There are many what if’s – most of them dreadful – surrounding the Sunday (June 9) arrest of veteran Mindanao journalist and development worker Fidelina Margarita “Gingging” Avellanosa-Valle.
A brief rundown of the case: Shortly past 11 a.m, journalists got an alert posted from Valle’s son, Rius, the Mindanao spokesperson of the Save Our Schools Network. He said police had nabbed his mother at the Laguindingan Airport as she was about to board a plane back to Davao City, after giving a writing workshop in Pagadian City for the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP).
Rius said Margarita, a writer for community and national news outfits and author of books and research papers since the 1980s, had managed to call a religious sister. She identified the arresting officers as members of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG).
Mindanews’ Carolyn Arguillas would later quote Sister Mila Gimeno of the Missionaries of the Assumption (MA) recounting Margarita’s message and hearing the journalist arguing for her rights. From the sounds heard in the background, force was used, the nun said.
What if Margarita wasn’t so resourceful? What if she didn’t have the kind of goodwill earned from years of toil and the struggle to maintain friendships amid years of strife? What if she were accosted on some stretch of road with poor signal? What if it were in the dead of night and colleagues and church groups, and rights groups from all shades of the political spectrum’s progressive side – Task Force Detainees, Karapatan -- were not able to swing into action?
So many people calling up and down the police hierarchy, to legislators, local government officials, to various aid agencies and the Commission on Human Rights. Within a few hours the Philippine National Police (PNP) spokesman Col. Bernard Banac was releasing a report confirming Margarita’s arrest.
She was reportedly the subject of two warrants: one dating from 2006 for arson; another, from 2011, for multiple murder and quadruple frustrated murder. Under “who,” the report said: Elsa Renton @ Tina Maglaya/Fidelina Margarita Valle y Avellanosa.
There was some confusion: did the warrants really carry the name of Margarita or were cops claiming she and Elsa Renton were one and the same person?
Hours after, on the defensive, the PNP let her go, claiming it was “a case of mistaken identity.” She had been held incommunicado for nine hours.
On Monday morning, PNP Director-General Oscar Albayalde waved off the case, claiming police had followed “protocol.”
It’s a lame, if typically brazen, excuse for what the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines calls an attempted abduction.
Let’s dissect it.
Who provided the “mistaken” information that Valle was the person named by the search warrants? The Philippine Army’s 53rd infantry Battalion, which operates in the Zamboanga peninsula. It has been accused of hounding church groups there that provide aid to indigenous peoples battling to keep their lands out of the reach of miners and plantation developers.
Favorite targets are the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI), the RMP and other faith-based organizations that Valle has worked with through the years.
Those warrants were for very old crimes. And those warrants did not mention Valle.
How did they make a leap from Elsa Renton to Fidelina Margarita Valle y Avellanosa? At the very least, “protocol” requires the CIDG first verify the antecedents of the case and check the veracity of identification before making out like the Gestapo. You don't swoop down on an old woman in an airport on the basis of corner store gossip.
Valle has always been a legal personality. Until 2018, she was a columnist for SunStar Davao. To this day, she is a regular writer for digital news outfit Davao Today.
She has criscrossed Mindanao for decades conducting research, interviews, workshops. She has written and spoken out openly for the Lumad, and for her son and other rights workers slapped with ridiculous human trafficking charges for aiding indigenous communities – in 2015, in 2016, in 2017, in 2018, and just a few days ago when she accompanied Rius in a hearing in Koronadal.
As social media savvy kids like to say, isang google lang yan.
Mindanews’ Arguillas also shared what by any angle, seems an impressive CV, all the way back to 2003: monitoring projects for UN multi-donor programs, writing reports for international agencies, books written and published or co-edited -- the breath of service extending from migrant workers to medical NGOs and women’s groups, and the embattled Lumad schools.
This information is all out there on the Internet.
It’s not a failure of intelligence on the part of the military or the PNP. Rius calls the explanation “a cover up to save their faces.”
“They are trying to put the blame on the ‘will-never-be-identified-witness’,” he says.
State security forces have had a sterling record of throwing out lies, so fantastic these would be laughed out of a basic fiction-writing course, to justify arrests or killings of suspects. Those lies have become more shameless in the last three years.
Had there not been a general outcry, Margarita Valle would be in really dire straits. Her case is also a warning: journalists and rights workers who continue to defy the powers face greater hounding in the remaining years of Rodrigo Duterte.
And they haven’t even passed the new anti-terror law.
Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.