DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 14 August) – She was freed after a harrowing 13-hour ordeal of being arrested and detained on June 9, 2019 but two years and two failed attempts to hold the perpetrators accountable, Davao City-based journalist Fidelina Margarita “Gingging” Avellanosa Valle continues to fight for justice that would liberate her from the trauma that continues to hound her, and hopefully allow her to “claim back my equilibrium that has long been destroyed and so difficult to take back.”
Valle will appeal before the Supreme Court the Ombudsman’s ruling clearing military and police officials of accountability for her arrest and detention in what officials claimed to be a case of “mistaken identity.”
The Ombudsman on August 10 last year dismissed the criminal charges filed in 2019 by Valle, development worker, freelance writer and Davao Today columnist, against 17 police and military officials and other unidentified suspects, stating she was not able to establish probable cause to charge them with arbitrary detention, kidnapping and serious illegal detention, violation of RA 9745 or the Anti-Torture Act of 2009, and RA 7438 or the rights of person arrested, detained or under custodial investigation and the duties of the arresting, detaining and investigating officers.
The Ombudsman also dismissed the administrative charges she filed for grave misconduct, grave abuse of authority, and conduct unbecoming of a public official against 15 of 17 military and police officials named in the complaint and held liable only two officers – Colonel Tom Tuzon, then Regional Commander of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) in the Zamboanga Peninsula and Moh Madzie-Aziz Mukaram, then OIC of CIDG Zamboanga del Sur — ordering their suspension for three months without pay for “simple neglect of duty.”
Valle, now chair of the Davao City chapter of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) and vice chair of the International Association of Women in Radio and Television (IAWRT) Philippines, filed a motion for reconsideration on November 3, 2020 which the Ombudsman denied. In a decision dated June 24, 2021 but received only a few days ago, the Ombudsman reiterated that Valle “failed to adduce any newly discovered evidence which could materially affect the outcome of this case, or proofs that grave errors of facts or laws , or serious irregularities were committed by this Office.” It added that the matter raised by Valle’s motion “are mere rehash of the arguments that this Office has already considered and passed upon.”
In a statement she read during an online press conference on Thursday morning, Valle said, “’simple’ neglect of duty as they call it, now easily excuses command responsibility and accountability, and therefore, only the small fry are made responsible, while the big, fat asses go scot-free.”
“Big bullies that they are, we just cannot allow this transgression to continue without a fight. Yes, we may be small and insignificant against their boastful might, but when we band together and speak up, no matter if our voices may seem just mere whimpers as against their loud mouth curses and insults, we shall prevail,” Valle said.
Accountability and justice
It has been a painful two-year journey for the 63-year old Valle who has had to seek professional and spiritual help to address her trauma.
“Two years have passed, and though my heart, head and hands long to go back to take on writing, all I can muster each and every day is do mundane tasks as household chores, pretending that I am ‘okay’ so far. I have wanted to believe that nothing’s changed, that I am doing ‘well,’ but deep inside, I am far from my true self,” she said, adding she has been having difficulties writing and she hates “every moment that a blank wall stares at me each time I attempt at writing my ‘usual’ stuff. Because it’s just hard, blanko lang talaga.”
“I seem to be falling off a bottomless pit in my mind, and yet, out there in the sun, everything seems so painfully ‘normal’…Lies. Maneuverings. Paulit-ulit na bumabalik sa akin yong mga excuses ng mga pulis at military” (The excuse of the police and military are repeatedly coming back), she recalled.
Jonathan de Santos, NUJP chair, said “more than an apology and a slap on the wrist, we call for accountability and justice for the arrest of Margarita Valle.”
Lynda Garcia, President of the IAWRT Philippines, said “reducing (Valle’s) plight as a mere simple neglect of duty is unacceptable to the attack made against her and her profession and duty as a truth-teller.”
Valle was arrested at around 10 a.m. on June 9, 2019 at the Laguindingan Airport in Misamis Oriental and transported to Pagadian City, a 200-kilometer, four-hour ride away, on the basis of warrants of arrest against suspect Elsa Renton, allegedly a leader of the New People’s Army, for “multiple murder with quadruple frustrated murder and damage to property” issued by the Regional Trial Court in Calamba, Misamis Occidental in December 2011 “with no bail recommended” and for arson issued by the RTC in Pagadian City in September 2006 with bail recommended at 24,000 pesos.
