Last of two parts
IT ALL started late night of April 9, 2008 when Christian M. Kalaw was arrested by the police for alleged illegal parking and driving without license in Manila.
Two years and four months later, on August 23, 2010 one of those Christian accused of robbery, extortion, grave threats, and physical injuries commandeered a tourist bus and proceeded to hold its occupants hostage.
The hostage-taker would have an 11-hour standoff with the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team of the Manila Police District (MPD). When it ended, nine people lay dead inside the Hong-Thai tourist bus, which was parked at the Quirino Grandstand in Manila: the hostage taker himself, Senior Inspector (Captain) Rolando Mendoza, and eight Hong Kong nationals.
The tragedy has since left a Filipino nation hateful of the police, the government, and the news media – and hated by critics from Hong Kong.
Few would dispute that there is no justification for what Mendoza did: break the law and cause willful damage to lives and property, and to the reputation of the police and the nation.
Citizen vs cops
Before the incident, however, there was this story of a citizen, Christian Kalaw, who summoned the courage to file suit against the five policemen who he said did him wrong.
Yet he would skip all the hearings of the criminal and administrative cases against the policemen that were built principally on his affidavit of complaint, as well as on an email sent out by his father Bob, and which prompted many more emails from citizens, mostly critical of the police.
Most probably, his absence was triggered by fear of retaliation from the gun-toting men he had accused before the court. Such fear of policemen is common among this country’s citizens, amid the daily harvest of stories about law enforcers turning into lawbreakers and committing big and small misdeeds.
A police general says that after Christian filed his criminal complaint against the five policemen, Mendoza had once visited the Kalaws’ home in Lipa City, Batangas, to ask the family to drop the case.
Before August 23, 2010, too, there was the story of Mendoza, a policeman of 30 years with as many medals, citations, and awards. The last one he received in November 2009 together with 11 other policemen – a “Medalya ng Papuri” or Philippine National Police (PNP) Commendation Medal “for exemplary efficiency and devotion to duty displayed during the security operations” at the wake and burial of democracy’s icon, President Corazon C. Aquino in August 2009.
Mendoza would have retired on Jan. 10, 2011 when he was to turn 56 years old. Twice, he had been cleared of Christian’s charges – in a criminal case dismissed by the Manila City Prosecutor’s Office and in an administrative case dismissed by the police’s regional Internal Affairs Service or IAS.
Midway in the trial of the IAS case, though, the Ombudsman entered the picture and filed a similar administrative case of grave misconduct against Mendoza and his four co-accused policemen.
Commenting on the Kalaw-Mendoza case, one retired police general says that because the police is an organization given to many shades of gray in disciplining its own kind, “the situation turned topsy-turvy.” Thus, the general says, it came to a point when “(it) seemed like it was Mendoza who was running after justice to clear his name. People have forgotten what started it all.”
“Did Christian lie? Could he have just invented what happened?” he asks. “Of course not.”
Yet that may not have been the top concern of the accused in the case. According to the general, in the field, the “sad reality” is “when cases are filed against our policemen, they say, we’re dead, we need to fix things again, and raise money.”
A fix-it culture
Indeed, while the mishandling of the hostage-taking incident reeked of Keystone Kops, the incident had clearly fed on the country’s Keystone court system, which can push even former law enforcers to commit grave violations of the law.
Former and current police officials – in all irony most probably echoing the sentiments of Christian Kalaw – tell the PCIJ that they dread being caught in disciplinary and legal cases because the legal system is not something that most policemen would associate with justice.
By many accounts, this is the reason why some policemen in conflict with the law try to, and think they could, tip the scales of justice in their favor by throwing in some lucre.
One colonel, for instance, rues that his administrative case before the Ombudsman has stretched on for five years. Even worse, he says, the open secret in the force is that one has to pay investigators enormous sums to get a favorable decision. The asking price, he reveals, ranges “from P100 K to P150K (P100,000 to P150,000).”
A retired senior police officer now in the employ of the Aquino administration had had to cough up P500,000 for the Ombudsman to clear him in an administrative case a few years back.
Cops who find themselves in run-ins with discipline boards and courts often find themselves hounded by so-called “legal ambulance-chasers.” They include, policemen say, investigators on the prowl for cases to file but are in truth on the lookout for bribes, favors, or gifts that could be milked from the defendants.
