Is the police helpless in the face of abductions?

May. 02, 2009

Davao Today

Evangeline Pitao testifies before the Commission on Human Rights inquiry on the abduction and killing of her daughter. ( photo by Barry Ohaylan)

DAVAO CITY How fast can the Davao city police respond to an emergency? Could it have prevented the abduction of Rebelyn Pitao? These were questions raised during the last public inquiry by the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) on the killing of Rebelyn Pitao.

Given the fact that reports on the abduction of her daughter reached first the police station of Talomo before it reached her, Evangeline Pitao, Rebelyns mother, asked if the police could have done any better? Could the police have blocked all the possible exit routes of the van and rescued Rebelyn that night?

Police Supt. Querubin Manalang, Jr., regional spokesperson of the Philippine National Police, said they had issued an alarm to all police units in the area as soon as they heard of the report at 8 pm of March 4barely two hours after Rebelyn was abducted. But Manalang said they were simply unable to block the routes of the vehicle.

Evangeline Pitao succumbs to tears during the public hearing of the Commission on Human Rights. ( photo by Barry Ohaylan)

We cannot guard all the exits, he said. Imagine how many passageways and roads there are in Davao city compared to the number of police we have. That is not the only job of the police, he said.

Considered as one of the countrys best, the Davao city police won second in the countrys highly-urbanized city category of the best city police in 2004.

Davao city has also boasted of its Central 911, as its easy dial emergency system to respond to all kinds of emergency. Mayor Rodrigo Duterte has been assuring tourists this emergency dial system, which is the first in the country, made Davao city the countrys safest place to live.

But how could it fail to stop the abduction of an innocent civilian on her way home aboard a tricycle that night?

Leila De Lima, chair of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), said swift actions during times of emergency could save peoples lives. Have anyone informed the police that the military was the prime suspect? she asked during the inquiry. If the military was the prime suspect, did anyone go to the headquarters? When were looking for abducted persons, our first gut feeling is to go to the nearest military camp, De Lima said.

She also asked if the groups assisting the victims relatives ever seek the help of the CHR office in the region, since the CHR doesnt need a Court order to visit military installations, she said.

But Kelly Delgado, secretary-general of the human rights group Karapatan, said they did not go to the military headquarters immediately that night because based on their experiences in the past, the military camp would not open to them at that hour.

They were also trying to secure the lives of other members of the family who were left behind.

Rebelyn, the 20-year old daughter of Leoncio Pitao, also known as Kumander Parago of the New Peoples Army, was abducted at about 6:30 pm of March 4, while aboard a passenger tricycle on her way home to Bago Gallera in the citys Talomo district. Two men stopped the tricycle on the road and took Rebelyn in a white van.

Danny Pelicano, the tricycle driver, sought police help even before he informed the family.

The witness went to the police station immediately after the incident, Evangeline Pitao said. Had they (the police) blocked the possible routes of the van, they could have rescued my daughter.

About an hour after the abduction, the police and the tricycle driver, accompanied by the media, were already at Pitaos house.

They asked if a member of the family has not yet arrived, Pitao said. It was only then, that she knew her daughter was missing.

Rebelyns body was found in a village in the town of Carmen, near Panabo in the province of Davao del Norte. Travel time from the place where she was abducted to the place where her body was found only takes about two hours.

Witnesses say a white van like this carried off Rebelyn Pitao to her death. ( photo by Barry Ohaylan)

Delgado said Karapatan had accompanied Rebelyns mother to the police station from 7:30 pm to 10:00 pm on March 4.

Rebelyns family had pointed to the military as the only suspect of the killing, saying theyve been constantly placed under surveillance since the arrest of their father in 2002.

Days after the killing of her daughter, Kumander Parago named members of the Military Intelligence Group and Military Intelligence Battalion as responsible. The MIG, he said, also had a headquarters in Panabo City.

The van that took Rebelyn bore the plate number LPG 588 which was not registered at the Land Transportation Office.

The medico-legal officer conducting the autopsy said the approximate time that Rebelyn could have been alive was at 12 a.m. of March 5, based on the state of her body when it was found. The body bore torture marks. CHR said it will continue its inquiry on the second week of May. (Grace S. Uddin/

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