PH police free journalist after she was arrested by mistake

Margarita Valle. Photo: National Union of Journalists of the Philippines-Davao Chapter/FB
Margarita Valle. Photo: National Union of Journalists of the Philippines-Davao Chapter/FB

A journalist was freed by the police in Pagadian City in Zamboanga del Sur last night after she was arrested by mistake.

The case of mistaken identity involved Margarita Valle, 61, a columnist for the newspaper Davao Today. She was arrested by police and soldiers in the Laguindingan Airport in Misamis Oriental on Sunday morning for charges of multiple murder, destruction of government property, and arson, reported Rappler. 

According to a Facebook post written by her son Rius Valle, Margarita was at the airport waiting to board her flight to Davao City after attending a workshop in Pagadian City, Zamboanga del Sur when the arrest took place. Margarita made a last-minute call to her family prior to her arrest but they eventually lost contact with her for several hours after she was brought to the police station.

When she arrived at the police station in Pagadian City, the cops realized they arrested the wrong person, reported GMA News. 

In a statement, Philippine National Police spokesperson Colonel Bernard Banac said that a witness testified that Margarita bore a strong resemblance to the subject of the police warrant, but she was not the fugitive that the authorities were looking for.

Margarita’s full name is Fedelina Margarita Avellanosa Valle. She was mistaken for the fugitive Elsa Renton, a suspected member of the Communist Party of the Philippines who uses the aliases Tina Maglaya and Fidelina Margarita Valle, reported The Philippine Daily Inquirer. 

A warrant of arrest for arson was issued against Renton in 2006. Another warrant, this time for multiple murder and damage against government property, was issued against her in 2011.

Margarita said that she was not harmed during the arrest, but was forced to go with the authorities without a lawyer present. She also said that arrest warrants were shown to her but she was not allowed to read them.

When she arrived at the police station, the police allegedly immediately took her mugshots and fingerprints despite her telling them to Google her name so they could know her real identity.

“They took [my] pictures, but they did not ascertain of my identity. For so many hours, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., I have no contact with my family since they took my cellphone. That by itself is a violation,” she told the Inquirer.

After Margarita was freed at almost 9:40pm last night, she was brought to the Bishop’s House in the village of Balangasan in Pagadian where she stayed before flying back home to Davao City.

The National Union of Journalist in the Philippines (NUJP) – Davao yesterday condemned Margarita’s arrest.

The NUJP said in a statement that Margarita’s arrest “adds up to the growing number of trump up charges against people with critical views of the Duterte administration and human rights violations committed by state forces under the height of Martial Law implementation in Mindanao.”

“We fear the possibility that journalists working in communities may be a future target of the threat, harassment, and killings as Mindanao remains under the power of Martial Law,” the statement posted on Facebook reads.

Margarita has been reporting about Mindanao since she started her journalism career in the 1980s. The NUJP said she is also involved in community development by working with non-profit organizations that focus on peace development and environmental protection.

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