A runner, often a junior investigator, does this job for the senior prosecutors who, by their decisions, wield power to revive or bury, literally, a policeman’s career in the force. In PNP circles, one is known by his nickname, ‘Pacoy.’
A senior officer tells PCIJ that cases before the Ombudsman had stalled the scheduled promotion of many officers and men, prompting some defendants to pay up pronto. Alleged drug and gambling lords also tend to file cases supposedly to harass policemen, hence the latter’s tendency to go slow on arresting crime gangs, he adds.
The retired general hints that the forced “gift-giving” happens at several stops, noting that there are four to five discipline and administrative boards where policemen may be sued for criminal and/or administrative charges.
“It’s the organization, it’s the system at fault,” he says. “You may be cleared by the Napolcom (National Police Commission) or the courts already, and then the Ombudsman runs after you.”
Apart from the Napolcom, the courts and the Ombudsman, a police officer may also face investigation and trial for administrative and criminal offenses by mayors, the People’s Law Enforcement Boards, and the PNP’s Internal Affairs Service or IAS.
“Many times, an agency comes in for reasons other than pursuing justice,” says the general. “Instead of fomenting a police-versus-police situation, we settle cases so we have peace, and there’s money to earn on the side.” As a result, a policeman – good or bad – often resorts to short cuts to avoid long, expensive litigation.
Mendoza, however, had apparently expected that on mere technicality alone, even if not on merit, the Ombudsman would ruled in his favor and allow him to get his retirement pay.
As of his last recorded salary of P17,334 before tax, as a police captain, and if his retirement package were computed using the next-higher grade salary, Mendoza should have been entitled to about P5.4 million to P6 million in retirement benefits, before tax.
Then again, Mendoza’s expectations that the Ombudsman would clear him, as the IAS did earlier, for exactly the same administrative case of grave misconduct, seemed to have stemmed in part from his dealings with some court officers that he believed would help his case.
At first glance, it seems that at least Christian Kalaw had been vindicated by the justice system. Records show that Christian had sworn that his captors required him to buy his freedom for P20,000 – a tenth of what he said was the original bribe bid of P200,000. Too, Christian had sworn that his captors forced shabu powder down his throat, to make it appear that he had been taken in for drugs.
But it was only three days after his arrest that Christian’s story would be known and at first only within the cyberworld. A “revenge of the nerds against crooked cops,” it was called.
Christian’s father Bob had fired off an email to friends telling of his son’s “ordeal.” It turned viral, spread across the world, and resulted in heaps of vicious mail against “Manila’s Finest.”
The online “Kotong Cops” scandal prompted the highest levels of the police command to locate the Kalaws and convince them to file suit against Christian’s captors. Explains a police general: “It spread across the globe and for one incident, tarnished the image of the entire police force.”
A Manila police colonel, who, on orders of Avelino Razon, then PNP director general, got to the Kalaws through the lead email-mongers. Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim also called up by phone one of the bloggers who helped spread Bob Kalaw’s email.
Seven weeks after the incident, on May 23, 2008, Christian Kalaw filed criminal charges before the Manila Prosecutor’s Office against the four policemen who snared him at the corner of Taft Avenue and Pablo Ocampo Street that late Wednesday night of April 9 and their boss.
Days later, charges of robbery, robbery (extortion), grave threats, and physical injuries were again filed for the same case against the same men: Mendoza and four co-accused, Inspector Nelson Lagasca, SPO1 Nestor David, PO3 Wilson Gavino, and PO2 Roderick Lopena.
Case No. 1
A review of the records on the case, however, show that Christian’s complaint only came after his captors filed a case against him before a Manila court.
The policemen had filed suit first against Christian first for illegal parking and driving without license in violation of City Ordinance No. 2646. The complaint made no mention of any charges of possession of drugs against Christian.
The affidavit of apprehension dated April 10, 2008 was filed with the Manila City Prosecutor’s Office against Christian by four of the five policemen who arrested him the night before, April 9.
Mendoza was not a signatory to this affidavit – he was not present when Christian was arrested, even though as deputy chief of the Manilas District Mobile Patrol Unit (DMPU), he was the arresting team’s supervisor.
