Julius D. Mariveles | InterAksyon.com
BACOLOD CITY, Philippines – A Catholic pastoral worker who was nabbed inside a church convent decried what she called the “Gestapo-like” tactics employed by the police’s Regional Intelligence Unit when they served the arrest warrant against her Friday morning.
“They did not present any document and suddenly grabbed me and hauled me down a flight of stairs into a waiting vehicle,” Aniceta Yaun Rojo told InterAksyon.com in Cadiz City, where she and several others have been charged in court for allegedly being communist rebels responsible for the death of an Army lieutenant more than two years ago.
The 49-year-old Rojo, a mother of four and grandmother of two, was having breakfast with several other church workers inside the convent of the San Juan Bautista Parish around 8:30 a.m. in Bago City, just south of here, when a woman who identified herself as “Juvy” told her some people wanted to talk to her downstairs.
Rojo, a resident of Barangay Sum-ag in this city, has been a pastoral worker with the Bacolod diocese for many years and has also worked with several non-government organizations in Negros Occidental.
She said she told Juvy to let whoever was looking for her come up into the convent.
Three men, all in plainclothes, came up and “I told them to sit down so we can talk but they did not and one of them told me that I have to answer for a crime,” she said.
None of them presented any identification or even the warrant itself, Rojo added.
When she asked them to wait for parish priest Rodolfo Tan, the four became impatient and told her she had to go with them.
“Juvy then told me that she wanted to talk to me near the stairs but once I was there, she forced me to go down,” Rojo said.
Rojo, who stands less than five feet, screamed for help and one of the parish workers, Nilda Plomeda, grabbed her arm and engaged in a tug-of-war with the policemen, who easily overpowered her.
Rojo was forced into a waiting vehicle and taken to the Bago City Police Office where the RIU operatives had the arrest recorded.
She was then brought to the Cadiz City Police Office, about two hours’ drive north of here, where she was eventually informed that she was charged along with 24 others for the death of 1st Lt. Archie Polenzo.
Polenzo, an officer of the Army’s 62nd Infantry Battalion, was killed March 7, 2010 in a New People’s Army ambush in Sitio Aluyan, Barangay Bonifacio, Cadiz City.
The NPA, however, said the Army initiated the encounter in which Polenzo was killed.
Court records showed the charges against Rojo and the others was filed by then acting City Prosecutor Eduardo Sayson and had as witnesses Privates First Class Oliver Porten and Ray Fontanalgo.
Most of those charged are known to local media as leaders of activist labor organizations or non-government organizations like Isidro Castillo, former regional chairman of the National Federation of Sugar Workers, a labor federation that has consistently been tagged by the Army as a front of the Communist Party of the Philippines.
Wild goose chase
Rojo’s family and human rights workers were led on a wild goose chase Friday as they searched for her.
Less than an hour after the arrest, Rojo’s husband, Rodel, an artist, immediately went to the headquarters of the Bago City police where he was at first denied a copy of the blotter entry.
Rodel said they did not receive any subpoena related to the murder charge filed against his wife.
“We do not know a thing about this case,” he said.
Learning that the arresting team and his wife had already left Bago, Rodel sought the assistance of lawyers and human rights workers.
A check by a reporter with Cadiz City police chief Superintendent Noel Manaay around 10 a.m. but was told that they did not have Rojo in their custody.
It was only past 11 a.m. when Manaay finally confirmed Rojo was being “processed” at the station and was to be presented to Judge Renato Muñez of Regional Trial Court Branch 60, where the murder complaint was filed.
Rodel and human rights workers rushed to the Cadiz City Police Office but were informed upon arriving there that Rojo had been brought to the City Health Office.
They failed to find her there but were told by health workers that her blood pressure had shot up to 210 over 130 when she was checked at the emergency room.
The RIU operatives, however, did not let her rest long and, after being given medicine, she was immediately brought to the RTC located at the nearby City Hall.
The team finally caught up with Rojo at the RTC where she was accompanied by four RIU operatives.
Lawyer Rey Gorgonio asked the policemen why they had arrested Rojo but one of said they had been instructed not to issue statements to anyone.
“We were told to just refer all questions to Col. Senoron,” a male operative said, referring to RIU chief, Supt. William Senoron, who could not be reached for comment.
“A lot of human rights violations were committed,” Gorgonio said when asked about the manner in which Rojo was arrested.
He pointed out that the policemen did not present the warrant as required by law and did not even coordinate with the local police in carrying out the arrest.
Worse, they did not present any identification and did not even read Rojo her rights under the Miranda doctrine.
“They just told me that I have all the rights but only when we reached Cadiz City,” she said.
The court issued a commitment order for Rojo to be detained at the Cadiz City Jail where another suspect in the same case, NGO worker Zarah Alvarez, is jailed.
Fred Caña of Karapatan called Rojo’s arrest part of the malicious filing of charges by the Army against human rights and development workers.
“There is no other intent but to harass them and make their lives miserable,” he said.
Photos by Julius Mariveles