Monday, April 16, 2007

Is Cebu safe?

Sunday, April 15, 2007
Soldiers grab party-list staff
By Mia E. Abellana
Sun.Star Staff Reporter

TWO coordinators for different party-list groups were allegedly abducted by armed men who they claimed were members of the Military Intelligence Group.

Beethoven Avila and Preciousa Daño, who are coordinators for Kabataan and Bayan Muna party-list groups, respectively, claimed “psychological torture” after agents allegedly grabbed them in broad daylight and forced them inside a gray Delica van.

They were handcuffed, blindfolded and interrogated over and over from Thursday until Friday, they added. They were later released to the Regional Intelligence and Investigation Division (RIID) Friday night.

The two were presented to reporters by Bayan Muna provincial coordinator Arman Perez in a press conference yesterday.

Calls to RIID Chief Augusto Marquez were unanswered.

However, Central Command spokesperson Lt. Col. Jefferson Omandam said the two were arrested because the authorities thought they had a legitimate warrant of arrest against the two.

Omandam said Avila was arrested right after he got off the boat from Cagayan de Oro City last Thursday morning.

Avila said he was shocked when armed men shoved him into a van and handcuffed him.

When he asked what he was being arrested for, they allegedly told him to stop asking questions and that they were from the government.

Omandam’s version was that Avila was arrested for his alleged involvement in an encounter with military and communist insurgents in Tabuelan, Cebu last year, leading to the death of two “rebel leaders” and a soldier.

They reportedly had a warrant of arrest for this involving 20 to 30 people and that Avila was one of them.

Omandam identified Avila as a staff member of the slain Central Visayas Regional Party Committee (CVRPC) Front 2 secretary, Jerry Badayos. Front 2 covers Cebu’s mid-north area.

When he was told that this was his offense, Avila then reportedly claimed he was not the only one and named Daño as one of those involved.

Omandam said Avila named Daño as the secretary of the CVRPC’s finance group and told the operatives that they were going to a meeting that afternoon.

Avila and Daño denied they were linked to any armed group.

At 3 p.m. that day, the same gray van allegedly pulled up beside Daño and arrested her.

The two claimed that they did not know where they were taken because they were blindfolded.

They said their abductors kept repeating the same questions.

“They did not take the handcuffs off, even when I was eating. I had to eat because it was the only thing that kept me going. The handcuffs were very tight,” said Avila, who shed a few tears when asked to narrate his ordeal.

Daño, for her part, said they did not physically harm her, but the uncertainty of her situation made her more afraid.

“They would not believe I was a Bayan Muna coordinator. They kept asking me about my personal life, my family, my work..Different people kept asking me the same questions,” she said.

They claimed operatives took their pictures, fingerprints and video footage with labels claiming they were members of the New People’s Army.

The two met each other at the courthouse in Toledo City, where Omandam said the warrant was issued.

Omandam said Avila and Daño were presented to the court but the soldiers were ordered to release them due to a technicality.

Asked what this was, Omandam admitted that he could not say because he was not familiar with the workings of law enforcement.

The operating team told Omandam that the warrant was “not fully consummated.” As to why, Omandam could not say.

Perez, after listening to the testimonies of the two coordinators, said that they approached Acting Cebu City Police Office Director Patrocinio Comendador to seek assistance about their missing members.

Comendador said that when he called the RIID, he was told that the two were already set for release, which was why he told Perez to just pick them up from the Police Regional Office (PRO) 7.

“This incident contradicts (PRO 7 Director Silverio) Alarcio’s statement that Cebu is safe. Even innocent civilians are not safe,” Perez said.

Perez said Alarcio assured him that Cebu is still safe and that he will look into the circumstances of the arrest. (MEA)

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