MANILA, Philippines — The Court of Appeals has ordered the release of a security guard who the military arrested last year and accused of being a ranking officer of the Communist Party of the Philippines.
In its August 27 decision, the CA’s Fifth Division said it was “convinced that this is a case of mistaken identity” as it granted the writ of habeas corpus sought by the family of Rolly Panesa and ordered the warden of the Security Intensive Care Area of the Metro Manila District Jail in Camp Bagong Diwa to free him.
The decision could open the military to countercharges by Rolly Panesa, who was arrested by the military and police in Quezon City on October 5 last year and who the Armed Forces of the Philippines has been insisting is Benjamin Mendoza, the alleged CPP leader in the Southern Tagalog region.
The National Union of People’s Lawyers, which has been representing Panesa, said it would “support our client’s longstanding plan to file countercharges against those who have practically destroyed his life beyond repair as impunity shall simply continue if there is no accountability.”
“The arrested and detained person, Rolly Mira Panesa, is not the same person as ‘Danilo Benjamin Mendoza’,” the CA said.
It said Panesa, a native of Negros Occidental who is in his 40s, “is not and does not look like 61 years old,” which is Mendoza’s age, the decision said. “He is a simple security guard and not a high-ranking officer of the CPP-NPA (New People’s Army).”
“This Court will not further want to hold in detention a person who is not Danilo Benjamin Mendoza, accused of rebellion, murder, frustrated murder, etc.,” it added.
The CA decision came about two weeks after the AFP handed out rewards for the capture of rebel leaders, including P5.6 million for “Mendoza,” which prompted the human rights organization Karapatan to accuse the military of running an “organized racket” of bounties for fake rebels.
Karapatan and the NUPL also accused the military of torturing Panesa severely, releasing photos soon after his arrest showing the security guard’s badly battered face and other injuries.
The 23-page decision indicated that most of the evidence presented by the military actually helped demolish its claims against Panesa.
Aside from this, the appellate court also said the police had lied when it claimed that the informants who had identified Panesa as Mendoza “were with them before and during the arrest” of the security guard.
The only time the informants saw Panesa, said the court, was in a room at Camp Vicente Lim where the security guard was placed by himself.
This, said the CA,“corrupted the identification procedure with impermissible suggestion,” an “illegal procedure,” that “suggested and implanted on the minds” of its “informants” that the man they were asked to identify was “Mendoza.”
On the other hand, it said that the operations manager of the security agency Megaforce “was straightforward in testifying that he personally knows Rolly Panesa as a pro-guard/pioneer guard of Megaforce, having been in their employ since 1995” and also submitted records of Panesa’s Social Security and Pag-IBIG contributions.
In its statement, the NUPL, while welcoming the decision, lamented “the long drawn-out and tedious legal proceedings that Panesa had to undergo just to simply prove that he is not what the military says he was and despite overwhelming evidence to establish his identity.”
“If there is any classic example of justice delayed and justice denied, this no doubt fits the bill,” it said. “Nothing indeed will bring him back all those times lost and the damage wrought on his reputation, not to mention the agony and ordeal he and his family went through.”
The NUPL also reiterated its demand for government to do away with the list of “terrorist personalities and communist leaders” used by the Departments of National Defense and of Interior and Local Government, which it had been used as “the basis to arrest, detain and torture people on false charges or, worse, disappeared or killed.”
It also called for the prosecution of those responsible for handing out the reward for the capture of what the CA has now ruled was the wrong person.