valles said she was told she would be released, that it was a case of mistaken identity.
She was finally out of the PNP’s Camp Abelon at around 11:24 p.m. or 13 hours after her arrest, and was brought to the Bishop’s House.
Despite her exhaustion, Valle could not sleep. She said she slept only at around 5 a.m. on Monday, but only briefly.
She said she would tell her story and what her next steps are once she has rested.
Did anyone from the arresting team apologize to her for what they claimed was a “mistake,” MindaNews asked.
“No. No one apologized,” Valle replied.
On Monday evening, CIDG Region 9 chief Colonel Tom Tuzon issued a public apology addressed to Valle for the “wrongful arrest,” and offered his “sincerest apologies for the negative experience that you had with our CIDG personnel from Pagadian City at Laguindingan Airport.”
“Due to uncertainties and less than 100% assurance of your identity from our informant, we have brought you to the CIDG office, Pagadian City, that caused you unnecessary anxiety. We do realize that we should have heeded your call regarding your identity from the start and have released you at the airport,” Tuzon said.
He said the information came from a reliable source from their military counterparts but as investigators, “we should have conducted validation prior to the arrest.”
Valle could not be reached for comment on Tuzon’s apology as she was resting. But she told MindaNews late Monday afternoon that while in Iligan, she gave the arresting team names of persons they could contact to verify her identity but apparently the operatives did not heed her appeal.
“As of this writing, we are investigating the recent police operation at Laguindingan Airport to identify lapses in our police operational procedures and in our personnel who were involved in the operation. Any misconduct related to your arrest will be dealt with accordingly,” Tuzon said.
There was no explanation either in the PNP statement on ‘mistaken identity’ or in Tuzon’s apology on what will happen to Valle given that while she may have been released, her name is supposedly on the warrants of arrest for multiple murder and arson.
Was there an error in naming her in the warrants of 2006 and 2011 or was Valle’s name added in 2019 to an existing warrant for Elsa Renton @ Tina Maglaya to justify her arrest at the airport? (Carolyn O. Arguillas/ MindaNews)