A tragedy of errors
ON JULY 23, 2009, a certain Jerome Mustakim alias Berung Mustakim was arrested in Zamboanga City by a joint team of operatives from the National Intelligence and Security Group and PNP Directorate for Integrated Police Operations-Western Mindanao, on the basis of a warrant of arrest issued by the Regional Trial Court Branch 266 of Taguig City.
The arrest warrant was issued for the crime of kidnapping and serious illegal detention with ransom of six members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses on Aug. 20, 2002 in Patikul, Sulu, by some 40 members of the Abu Sayyaf under the leadership of Radulan Sahiron alias Kumander Putol; Galib Andang alias Kumander Robot; Khaddafy Janjalani alias Amir; Isnilon Hapilon; Abu Sulaiman alias Dr. Abu; and Mujib Susukan.
The kidnap victims were composed of two men and four women and P6 million in ransom was demanded for their release.
On the night of the day they were kidnapped, the two men, Leonel Mantec, husband of one of the female victims, Amily, and Lemuel Mantolo were beheaded. The female hostages learned of this only on Aug. 21.
They were able to escape on April 18, 2003, 242 days after they were abducted.
In her complaint against their kidnappers, which she executed on May 10, 2005, Amily Mantec y Arcillas, who had by then turned state witness and was under the witness protection program of the department of justice, did not include the name of Jerome Mustakim on the list of the accused ASG kidnappers, but in her subsequent affidavit on July 28, 2009, or five days after the arrest of Jerome Mustakim, she testified that upon seeing the said Jerome Mustakim in person, she had positively identified him as among those who had abducted them.
Another state witness, Roland Ullah, who was among the 23 kidnapped from a diving resort in Sipadan, Malaysia in 2000, also stated in his affidavit that he had “positively identified” Jerome Mustakim as among the followers of Radulan Sahiron who had held him hostage for three years, and that he was still a captive when the Jehovah’s Witnesses members were kidnapped.
According to the spot apprehension report of the NISG-WM, Mustakim was arrested after three months of “intelligence build-up” and that he was “positively identified” by state witnesses. The report also stated that “Mustakim was listed in the DND-DILG monetary reward list with P150,000 for his neutralization” (underscoring mine).
Jerome Mustakim was immediately detained and transferred to Camp Bagong Diwa in Bicutan and committed on Aug. 3, 2009.
But the person the operatives arrested and who was subsequently thrown in the Bicutan jail was not Jerome Mustakim.
He was 20-year-old Maulujer Abbuh (who was 13 years old at the time of the kidnapping). Witnesses at the time of the arrest, his brother Abiar Abbeuh, his cousin Rasel Sampang, and the owner of the coffee shop where they had ordered their coffee, all identified him as Maulujer Abbuh in their sworn statements narrating the arrest.
To support their claim as to his identity, and their petition for his immediate release, the elementary school records from grades 1 to 6, his high school records, barangay certification, voters registration, even his elementary school graduation picture were shown.
Because this was obviously another case of mistaken identity, the Public Attorney’s Office in Taguig filed at the Regional Trial Court a motion for his immediate release on Sept. 2, 2009.
On July 25, 2010, Ben Akmad of Lantawan, Basilan, was identified as Jerome Mustakim and arrested by operatives of the Zamboanga City Police Station 7 for the same crime, on the basis of a warrant of arrest issued by “Hon. Judge of Branch III, Regional Trial Court, 9th Judicial Region, Jolo, Sulu.”
However, in a decision on the case issued by Judge Gregorio V. de la Peña III, Regional Trial Court, 9th Judicial Region, Branch 12, Zamboanga City, the warrant of arrest was a mere photocopy of an arrest order issued by Presiding Judge Isagani A. Geronimo of the Regional Trial Court Branch 262 of Pasig City, and that the issuing officer “Erlinda Piniera Uy” supposedly of RTC Branch 3 of Jolo, Sulu, did not exist, therefore rendering the warrant fake.
It should be noted here that Police Chief Insp. Felix Bitong Martinez, station commander of Zamboanga City Police Station 7, figured in the arrests of both Maulujer Abbu and Ben Akmad, both identified as “Jerome Mustakim.”
This, according to lawyer Edilwasif Baddiri, commissioner of the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos and head of its paralegal division, was a case not only of mistaken identity but serious illegal arrest and detention by PNP personnel using a fake warrant of arrest.
In his letter to Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo, dated Dec. 3, 2010 and received by the DILG on Dec. 6, a copy of which was furnished this column, Baddiri said “(in) the past years, there have been many Ben Akmads—innocent civilians arrested and accused as ASG members without due process and regard for their rights. This must stop and those responsible must be held accountable. In a country that aspires for equality and rule of law such as ours, let us not allow abuse by our law enforcers to go unpunished.”
To this day, the real Jerome Mustakim, if he is still alive, has neither been found nor arrested. But we wonder how many more will be “positively identified” and dumped in Bicutan in his name?
How many more “monetary rewards” will be claimed for his arrest? How many more alleged Abu Sayyaf will be exchanged for such rewards?
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