The brouhaha over the alleged kidnapping of the granddaughter of Cecilia Seares Luna, a “queenpin” of Abra, has once again exposed the soft underbelly of the Philippine justice system.
The background: Per official records, Rochelle Seares Luna (occupation: homemaker; education years completed: 16), and Anthony Bernard Ricks (occupation: manager, mortgage services industry; education years completed: 20) were married on Nov. 9, 2004.
They have one child: Ashley Nicole Luna, born Oct. 16, 2004, in Santa Ana, California. It is not clear when Rochelle and Anthony were divorced. And, if Anthony is to be believed, he was given sole legal and physical custody of Ashley. His statement seems to be validated by a news report that Cecilia Luna told journalists that he “managed to get custody of Nicole since Rochelle was studying in England.”
In 2010, Rochelle and Cecilia Luna obtained written permission from Anthony Ricks to take Ashley to the Philippines, for a two-month period. The child was to be returned to her father by Aug. 10, 2010. But Ashley was never returned to her father. Again, news reports quote Cecilia Luna (after the “kidnapping”) as saying that the child did not want to go back to the United States, that the child had been sleeping on the floor of her father’s room in a four-room house where the other three rooms were rented to nonfamily members, and that Cecilia Luna was afraid that Ashley might be abused by one of the tenants, since she was mostly left to herself.
Last Tuesday morning, Anthony Ricks, in a car driven by Guillermo Jorge Garcia, “fetched” Ashley from her school in BF Homes, Quezon City, and then transferred to another car, leaving Garcia alone in the first car. Garcia’s car was stopped by barangay officials. Garcia was thereafter detained, although the US Embassy had already stated that Anthony Ricks and his daughter Ashley were in the embassy. In effect, no kidnapping took place, least of all by Garcia.
It has since been determined that Ashley left the country for the United States on Tuesday evening in the company of two foreigners, although the flight manifest did not contain the name of Anthony Ricks.
But Anthony Ricks is indeed back in the United States, e-mailing from Concordia University, Wisconsin, the following (unedited): “My name is Anthony Ricks. I am Ashley father and she is safe and secure in the USA! I have sole legal and physical custody of Ashley Nichole Ricks. The Seares family is not being honest with there statement. I have been trying to get Ashley back to the states but I was ignored by the Luna family for a year and a half. Since I got no response I had to take matters into my own hands. Ashley was originally granted a summer vacation trip to Manila in 2010 I signed an affidavit with specific dates for Ashley to return. The Seares family with the non Hague treaty had a goal to keep Ashley in the Philippines and have no contact with me. Mr. Garcia was only trying to reunite a father with his daughter who has legal and sole custody. I am hear to set the record straight.”
Now for the Philippine justice system and its flaws as highlighted by this incident.
First, there is the fact that Guillermo Jorge Garcia claims to have been mauled, first by Robert Seares, Ashley’s uncle and an Abra mayor, and then allegedly by the barangay captain and some tanod (guards). Backing this claim is the medico-legal certificate from the Quezon City General Hospital, signed by one Dr. Bercado, surgeon on duty, who reported “multiple abrasion L anterior chest area at level of 2nd-6th rib; contusion haematoma 3x3cm R anterior chest area at level of 3rd to 5th rib; multiple abrasion mid axillary line to mid clavicular line R; multiple abrasion (indecipherable) area.” So much for the community pillar of our justice system. By the way, this seems to have been totally overlooked by the news media.
Garcia was arrested by the Quezon City police, who turned him over to the Philippine National Police’s Anti-Kidnapping Group (AKG) in Camp Crame. Here’s one for the good guys: The AKG report essentially said that there was no kidnapping, because the child, per information received from the US Embassy, was at that moment in the embassy with her father. The AKG then returned Garcia to the Quezon City Police Department’s Criminal Investigation and Detection Unit (CIDU) for “appropriate action.”
Per the Garcia family, one Rogelio Mercado, MPA, head of the CIDU, said that of course there was no kidnapping, and that he would cut his finger if Garcia were so charged. And then he signed a letter to the Quezon City Prosecutor, referring a case of “kidnapping and serious illegal detention” against Garcia and Ricks and “John and Jane Doe.” He later allegedly explained (presumably in confidence) that he had to do that because a couple of Quezon City prosecutors were related to the Seares-Lunas. So much for law enforcement as a pillar of the justice system.
In the inquest, the Garcia lawyers feared the worst—the assistant city prosecutor in charge seemed to be totally uninterested in the Garcia side of the story and detained him at Camp Karingal. But here is another one for the good guys: Quezon City Chief Prosecutor Donald Lee wasn’t having any of that. Garcia was released on Thursday night.
But the underlying reason why kidnapping charges were filed in the first place was the fact that Cecilia Luna had been awarded custody of Ashley by Abra Regional Trial Court Judge Corpus Alzate—solely on the unverified testimony of Luna that the parents had turned over the care of Ashley to her. So much for the courts as a pillar of the justice system.