IT IS hard to imagine what my friend, former Sunstar columnist, journalist and development worker Margarita Valle went through when she was taken by police in Laguindingan Aiport last Sunday, June 9, 2019.
Gingging or Ma’am Ging, as friends, colleagues and young writers call her, is age 61. We share common things from being Ateneo de Davao graduates and alumni of the student paper Atenews (she during Martial Law).
She is a writer, editor, advocate of many things in Mindanao, from peace for Moro and Lumad communities, to human rights and ecology. She is a mother of four, including Rius who is following her footsteps as spokesperson for Save Our Schools.
None of these mattered for the police, the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group Region 9 who took her at the airport. She was prevented from making a phone call to friends or family. But Gingging managed to call her friend from the Missionaries of the Assumption. In the next eight hours, she was incommunicado.
A dogged search by media friends discovered she was brought to Pagadian City, charged with frustrated murder and arson, which did not bear her name. But the name on the arrest warrant was a certain Elsa Renton aka Tina Maglaya.
Indeed, the police later released Valle, saying this was a case of “mistaken identity”.
This could have been a fatal mistake, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines said in a statement.
“There is no lack of victims of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances to drive home this point,” they pointed out
NUJP went on to say this was “not a lawful operation but a criminal abduction of a journalist”.
A convenient excuse, the Altermidya Network said. “Valle’s arrest was a clear case of harassment. If anything, the arrest only demonstrates the rampant abuse of power and impunity by state forces in Mindanao, and sends the message that they can take anyone prisoner.”
A violation of procedure, former IBP Davao President Caesar Europa said.
“Shouldn’t the verification and identification be done BEFORE you arrest anyone?”
Europa reminds police of the General Rule in Section 2 of the Bill of Rights of the Constitution: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures of whatever nature and for any purpose shall be INVIOLABLE.”
For that, Gingging, her family and media colleagues, would not take this as a simple mistake. This is abuse of authority that endangers lives and it is happening every day.
As Gingging said in an interview after her release: “Anybody can be arrested by allegations. Anybody is vulnerable.”
We have to hold authority accountable for this.*