By KIMBERLIE N. QUITASOL
BAGUIO CITY — Freelance videographer and photographer, John Joseph Buenaventura, filed a complaint before the Commission on Human Rights Cordillera Administrative Region (CHR-CAR) against members Philippine National Police (PNP) on September 5.
He accused members of PNP Tublay of executing illegal search and invalid checkpoint, and other offenses arising from the August 25 incident along a section of the Halsema Road in Barangay Acop.
According to him, he sought the intervention of CHR-CAR to draw out the truth about the incident and for fear of his life.
“I am now being tagged as terrorist and NPA and now receive threats and taunts on social media,” he said.
John Joseph Buenaventura, an independent filmmaker lodged a complaint at the Commission on Human Rights Cordillera…
He also expressed concern about the effort of the police and government-ran media outfit to twist the facts and put the blame on him, citing the conduct of PTV4 Cordillera and several police units in their social media accounts.
His Facebook post on the unlawful conduct of authorities who flagged and boarded the D’Rising Sun bus he was riding from Bontoc to Baguio City went viral on the social media. The narrative on the incident included photos of government operatives in plainclothes who entered the vehicle and a selfie with an Igorot elder he claimed assisted him during the ordeal.
The CHR-CAR will conduct its investigation and verification of Buenaventura’s complaint.
In his account, Buenaventura said he came from Bontoc, Mountain Province and was on his way home to La Union after a weeklong shooting for an independent film he was working on.
He just woke up when a police checkpoint stopped the bus. Four men in civilian clothes boarded the bus, asked the passengers to go down the vehicle, and announced that they are looking for someone. When he was about to get down, one of the men pointed at him and said he is the one they are after. The men approached him then one of them picked his bag and shoved it to his chest.
“They were aggressively instructing me to open my bag but they did not give any explanations when I asked then why. They did not even introduce themselves,” he recalled.
Buenaventura added that when he asked them for a search warrant and their identification, men refused to show any document.
Buenaventura was thankful to an elder who stayed inside the bus and helped him assert his rights.
“If not for him, I do not know what happened to me,” he said.
He recalled the men forced him to open his bags but the elder said they can not do that unless they have a warrant.to which he complied but asserted that the unknown operatives distance themselves from him and his things.
“I volunteered to show the contents of my bag because I had nothing to hide but asked the men to distance themselves. The elder stayed with me the whole time,” he said.
He assumed they were police officers because there were men in police uniforms outside the bus. He said one of the officers in uniform came up the bus, took some photos and got down.
According to Buenaventura, it was only after he revealed that he came from Bontoc for a short film project coordinated with Bontoc PNP, and dared the ununiformed men to call the station that they became cautious and gave the reason for the search.
He recalled the men said that they received a tip from Bontoc about a person transporting marijuana.
“They insisted that I go with them and file my report at the Tublay police station but I refused. I said that I would file my report. I asserted together with the elder that they have caused so much delay and have found nothing in my bag so they should let us go, which they later did,” he said.
Buenaventura identified the elder as Gerald Chochopen of the Cordillera Elders Alliance.
PLt.Col. Jerry Toyocan, chief of Benguet Drug Enforcement Unit (DEU), in a statement, confirmed that a tip regarding the transport of marijuana from Mountain Province prompted them to set up the checkpoint.
Benguet Police Provincial Office (PPO) also denied that personnel from the DEU, Tublay PNP and Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) committed human rights violations during the incident.
According to PCol. Lyndon Mencio, commander of Benguet PPO, DEU operatives usually wear civilian clothes when executing anti-illegal drugs operations.
Under Philippine laws, searches during checkpoints should only be “visual” nor can the authorities compel the occupants of the vehicle to step out of the vehicle. Government personnel conducting the checkpoints are also required to wear their uniforms and identifying marks, or at the very least able to provide official identification.
The Supreme Court ruled that authorities could only effect warrantless searches in moving vehicles when coupled with “probable cause.” However, the court also stated that tipped information even from reliable sources does not constitute probable cause “in the absence of any other circumstance that will arouse suspicion.”
Buenaventura also assailed PTV4 Cordillera for posting on its official social media account a testimony of a certain Danny Balweg who claimed to be in the same bus saying there were no flaws in the police operation.
He said that when he searched Balweg’s account it was empty apart from his supposed testimony. He added that a few hours after posting the testimony and reposted, somebody deleted the account.
“They (PTV 4) could have verified the account and talked to me before posting it, they have somehow violated some media ethics by just posting it,” Buenaventura said.
Besides PTV4 Cordillera, other social media accounts of several municipal police stations reposted the same.
Among those who used Danny Balweg’s testimony to cast doubt about the incident is the 1502nd Maneuver Company of the Police Regional Office Cordillera.
In a Facebook post, the unit labeled Buenaventura as a “leftist” and called his narrative “malicious.” It also accused the victim of “promoting local fronts of the CPP” and recruit for the communist cause. PTV4 Cordillera also shared this post. # nordis.net