Jail warden sacked, or was he promoted?
By Jocelyn R. Uy, Miko Morelos
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—Was he punished or promoted?
The jail officer who allowed Andal Ampatuan Jr., the prime suspect in the November 2009 massacre of 57 people in Maguindanao, to hold a press conference in a high-risk prison on Tuesday appears to have been kicked upstairs.
In an order dated Thursday, Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno directed Senior Insp. Lloyd Gonzaga to relinquish his duties as deputy warden of the Quezon City Jail-Annex in Taguig City and carry on as chief of operations of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology in the National Capital Region (BJMP-NCR) effective immediately.
Puno assigned Supt. Clement Laboy to replace Gonzaga “in addition to his duties as regional chief of staff of BJMP-NCR and concurrent deputy warden of the Quezon City Jail.”
“The order takes effect immediately,” read the document, a copy of which was given to reporters at Camp Crame national police headquarters.
Gonzaga’s relief and what appeared to be a promotion came on the heels of Puno’s order of an inquiry into whether jail officers had erred in allowing Ampatuan, the mayor of Datu Unsay town in Maguindanao, to hold the free-wheeling exchange with the media at the jail in Camp Bagong Diwa in Bicutan, Taguig City.
Puno’s spokesperson Brian Yamsuan told the Philippine Daily Inquirer by phone that Gonzaga’s relief as deputy warden was a result of “his gross ignorance of normal jail procedures.”
“Possible administrative charges may be filed if investigation reveals that he or other officials have violated the law,” Yamsuan said.
During the Tuesday press conference, Ampatuan declared his family’s endorsement of Liberal Party (LP) standard-bearer Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III.
The incident became controversial not only because it was held in a high-security prison but also because Ampatuan used it to retract his earlier declaration of support for Nacionalista Party (NP) presidential candidate Manuel Villar.
Gonzaga had admitted that Ampatuan did not file a written request for the press conference, but said the latter had the permission of Chief Supt. Serafin Barretto, the BJMP-NCR chief.
In a statement issued Thursday, Interior Undersecretary for Public Safety Marius Corpus said that “in compliance with [Puno’s] directive, other jail officials found to have violated policies and regulations on the matter will be dealt with accordingly.”
Puno’s order stated that Laboy’s appointment and Gonzaga’s relief from his present assignment and his designation to the BJMP-NCR were in line with the provisions and implementing rules and regulations of Republic Act No. 9263 (or the 2004 Act professionalizing the Bureau of Fire Protection and BJMP).
The two officers were ordered “to clear themselves of all money and property accountabilities and to effect a smooth turnover of responsibilities prior to reporting to their respective posts.”
Calls to Gonzaga’s cell phone went unanswered.
“I also told him to lie low for a while,” Barretto told the Inquirer by phone, adding that his office had yet to receive a formal order on Gonzaga’s relief.
According to Barretto, Gonzaga was only the officer in charge of the Taguig jail.
He also said Ampatuan’s holding of a press conference was not irregular, and that such an activity was “allowed before, way back during the days of the PC-INP (Philippine Constabulary-Integrated National Police, the precursor of today’s police force).”
Barretto cited other instances when high-profile detainees like former ARMM Gov. and rebellion suspect Nur Misuari, child rape convict Romeo Jalosjos, ousted President and plunder convict Joseph Estrada and former Batangas Gov. and murder convict Antonio Leviste held press conferences at a BJMP facility.
He reiterated that detainees and their lawyers only needed to request media interviews or press conferences and the BJMP would make security arrangements.
(Two years ago, the Inquirer was invited to a birthday lunch of Leviste, who at that time was being held at the Makati City Jail while awaiting the decision on his murder case. Reporters were frisked and eventually allowed to interview him with tape recorders and cameras.)
Asked why the issue had become controversial, Barretto said the question on who Ampatuan was backing in the elections threw everything out of hand.
“[The Ampatuans] were only seeking to clarify some issues related to their case at the Department of Justice,” Barretto said. “But when a reporter saw Andal Jr.’s baller ID, he was asked who he was supporting, and the man answered.”
Barretto said the BJMP had already planned security measures, including arrangements for possible interviews with the media, to be implemented in the jail, which they dubbed “Oplan Ampatuan.”
He said that like other detainees, Ampatuan still had rights to self-expression.
Despite the controversy, Barretto said the media would still be allowed access to inmates.
“But the one to approve the request would be the interior secretary,” he said.
Sen. Edgardo Angara Thursday denied that he had masterminded Ampatuan’s press conference.
“That is completely ridiculous and baseless. I do not know anyone from the prison facility in Taguig. You can check my phone records, I have not made any calls nor written any letters to orchestrate the press conference for Andal Ampatuan,” Angara said in a statement.
LP senatorial candidate Risa Hontiveros said on Wednesday that two lawyers identified with NP vice presidential candidate Loren Legarda had helped organize the press conference.
Hontiveros said one of the lawyers used to work for Angara and was now a member of Legarda’s staff, and that the other was “recommended by Senator Angara to be a member of the legal defense team of Ampatuan Jr.”
She added: “We have received reports that operatives of the NP were responsible for the latest smear job against Sen. Noynoy Aquino. They were the ones who rehearsed him (Ampatuan) before the press conference.”
Barking in all directions
But Angara dismissed the accusation and said it was unfortunate that the LP had “succumbed to barking at any direction to divert the issue of Ampatuan’s endorsement.”
“They said they have received reports that I was behind the press conference. I wish they examined its veracity first before lashing out with baseless accusations. As leaders of the country, we have a big role in nation-building, especially in educating our fellow citizens of the national issues and our legislative agenda,” he said, adding:
“And as such, we have to protect our credibility as a body. It’s not good for the public to see their legislators hurling stones at each other.”
Angara also denied reports that his political party, Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino (LDP), was backing Villar.
“Even what they said about my support for Villar has no leg to stand on. My party, the LDP, has expressed its support for Senator Legarda as its vice president. We do not back any presidential candidate up to now,” he said.
Angara called on the candidates to stop the “campaign gimmickry.”
“It is a disservice to our nation, and it derogates our democracy. We want our voters to cast an informed, educated vote, one that is based on platform and not on who seems to be the lesser evil,” he said.
Hontiveros had also said it was Ampatuan’s legal counsel, Sigfrid Fortun, who arranged the press conference.
Fortun is a brother-in-law of NP spokesperson Gilbert Remulla, whose candidacy for the Senate has been endorsed by Ampatuan, she said.
“This is a classic attempt at damage control. It used to be fake psychiatric evaluation reports; now it’s a fake endorsement. What will they think of next?” Hontiveros said. With a report from Philip C. Tubeza