It took Eduardo Serano 11 years to wait for freedom.
Serrano was arrested in May 2004 for what he says are false criminal charges of multiple murder, frustrated murder, robbery, multiple frustrated murder, kidnapping. These cases all mentioned a different man — Rogelio Villanueva. The military just insisted Serrano was Villanueva.
Eleven years. On Oct. 13, Serrano and staff of the human rights group Karapatan awaited what would have been the promulgation on his identity at the Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 98.
Eleven years and only then did the Court of Appeals decide to “first resolve the issue of Serrano’s identity–whether he and Villanueva are the same—before proceeding to hear the primary case on trial,” says Karapatan secretary-general Cristina Palabay.
Eleven years spent waiting. The prosecution had failed to present witnesses. And yet a man languished for more than a decade.
The October 13 should have been the promulgation on Serrano’s identity after the prosecution failed to present its witness.
“Yet, in haste, the prosecution filed a motion for reconsideration to allow them to present witnesses, and the court allowed it,” says Palabay.
Palabay says two army officers took the witness stand. One does not personally know Villanueva and Serrano; the other claimed he saw Villanueva during the ambush and in yesterday’s hearing, pointed to Serrano.
Major Alex Dalingay Ampati, former company commander of Bravo Company of the 68th Infantry Battalion-Philippine Army, told the court that his submitted affidavit did not include Eduardo Serrano’s name.
Ampati also said he had no role in drafting the Order of Battle (OB) with 68 names of alleged NPA rebels in the 68th IB Area of Responsibility (AOR). The list, he said, was just given by ‘intel’ (intelligence). Palabay notes:
In short, Ampati does not personally know Villanueva or Serrano, more so the involvement of the either of the two in the March 2003 so-called New People’s Army ambush. This ambush is supposedly the basis of the multiple murder and robbery case against Villanueva and the also the basis of Serrano’s arrest and detention.
Even stranger was the testimony of Sgt. Berlin Farinas. He told the court he was present during the NPA ambush in Pinamalayan, Mindoro Oriental. Farinas claimed he saw Villanueva commanding the NPA. That was the first time he saw Villanueva. The second? During yesterday’s hearing — as he pointed to Serano. He also said soldiers showed him a photo of Villanueva in the hospital after the ambush.
Then his tale unravelled. Karapatan narrates:
Asked whether his statement in court was in his affidavit, Farinas said yes. But when the judge again the same question for three times and Farinas still said yes, Judge Runes-Tamang challenged Farinas, “What if I said It was never in your affidavit? Why did you tell this court it was in your affidavit if it really wasn’t?”
Farinas took his statement back and said, “I just thought I wrote it in my affidavit.” The Judge told him to get out of the witness stand.
The court has scheduled the promulgation on Serrano’s identity on October 22. Says Palabay,
“We call for the immediate resolution of Serrano’s identity and his immediate release. Serrano has been unjustly jailed for 11 years for crimes he did not commit.
Palabay cited the similar case of Rolly Panesa who was mistakenly identified as “Benjamin Mendoza.”
That was a case worthy of Kafka.
Panesa, a security guard, was arrested and tortured by military men who insisted he was a communist rebel commander. A year after, the Court of Appeals ordered his release.
Panesa was arrested by the Army’s 2nd Infantry Division and the Philippine National Police on October 5, 2012, while he was walking home with his family on Aurora Boulevard.
The military alleged that Panesa led a double life as “Benjamin Mendoza,” a leader of the New People’s Army of the Communist Party of the Philippines in the Southern Tagalog region, who was wanted for various criminal cases in a Lucena City court, including rebellion and murder. The government earlier offered a P5.6-million reward for Mendoza’s capture.
Read what the court had to say in this report by the Philippine Daily Inquirer:
“This court is convinced that this is a case of mistaken identity. The arrested and detained person, Rolly Mira Panesa, is not the same person as ‘Danilo Benjamin Mendoza,’ who is the subject of the order of arrest and commitment order,” according to the CA decision signed by Associate Justice Rosmari Carandang… The court also said it was “puzzled” by the charge because, during Panesa’s court appearances, “it was easily recognizable that the detained person … does not look like a 61-year-old man.” Mendoza was listed in the charge sheet as 61 years old. Panesa maintained he was only 48. It also noted that the two supposed informants were not with the police at the time of Panesa’s arrest, and that the documentary evidence submitted by the military never described what Mendoza looked like.”
“If there is any classic example of justice delayed and justice denied, this no doubt fits the bill,” according to the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL), which handled Panesa’s defense.
Panesa’s side had presented official IDs and government records to establish his identity and the impossibility of him leading the said double life.
The two prosecution witnesses were not even worth listening to and there was hardly any supporting evidence to prove the military’s claim. The name Mendoza wasn’t even on the order of battle and there was no document citing an alias in the name of Rolly Panesa.
For the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the Order of Battle is gospel truth — never mind from which trash heap they sifted for “intel”.
As Palabay notes: “The existence of Order of Battle proves that people merely suspected to be “enemies” of the state are targets for neutralization, whether through extrajudicial killing, disappearance, torture and in this case, illegal arrest and detention.”