Revolutionary Proletarian Army-Alex Boncayao Brigade member Eddie Fortunado yesterday told a Bacolod court he was tortured into admitting that he participated in the murder of Judge Henry Arles, and claimed he did not willingly seek the National Bureau of Investigation’s protective custody.
Fortunado, 24, who has been under NBI custody in Manila, testified at the hearing of a petition for a Writ of Amparo filed by his mother, Tessa, before Judge Fernando Elumba, Bacolod Regional Trial Court Branch 42, to compel the NBI to produce her son.
The suspect, who was brought to court under heavy security and wearing a bulletproof vest, hugged his mother and wept on seeing her.
Fortunado told the court he did not believe there was a threat to his life, but NBI agents brought him back to Manila after the hearing yesterday, saying they needed to ensure his safety.
Fortunado claimed he was tortured by Arles’ son, Philip, and brother-in-law, lawyer Frank Britanico, at the NBI office in Bacolod, but he also said he did not inform the NBI officials about it.
NBI Bacolod chief Ferdinand Lavin, Philip Arles and Britanico called the claims of Fortunado “all lies”.
Fortunado, along with Ilog Mayor John Paul Alvarez, a town employee and four other RPA-ABB members, have been charged before the Department of Justice for the murder of Arles in Ilog on April 24.
He is also facing a separate complaint for illegal possession of firearm before the Bacolod Prosecutor’s Office.
NO WRIT OF AMPARO
Lawyer Ormil Go of the Solicitor General’s Office, who represented the NBI, insisted that the Writ of Amparo did not apply to Fortunado, whose whereabouts was known to all, pointing out that he was not a victim of extrajudicial killings or enforced disappearances.
Fortunado had issued an extrajudicial confession and a written request for protective custody assisted by an independent counsel, Go also told the court.
Fortunado, who said he is a habal-habal driver and farmer from Barangay Tampalon, Kabankalan City, told the court he was arrested by five NBI agents in Binalbagan town on June 27 without any warrant of arrest, and brought to the NBI office in Bacolod. He also claimed he was being illegally detained.
He claimed he was electrocuted, hit on his testicles, and his head was placed in a plastic container filled with water by Philip Arles and Britanico, who interrogated him at the NBI office from June 27 to 28.
He also claimed that it was Britanico who gave him a ballpen and paper, and told him to write that he was voluntarily surrendering because he had knowledge of the killing of Judge Arles, adding that he was told that if he did not sign it, he would be electrocuted.
NOT BY NBI
But he was not harmed by the NBI in Bacolod or Manila, Fortunado said.
Fortunado said that if somebody will help him, he will file charges against Philip Arles and Britanico for the torture he endured.
Lawyer Romeo Subaldo, counsel for Tessa Fortunado, rested his case, but Go asked for three days to present his witnesses to rebut Fortunado’s claims. The next hearings are set September 13 and 14.
The judge said he would render his judgment after hearing the side of the NBI, Subaldo added.
Go said they would ask Ana Marie Palermo, who acted as lawyer for Fortunado, to testify in court on how his extrajudicial confession and request for protective custody were made.
Lavin said Fortunado, who is lying, will remain in NBI custody until the court orders them to do otherwise.
For now, the NBI has the request of Fortunado for protective custody to prove that he is being held legally. He should give us a written document from his lawyer, saying that he no longer wants to be in our custody, Lavin added.
Lavin said Fortunado willingly confessed to his participation in the Arles slay and his torture story is unbelievable. Why would persons inflict harm on Fortunado and later on introduce themselves to him as he told the judge, in response to his clarificatory questions? Lavin asked.
The NBI does not allow civilians to interrogate a person in its custody, or prepare his statement, he added.
Philip Arles and Britanico were never left alone with Fortunado while he was in NBI custody, Lavin said.
Arles also said there is no truth to the claim of Fortunado that he and his uncle tortured him, and it is not in their nature to commit such acts.
He pointed out that Fortunado was in the custody of the NBI who were the ones in charge of his security, and said he probably was brainwashed by some group to recant.
Britanico also called the claims of Fortunado lies, saying civilians are not allowed to interrogate suspects in NBI custody, and denied that harm was inflicted on the suspect.
We were not surprised at Fortunado’s retraction, we have proof to show that he willingly confessed to the crime, he said.
Britanico said that even if Fortunado retracts, they have his recorded testimony and statements of witnesses that will still pin the crime on him.
“The evidence against Fortunado is conclusive, it can stand on its own,” he said.*CPG