Karapatan slams the acquittal of police officers charged for grave coercion filed by tortured security guard Rolly Panesa

“For the beatings, the torture, for 11 months in imprison for a case of mistaken identity, is PhP60,000 considered justice being served? I want to see them rot in jail. These officers, owing from their corrupt institution, were cruel. They do not respect people or care about rights; they will surely do this again to someone else if given the opportunity, falsely charging another person for money. The acquittal of the guilty is how the police are enabled to commit more violations,” said security guard and complainant Rolly Panesa after hearing the court verdict acquitting four police officers charged for grave coercion.

Panesa, a security guard, was arrested on October 5, 2012 by combined elements of the 2nd Infantry Division of the Philippine Army and the Philippine National Police. He was accused of being “Benjamin Mendoza”, whom the military alleged as a high-ranking official of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) with a bounty of PhP5.6 million.

Panesa was brought to Camp Vicente Lim where he was interrogated, tortured and forced to admit that he was “Benjamin Mendoza”. He was beaten every time he would insist on his real identity. He was detained at the Special Intensive Care Area (SICA), Metro Manila, for more than ten months before the trumped-up case against him were proven false. The Court of Appeals eventually ruled that Benjamin Mendoza and Rolly Panesa are not the same person.

Photo of Rolly Panesa a few days after his torture and interrogation at Camp Vicente Lim 

 

On August 24, 2018, the Municipal Trial Court Branch 1 of Calamba City, Laguna acquitted P/Ins. Bonifacio Guevarra, SPO1 Christopher Reyes, PO2 Ariel Dela Cruz, PO2 Joseph Fernandez and some other John Does/Jane Does charged in the grave coercion case filed by complainant Rolly Panesa. The Court, however, acknowledged the presence of negligence on the part of the accused, and thus ordered that each will be liable to pay Panesa P10,000 worth of civil damages and P5,000 for moral damages.

Last May 16, 2018, the Regional Trial Court Branch 26 of Calamba, Laguna also ruled to acquit the same accused officers charged for violating the Anti-Torture Law of 2009 and Republic Act 7438, or an act defining certain rights of persons arrested, detained or under custodial investigation, as well as the duties of the arresting, detaining and investigating officers.

“The case of Panesa is a perfect example of how government institutions have preserved a climate suitable for rights abuses and impunity. Until now, many more are imprisoned for trumped-up charges filed against human rights defenders and individuals. Not only were they subjected to harrowing experiences during illegal arrests, long-time imprisonment adds to the injustice done against them. The perpetrators, however, are out to commit more abuses without a worry in the world,” said Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay.

Palabay noted that as of June 30, 2018, there are already 509 political prisoners in the country, 179 of them were illegally arrested under the Duterte regime. The Karapatan official also hit the double standard practiced by jail management officials, favoring rich and powerful politicians who retain their influence and wealth, albeit in air-conditioned rooms inside detention facilities, complete with catering, such as in the case of Zaldy Ampatuan who was allowed to leave jail to attend his daughter’s wedding.

“Everything in this country works smoothly for the rich and powerful, and is extremely dragging and difficult for the poor. These corrupt crocodiles even attempt to put on a show, either in hospitals sporting neck braces, or in courts where they are supposedly prosecuted, only to be acquitted and released in the end. This is how the country has built and preserved a climate of impunity – an arrangement that gives rights violators a free pass to further violate people’s rights,” concluded Palabay.