The four policemen’s affidavit was received with Docket No. 08D – 07951 by the Fiscal’s Office on April 29, 2008. It was submitted to the Metropolitan Trial Court on May 19, 2008 by Jessica Unsay-Ong and Jovencio Senados, of the Manila Prosecutor’s Office and enrolled as Criminal Case No. 053366-67, “People of the Philippines versus Amado Christian Kalaw y Mayo.”
A warrant of arrest for Christian Kalaw for this case remains in the Manila court’s archives.
On May 23, Christian filed his affidavit of complaint and “accused” policemen Mendoza, Lagasca, David, Gavino, and Lopena of “a crime of ROBBERY, ROBBERY (EXTORTION), GRAVE THREATS, PHYSICAL INJURIES.”
But when he named his captors, he excluded Mendoza. Christian spoke about Mendoza in his affidavit only once.
In the affidavit, Christian said that after he was taken by his four captors to the Ospital ng Maynila for medical examination, “I was brought inside District Mobile Patrol Unit (DMPU) office inside MPD HQs, where I was constantly threatened by PSI MENDOZA, PI LAGASCA, and P03 GAVINO of imprisonment for violation of RA 9165, and uttered words as ‘Now we’ll see if you are negative of Shabu; Php 200,000.00 and we’ll let you go, or this will be at the Fiscal office in the morning” for the period between 10:30 pm to 7:30 am the following day.’”
The court, however, would hear nothing more from Christian after he filed his own and sole complaint against his former captors. He skipped all the hearings on the case he filed, such that on August 26, 2008, the Manila City Prosecutor’s Office dismissed it, citing “failure to prosecute.”
Assistant City Prosecutor Aida D. Coliflores Romero, in the ruling she penned, “presumed that complainant’s absence during the entire preliminary investigation only manifest(s) his disinterest to pursue the case which contains allegations not fully substantiated.”
Additionally, the decision of the prosecutor’s office noted that the doctor at the Ospital ng Maynila who attended to Christian when he was brought in by his captors on the night of April 9, 2008, saw “no external signs of physical injury at the time of the examination.”
The decision was endorsed by Rector E. Macapagal, second assistant city prosecutor, and approved by Jhosey Lopez, city prosecutor.
Case No. 2: IAS
Still, it was to be just the first case that Mendoza and company would have to deal with. On May 29, 2008, the MPD and on its recommendation the National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) approved the pre-charge evaluation report and filing of an administrative case against the policemen, before the PNP’s IAS.
As quickly, all five were put on preventive suspension, an income-less status that they would all endure and which apparently helped drive Mendoza into taking hostage a busload of Hong Kong tourists last August 23.
With speed uncharacteristic of the police, in three weeks that June, the case practically ran through all the levels of the investigating bodies of the MPD and NCRPO. On June 26, the IAS of the National Capital Region Command issued its “1st Indorsement” of “summary hearings” to be conducted against the five accused.
This second case (Admin Case # RIDMID-PCE 05-08-210 and MPD –PC-05-2008-055) named Mendoza and company liable for alleged grave misconduct, on four counts: robbery, grave threats, extortion, physical injuries. It was enrolled as Regional IAS Case No. 0C080052.
At the Regional IAS compound in Bicutan, Taguig, Metro Manila, the accused attended all three days of hearing on the case, and secured certification that they did so. Yet again, Christian skipped all the hearings. Yet again for “failure to prosecute,” on October 17, 2008, the regional IAS dismissed the case against the five policemen.
“Justice demands that the instant case be dismissed as further proceedings would amount to nothing but an exercise in futility without the active participation of private complainant,” P03 Raymundo B. Grafelda said in the IAS decision that was approved by Ifor I. Magbanua, regional director of the NCRPO’s IAS.
Before that decision was handed down, however, the Ombudsman butted in the case. On July 2, 2008, Deputy Ombudsman Emilio A. Gonzalez III, who is in charge of the Military and Other Law Enforcement Officers (MOLEO), wrote Police Director Geary Barias, then NCRPO head.
Gonzalez asked “that all documents pertinent to this case together will all the pieces of evidence in your possession, be forwarded to this office for the conduct by this office of the necessary administrative adjudication.”
Twelve days later, Police Supt. Clarence V. Guinto, chief of the Regional Investigation and Detective Management Division (R7), submitted all the documents to Gonzalez and subsequently became the complainant against Mendoza and company.
