By: Jomarie A. Billones
ROXAS CITY, Capiz – TRAUMATIZED AND SHAMED.
This is how the family of Baltazar Saldo, the driver who was arrested on June 23, 2019 on suspicions of being a former rebel leader facing criminal cases, described his ordeal in the hands of the Police Regional Office (PRO)-6 and the Army.
In an interview with DyOW Bombo Radyo Roxas, Saldo’s brother Nilo said they will haul the PRO-6 and the Philippine Army’s 61st Infantry Battalion to court for mistaking their kin for a criminal.
No less than retired Brigadier Gen. John Bulalacao paraded Saldo in a press conference at Camp Delgado in Iloilo City on June 24.
But Saldo was later released for lack of solid proof that he is Virgilio Paragan alias Hassan, believed to be a former rebel commander in Negros Island facing murder and frustrated murder cases.
Paragan was the respondent and subject of arrest warrants issued by several courts in Negros for the crimes of murder and frustrated murder.
Nilo Saldo said the PNP and the Army put their family in a bad light after they arrested Baltazar without first verifying and validating the identity of the suspect.
“It’s very discouraging and shameful to the family after the Police Regional Office 6, Regional Intelligence Division, and the Philippine Army’s 61st Infantry Battalion arrested my brother and presented to the media as a criminal,” Nilo said.
Right after his release, Baltazar Saldo went to the Cuartero police station and filed a complaint in the blotter report. He narrated that he was traumatized and embarrassed after he was handcuffed and presented to the media as a criminal.
Baltazar Saldo was released by police Monday evening after he was presented before Kabankalan City Prosecutors Office in Negros Occidental.
During the presentation, the prosecutor found the PNP witness’ statement lacking in proving that Saldo is indeed Paragan.
The PRO-6 insists that its witness positively identified Saldo as ex-rebel Paragan.
According to information from PRO-6, the witness allegedly did not execute an affidavit that could link Saldo to the cases.
The Daily Guardian learned that aggrieved parties in the criminal cases and even relatives of Paragan were at the Kabankalan City prosecutors’ office when Saldo was presented.
One of them swore that Saldo was not his uncle, Virgilio Paragan.
Police Lieutenant Colonel Joem Malong, PRO-6 spokesperson, clarified that there was no release order.
Instead, the prosecutor did not sign the witness’ affidavit, which compelled the police to release Saldo.
Even the Kabankalan City police was unable to establish Saldo’s link to Paragan.
Police Major Jonel Guadalupe, chief of Kabankalan City Police Station, said Saldo was transported from Capiz to Kabankalan late Monday afternoon to verify if he is the person with two standing warrants for murder and attempted murder in the province.
Upon verification of the authorities, they found out that he is a different person.
Guadalupe said there was no witness who can testify if Saldo is also Paragan that is accused of murder and frustrated murder in Kabankalan City. He was then transported back to Capiz.
Guadalupe said the warrants for murder and attempted murder that served as bases in arresting Saldo were for Virgilio Paragan alias “Hassan.”
In a statement, Malong said they respect the decision of the Kabankalan prosecutor.
“This is a normal occurrence in police operations. If this is true, further validation of the statement of the witness who attended the press briefing should be done. Further legal processes should also be done. The release of the suspect by the fiscal is in order if he feels he still needs more evidence to put the arrested person to jail. I do not want also to incarcerate innocent individuals,” she added.
The PRO-6 was showered with brickbats on social media following the Saldo booboo.
Facebook users prodded the police to hold a press conference and publicly apologize to Saldo. Others urged the Saldos to sue the police.
Other comments lashed at the police for bungling their intelligence and investigative work by picking the wrong guy. Still others asked how PRO-6 spent its millions of pesos in intelligence funds.
Paragan is an alleged former commander of the Roger Mahinay Command of the NPA’s Komiteng Rehiyon-Negros.
He is also a respondent in at least four criminal charges:
- Criminal Case Numbers 2004-3623 and 2004-3630 for attempted murder with arrest warrant issued by the late Judge Henry Arles of Regional Trial Court 6, Branch 61 , Kabankalan City, Negros Occidental on Dec. 1, 2004;
- CC No. 04-019 for murder, warrant issued by Judge Mario Trinidad of RTC-7 Branch 64 in Guihulngan, Negros Oriental on Dec. 13, 2004; and
- CC Nos. Number 04-020-C for murder and 04-021-C for attempted murder with warrant issued by Judge Rosendo Bandal, Jr. of RTC-7, Branch 64 in Guihulngan, Negros Oriental on March 11, 2004.
Due to the numerous cases filed against him, the Police Regional Office (PRO)-7 in Central Visayas recommended Paragan’s inclusion in the PNP Directorate for Intelligence’s most wanted list.
Later on, his “wanted status” was elevated to the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) and Department of the National Defense (DILG-DND) Joint Order on CNN/Terrorist Wanted Person with a P1,050,000 cash reward for his arrest.