The warrants did not bear Valle’s name but Renton’s whose alias on the warrant was Tina Maglaya. Valle said her name was inserted on the warrants of arrest when they passed by Iligan City for her mug shots and fingerprints. “Didto sa gipapirmahan nga mug shots, giinsert ang Valle” (They inserted Valle when they had the mug shots signed), she said.
Colonel Bernard Banac, then spokesperson of the Philippine National Police (PNP) told reporters that evening that Valle would be released because according to the witness, she “has major resemblance but is not the actual suspect who is the subject of the warrant.”
The next day, Tuzon in a statement apologized to Valle, saying they “should have headed your call regarding your identity from the start and have released you at the airport.” Valle did not accept the apology.
Kathy Panguban of the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) said Valle has resolved to go to the Supreme Court to appeal the decision. because there is “enough evidence to say na hindi lang po ito simplc case of mistaken identity and to overturn disputable presumption of regularity in performance of duty.”
Valle, she said, was arrested without legal cause as she was not the subject of the warrants of arrest “and mistaken identity has never been a lawful cause to arrest and detain a person.”
Panguban said they will file with the Supreme Court a petition for certiorari for grave abuse of discretion on the part of the Ombudsman which dismissed the charges and denied the motion for reconsideration.
Arrest warrants served instead of breakfast
Valle, a 1982 graduate of BA Communication Arts at the Ateneo de Davao University, was a reporter of the Media Mindanao News Service from the 1980s until it ceased operations in1996. She was a correspondent of Mr & Ms Special Edition until People Power ousted the Marcoses in 1986. She also served as Administrative Officer of MindaNews on its first year in 2001.
Valle was a columnist of SunStar Davao until early 2018 and wrote a column, Kanak Gamay na Kyatigaman (My Little Understanding) for the online paper, Davao Today, as Fides Avellanosa.
Valle went to Pagadian City for a data gathering mission on June 6, 2019. Three days later, she traveled to Laguindingan Airport to wait for her evening flight back to Davao.
Valle was waiting to be served her late breakfast of brewed coffee and sandwich at the Dunkin’Donuts stall inside the airport at around 10 a.m. and had not even warmed her seat when she was served – not her breakfast – but warrants of arrest that the arresting team did not give her to read.
She recalled a team of “six to eight” men in civilian clothes approached and surrounded her, the head of the team telling her she was under arrest. She questioned her arrest and demanded her right to a phone call. She called her relative, Sister Mila Gimeno of the Missionaries of the Assumption in Davao City, at 10:07 a.m. to inform her she was being arrested.
From Laguindingan, Valle was brought to Iligan City where she was ordered to wear a “CIDG Detainee” shirt and was subjected to fingerprinting and the taking of mug shots. “Grabe ka dehumanizing. Gi fingerprint pa gyud ko,” Valle told MindaNews the next day.
Valle was held incommunicado and managed to phone Siter Mila only about eight hours after her arrest. Sister Mila had repeatedly phoned Valle after her 10:07 a.m. call but her two phones were in the possession of her arresting team. It took hours before reporters were told Valle was in Camp Abelon in Pagadian City.
Tuzon and Mukaram also filed a motion for reconsideration of the Ombudsman’s August 10, 2020 decision suspending them for three months without pay but the June 2021 decision of the Ombudsman denied their motion. The Ombudsman reminded respondents that “every public officer is bound to perform the duties of his office faithfully and to use reasonable skill and diligence and to act primarily for the public.”
What kind of justice would liberate her from the trauma she continues to suffer, MindaNews asked Valle.
Justice not just for journalists but “justice for those whose rights have been violated, especially the marginalized,” she said in Filipino.
“If you think of it, what happened to me might be a small thing compared with what others experience but it is heavy. So heavy,” she sadded.
Valle’s son, Rius, spokesperson of Save Our Schools Network, said their family wants “maximum accountability.”
“We want people ma hold sila behind bars. Kailangan may managot,” (Somebody should be held accountable) Rius said, adding there are so many cases of state-perpetrated human rights violations but no one has been accountable or “kung meron man, talagang one in a million” (or if there is, it’s just one in a million).
“We want justice – accountability yun – kailangan may managot especially the arresting officers,” he said, adding they also hope what happened to his mother will not happen again, not just to other journalists but also to indigenous peoples and other marginalized sectors.
Valle’s last word at the press forum: “Patuloy tayo. Ilalaban natin ito hanggang sa dulo” (Let us continue. We will fight for this until the end). (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)