By then, Christian’s very limited involvement in the cases against the accused had formally ended. A promise by his father Bob on June 10, 2008 to “submit the affidavit of witnesses” had also come to naught.
Instead of Christian, Guinto was now enrolled as the “nominal complainant” in the Ombudsman case. It is not unusual for a police officer from the investigation and detective management units of the police to be enrolled as nominal complainants in cases against fellow policemen, but this would start Guinto’s own bitter legal tug-of-war with Mendoza.
By December 2009, Mendoza would file charges for disbarment and alleged violation of anti-graft laws against Guinto before the Supreme Court, the Ombudsman, and the National Police Commission.
After all, it was Guinto who signed the RIDMID’s memorandum dated May 29, 2008, recommending the filing of charges for grave misconduct against Mendoza and company, before the PNP’s Regional IAS. He also recommended the preventive suspension of the five policemen.
That same day, through the same memo, Guinto approved the filing of an administrative case for alleged grave misconduct against the five policemen.
It was also Guinto who submitted the case documents to Ombudsman’s Gonzalez on July 14, 2008. And on the basis of Guinto’s May 29, 2008 memorandum, and “certification of non-forum shopping,” the Ombudsman filed an administrative case for grave misconduct against the five policemen.
This is even as the regional IAS had already started to hear an identical case that had also been triggered by Guinto’s same memo.
The PCIJ tried but failed to get an interview with Guinto despite repeated inquiries with his last known assignment at the PNP Camp Karingal Station in Quezon City.
In his May 2008 memorandum, though, Guinto listed 16 various documents that his office was turning over to Gonzalez’s office, including a “Verification with Certificate of Non-Forum Shopping signed by PSupt. CLARENCE V. GUINTO dated May 29, 2008.”
“With this development,” Guinto wrote, “all other Disciplinary Authorities of the PNP (IAS, PLEB, CSC) will be advised to submit/turn over to the honorable Deputy Ombudsman all records/evidence on hand.”
Yet in his affidavit to answer the disbarment case that Mendoza later filed against him for the invalid certificate of non-forum shopping, Guinto said that the Ombudsman’s case against Mendoza “was a result of the decision of the Ombudsman, and not on the execution of a verification and certification of non-forum shopping.”
Last month, the high court transmitted Mendoza’s disbarment case against Guinto to the Integrated Bar of the Philippines for investigation.
By Feb.16, 2009, Deputy Ombudsman Gonzalez issued a five-page order dismissing Mendoza and his four co-accused. The five policemen responded with a motion for reconsideration, to appeal the implementation of their dismissal order. This was followed by Mendoza’s handwritten requests dated March 15 and 22, 2010 for the early resolution of the case.
Before the Ombudsman could act on his motion for reconsideration, however, the PNP decided to dismiss Mendoza and his co-accused from the service, capping over a year of their preventive suspension.
Curiously, while Gonzalez signed the decision to dismiss Mendoza on Feb. 16, 2009, it was not until May 21, 2009 that Orlando C. Casimiro, then the “Acting Ombudsman,” signed and approved it. The name of Ombudsman Ma. Merceditas N. Gutierrez appears on the document, but it does not bear her signature.
Then last September 7, and even while she seemed to have had no participation in the case, Gutierrez signed the decision to finally deny the motion for reconsideration that Mendoza had filed 10 months earlier.
But the most unusual detail of all had come two weeks earlier, on August 23, the day of the hostage-taking.
That was when Police Supt. Leocadio Santiago Jr., then director of the National Capital Region Police Office, signed this one-paragraph document: “Order implementing the decision of the OMBUDSMAN dated February 16, 2009 in OMB P-A-08-0670-H for Grave Misconduct ordering the Dismissal from the Police Service of PINSP ROLANDO DEL ROSARIO MENDOZA 0-14453 is hereby held in abeyance pending the resolution of his appeal/petition.”
Santiago had signed it to appease Mendoza, who was still holding several Hong Kong tourists hostage and insisting on his sole demand: the early resolution of his case before the Ombudsman.
Earlier that day, Mendoza had even plastered a crudely made sign on the door and front window of the bus: “Big mistake to correct big wrong decision: OMB P-A-08-0670-H.”
Manila Mayor Lim, however, did not like Santiago’s idea at all. And so, while signed and sealed, the order was not delivered.
Minutes later, a firefight broke between Mendoza and the police.— PCIJ, October 2010