The family of journalist Margarita “Gingging” Valle, who was recently arrested by the police in Misamis Oriental, said today that she was a “clear state target” and that her detention was not a case of mistaken identity as the police claim it to be.
In a statement posted on the Facebook account of Margarita’s son Rius Valle, the family said that she is now safe but will have to undergo a medical check-up and debriefing as soon as possible.
They said that her arrest on Sunday was “a clear example of the vicious pattern of state forces of attacks against journalists, dissenters, and human rights defenders.” They also called it a “wanton disregard for the rule of law justified by the current Martial Law in Mindanao.”
The family rejected the Philippine National Police’s (PNP) excuse that Margarita, a columnist for newspaper Davao Today, was arrested on Sunday because they mistakenly thought she was the fugitive that they were looking for.
“Mistaken identity is but a ludicrous propaganda of the PNP in the advent of the public outrage and pressure to surface and release our Nanay (mother) Gingging,” the Valle family said.
Margarita was arrested by members of the PNP’s Criminal Investigations and Detections Group (CIDG) in the Laguindingan Airport in Misamis Oriental for charges of multiple murder, destruction of government property, and arson, and then brought to a police station in Pagadian City, Zamboanga del Sur.
However, the police said they later learned that they had the wrong woman when a witness said that she only bore a strong resemblance to the subject of their warrant of arrest.
Margarita said she was forced to go with the authorities without a lawyer present. She also said that arrest warrants were presented to her but she was not allowed to read them. The police allegedly immediately took her mugshots and fingerprints despite her telling them to Google her name so they could determine her real identity.
According to the PNP, they were supposed to arrest a certain Elsa Renton, who allegedly uses the aliases Tina Maglaya and Fidelina Margarita Valle. The second alias is slightly similar to Margarita’s full name, Fedelina Margarita Avellanosa Valle.
But the Valle family rejected the PNP’s excuse. They said it was “an old, familiar tune.”
The family cited the case of Amelia Pond, a missionary and teacher who was arrested in 2016 because the police allegedly thought she was Adelfa Toledo, a suspected member of the communist New People’s Army. Pond was only freed after 15 months after witnesses recanted their testimonies against her, Interaksyon reported.
Pond worked for the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, which the military’s Brigadier General Antonio Parlade Jr. labeled as a communist front.
The Valle family said that Margarita is part of a growing number of journalists, human rights workers, farmers, and other people “who have been targeted for their stand against the countless state-sponsored human rights violations, especially in Mindanao.”
Meanwhile, CIDG Region 9 chief Colonel Tom Tuzon yesterday released a statement apologizing to Margarita.
“Due to uncertainties and less than 100 percent assurance of your identity from our informant, we have brought you to the CIDG office, Pagadian City, that caused you unnecessary anxiety,” the statement reads.
“We do realize that we should have heeded your call regarding your identity from the start and have released you at the airport.”
PNP chief General Oscar Albayalde yesterday said that Margarita’s arrest at the airport occurred because of wrong information police received from an informant.
“They (police) based their actions on the [information they received from the] informant,” he said in his press conference yesterday. “That’s why that happened. That’s why we verified [with the witness in Pagadian if we caught the right person].”
Albayalde said they will investigate what occurred during Margarita’s arrest. “Whether she has a complaint or not, we will investigate that so that it won’t happen again,” he added.
Margarita has been reporting about Mindanao since she started her journalism career in the 1980s. The National Union of Journalists in the Philippines said she is also involved in community development by working with non-profit organizations that focus on peace development and environmental protection.