Bounty keeps cops on arresting spree
Second of a series
IT was an all-too familiar scene: 50 kilos of TNT and other bomb components were spread out on a table one morning in April 2004, the day Philippine National Police chief Hermogenes Ebdane paraded six alleged top leaders of the Abu Sayyaf Group.
The deadly explosives were supposedly seized from the men.
One of the men was Radzmar Sangkula.
Though not the most senior, Radzmar stood out because he cut a handsome figure. He was an explosives expert trained by the Jemaah Islamiyah, police said.
Nearly one year later, he was reported dead.
Radzmar perished, according to PNP records, during a violent incident at the maximum security compound of Camp Bagong Diwa in March 2005, known as the "Bicutan siege."
Curiously, another Radzmar Sangkula is still alive and doing time at Camp Bagong Diwa’s Special Intensive Care Area today.
It would appear the PNP had arrested two Radzmar Sangkulas.
As it turns out, their case was not unique.
One Alex Kahal, also known as "Amilhamja Ajijul," was detained in 2005 over the Jehovah's Witnesses kidnapping case, while another man, also known as "Amilhamja Ajijul," was killed in an encounter in 2006.
Kahal was freed in 2014.
Things have not turned out as well for one "Moner Munap" who was arrested in 2000. A second "Moner Munap" was reported killed in an encounter in 2001, but the first Moner Munap is still languishing in jail.
Police have also arrested two "Black Tungkangs," three "Jerome Mustakims," three "Edwin Sawaldis," two "Ustadz Hamad Idris," two "Mohamad Said Salis," two "Abdasil Dimas," two "Madia Hamjas" and two "Hussein Kasims."
For a bounty, the police seem to have hastily arrested anyone who remotely fit the description of a person on their most wanted list.
The government has released some P280-million in reward for information leading to the capture of alleged terrorists and criminals from 2004 to 2014.
The police wrongfully arrested 51 men over the same 10-year period in its fight against the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), according to interviews and documents obtained by ABS-CBN.
Eighteen of the 51 are listed in court records, 21 from various Department of Justice (DOJ) resolutions adopted by the court, 10 from DOJ interviews , and two from the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF) legal handbook.
"Wrongful arrests" include cases of mistaken identity, or cases where not a single witness identified the accused in the crime for which he was charged.
"Black Tungkang" had the biggest bounty on his head at P3.3 million. Except for Kasim and Hamja, reward for information leading to the capture of the other men ranged from P150,000 to P600,000.
The wrongful arrests could, in part, explain why the ASG, although diminished in strength, continues to wreak havoc, despite billions of pesos in local and foreign funds poured into the fight against terrorism.
“If a wrongful arrest is made, that means the real culprit is still out there,” said Commissioner Edil Baddiri of the NCMF.
While Baddiri conceded there are many reasons for the wrongful arrests, such as clan wars, or the pressure for law enforcers to produce results, cash rewards play a major role in many of these cases.
“It’s sizable, it provides motivation for these arrests,” he said.
Lawyer Pura Ferrer-Calleja, counsel for over two dozen accused, said a wrongful arrest could destroy the life of a man or his family.
“Imagine the anxiety, the humiliation that you have to face when you are charged in court,” she said. “I’ve seen what happens. One died in detention. Others lost their businesses, or even their families dahil iniwanan na ng asawa. The younger ones who were in school have not been able to finish their education.”
The NCMF, which is under the Office of the President, has recommended a review of the PNP-AFP Rewards System.
Three sources have previously given ABS-CBN details of how policemen and tipsters split the bounty, which is prohibited by law.
This practice becomes even more believable when one reviews transcripts of a 2014 Pasig court hearing for the Jehovah's Witnesses kidnapping case.
At the hearing, State Prosecutor Peter Ong moved for the immediate release from detention of accused Jeheri Jeron, whom police said was “Black Tungkang.” Jeron was one of two “Black Tungkangs” arrested in 2012.
The witness, former kidnap victim Amily Mantec, told the court pointblank that the person before her was not among her kidnappers.
Ong told the court the police wanted an immediate arraignment of Jeron for them to get the reward money.
“We were given the information the police are only interested in the certificate of arraignment of Jeheri Jeron in order to process their claim for reward. We cannot stomach P3.3 million going to the wrong hands for the arrest of the wrong person,” the court transcript quoted him as saying.
One of the two “Black Tungkangs” was released last year.
He was lucky. Apart from the 51, many others who claim to be victims of wrongful arrests in government’s fight against the ASG have been detained for nearly a decade.
The battle against terrorism continues. But in the small, crowded cells at Bicutan where the innocent are jailed together with the guilty, years of injustice have given birth to new radicals.
Nothing breeds lawlessness, it seems, more than the lawless enforcement of the law.