Mistaken Identity? Police Release Columnist 9 Hours After Arrest

CMFR/PHILIPPINES – The Philippine National Police (PNP) arrested a columnist and development worker in Laguindingan Airport in Misamis Oriental on 9 June 2019. The police later released the journalist saying it was a case of mistaken identity. Misamis Oriental is 784 kilometers south of Manila.

Davao Today columnist Margarita Valle was about to board a plane for Davao City at around 10:30 a.m. when the police arrested her. The arrest was based on decade-old warrants against a certain Elsa Renton also known as Tina Maglaya and Fedilina Margarita Valle for multiple murder with quadruple frustrated murder and damage to government property issued on 29 December 2011 in the Calamba Regional Trial Court (RTC) in Misamis Occidental; and for arson issued on 4 September 2006 in the Pagadian City RTC in Zamboanga del Sur.

Valle managed to call Sr. Milagros Gimeno of the Missionaries of the Assumption to inform her that she was being arrested and would be brought to the PNP’s Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) for interrogation.

Family and friends were not able to contact Valle after the call. As of 4:30 in the afternoon, Valle’s son Rius told CMFR that they had yet to hear from his mother.

Later in Cagayan de Oro, CIDG-10 Maj. Napoleon Carpio confirmed the arrest as an operation by CIDG-9, but refused to give more details.

Valle was held at the CIDG for nine hours before she was released. A witness confirmed that Valle was not the subject of the arrest warrants. The police admitted the mistake and said that the arrest was a case of mistaken identity.

Local media and press freedom and human rights advocates condemned the incident and said that it was a clear case of harassment.

Altermidya, of which Davao Today is a member, said the arrest was a clear attempt to silence journalists like Valle. In a statement released by the organization on June 10 it said that, “The lame excuse of mistaken identity does not mitigate the illegal and preposterous arrest of Valle, and the numerous violations of due process by the CIDG. If anything, the arrest only demonstrates the rampant abuse of power and impunity by state forces in Mindanao, and sends the message that they can take anyone prisoner.”

Valle writes about Lumad and women’s issues in the online news site Davao Today. Before that, she had a regular column in SunStar Davao until 2018.

Aside from her journalist work, Valle is also active in advocacy and research work on human rights issues. Before her arrest, Valle had attended a seminar-workshop of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, an inter-diocesan group of nuns and priests working with farmers, which was recently  tagged by the military as a “communist front.”