A series of unfortunate events


Tita Valderama

First of two parts
JOANNE Urbina was a victim of a series of unfortunate events.

“Ang daming nasayang sa buhay ko sa mahigit limang taon,” said Joanne, while thinking about what to do next after spending five years and six months in jail waiting for her day in court.

“Kailangan kong makahanap ng magandang trabaho agad,” she told me a few days after her release from the Philippine National Police (PNP) Custodial Center in Camp Crame. While she was in jail, her parents had sold half of the only property they have, and the other half was mortgaged. She said it was mortgaged for P300, 000, but they’re now asked to pay back P500, 000. “Saan namin kukuhanin ‘yun?” Joanne said, sobbing.

That night, she just came from a prayer meeting of a religious group that she was introduced to while in detention. “Natuto akong magbasa ng Bible at magdasal. Marami rin naman akong natutunan sa loob,” she said when I was introduced to her in a coffee shop last week. “Nung matagal na kasi akong nakakulong, hinahanap ko kung ano ‘yung pagkukulang ko sa Diyos kasi bakit nangyayari sa akin ‘to.”

At one point while in detention, Joanne feared being sexually abused. She was asked to clean the quarters of a colonel, and offered alcohol after. She was thankful she was not harmed. Joanne is petite and pretty. She is soft spoken.

Joanne is the eldest of nine siblings, five girls and four boys. Her parents are jobless. She was able to finish high school, and had to find a job right away. She worked as a singer in Japan before she was arrested on December 14, 2007.

Carrying only a handbag when she went with agents of the PNP Anti-Illegal Drugs Special Operations Task Force (PNP-AIDSOTF), Joanne said she never thought that she would not be coming home for more than five years.

She grew up with her grandmother, now 77 years old, who wept upon seeing her at home last June 15. “Masaya daw siya dahil nakalaya na ako na buhay pa siya,” she said.

Three of her siblings stopped schooling after she was detained. One of them got married at a young age. A brother was adopted by a distant relative. “Kanya-kanyang diskarte na lang sila nung nakulong na ako,” she said. The youngest in the brood is 11 years old. “Nagulat ako, ang lalaki na nila. Five years old pa lang yung bunso nung pumasok ako.”

Asked why it took her five years to complain about being kept in jail for so long, Joanne said, “Hindi ko kasi alam kung ano ang karapatan ko. Akala ko okay lang na wala akong hearing samantalang yung ibang nakukulong lagging may hearing, saka sandali lang nililipat na sila.”

Planted evidence?
Joanne recalled that on Dec. 14, 2007, she was resting in a three-storey apartment that she shared with Ben Ryan Chua when several policemen came at around 6pm. Showing a search warrant, the policemen went all over the place, herded her and three other persons at the ground floor. She was with a house helper and a couple renting on the second floor. Then, she said a policeman went up again, and came down with a sachet with white contents and a few things later described as drug paraphernalia.

Ryan arrived later. He was taken inside a police car. Joanne and her three companions were in another car. Joanne said Ryan told her that he was punched in the stomach and was suffocated with a plastic bag on their way to Camp Crame.

The three companions were sent home. Joanne said the three were ready to testify for her, but that they were threatened to be charged as well if they did.

Joanne and Ryan were kept in separate cells in the camp, but they managed to talk a few times by the fence separating their cells.

A 2007 news report on the arrest said Ryan was placed under surveillance for three months. But why didn’t they know that he was out of the house when they swooped in? Why was the search conducted at 6 pm when darkness had already set in?

If Ryan was the primary target of the search and arrest, why was he set free while Joanne was kept in jail?

Joanne said somebody promised that they would be out in three days after arrest. She said her family and friends managed to pool together P200,000 for her release, and Ryan shelled out P400,000. Ryan was released in March 2008. Joanne was kept in detention.

Raiding team leaders Superintendent Leonardo R. Suan Jr. and Chief Inspector Rommel Ochave, and AIDSOTF Chief Director Jeff Soriano should explain that.

The same news report also said Inquest Prosecutor Arleen Tagaban initially ordered the release on bail of Joanne and Ryan, but AIDSOTF lawyers intervened and had Prosecutor Meynardo Bautista Jr. reverse Tagaban’s order. Was this a part of the moro-moro?

On January 25, 2008, the Quezon City Prosecutor’s Office under then Chief City Prosecutor Claro A. Arellano came out with a resolution dismissing all three charges of possession of illegal drugs, possession of illegal drugs paraphernalia, and use of illegal drugs against Ryan, while finding probable cause to indict Joanne for possession of illegal drugs and paraphernalia in violation of Sections 11 and 12 of the 2002 Dangerous Drugs Act.

To be concluded

Comments are welcome at tvalderama@yahoo.com


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