Several criminal and administrative charges have been filed against relieved Puerto Princesa City Police Office (PPCPO) chief P/Col. Marion Balonglong before the Office of the Ombudsman in connection with the illegal arrest and maltreatment of eight employees of the Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
The incident happened on June 10 in Barangay Matahimik-Bucana, an outlying city village where they were investigating reports of mangrove encroachment.
A statement sent by the DENR Wednesday said Balonglong is facing criminal charges of “torture, unlawful arrest, slight physical injuries, obstruction of apprehension and prosecution of criminal offenders, and graft and corruption”.
The statement said he was also charged administratively for grave misconduct, grave abuse of authority, and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service in violation of Republic Act 6317 or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees.
Earlier, an enraged DENR Secretary Roy Cimatu called for a swift resolution of the case even as he expressed hope that such an isolated incident would not affect the cordial relationship and collaborative partnership between their department and the Philippine National Police (PNP) in enforcing environmental laws.
In an 18-page complaint filed with the Ombudsman on June 21, the DENR provided full details of the illegal arrest and maltreatment suffered at the hands of Balonglong by eight workers assigned at the Community Environment and Natural Resources Office in Puerto Princesa City.
The eight—three foresters, four forest rangers, and one forest protection officer—were conducting a follow-up investigation in a mangrove area at Sitio Bucana of Barangay Iwahig-Matahimik when they were rounded up by a group of policemen “in full battle gear” led by Balonglong.
The investigation was in connection with an earlier discovery on June 7 of illegal occupation and massive mangrove cutting in the area where the DENR team seized some 73 pieces of cut mangrove trees, one galvanized iron sheet, and four drum containers.
Balonglong stepped on head of forest ranger
Forest ranger Roldan Alvarez, one of the members of the DENR investigating team, identified Balonglong as the one who “repeatedly kicked and stomped” him at gunpoint while they were being subjected to a full-body search and ordered to lie down on the ground.
At one point, Balonglong stepped on the head of Alvarez with his foot while wearing his combat boots, according to the complaint.
Despite identifying themselves and their official mission to Balonglong, the DENR team was then brought to the site which they investigated on June 7 and there Alvarez was made to kneel for almost an hour while the rest of the team was ordered to sit at one corner of the said area.
After this, the DENR team was transported to the police station aboard three PNP vehicles while Alvarez was aboard a separate white van with Balonglong and three other police officers.
On their way to the police station, Balonglong put transparent cellophane on the head of Alvarez and gradually pulled it until the latter found it difficult to breathe. This was an apparent attempt to force Alvarez to admit possession of some construction materials, which Balonglong claimed to be missing from the mangrove area.
The DENR workers were released following a long dialogue between Balonglong and Community Environment and Natural Resources Office (CENRO) chief Felizardo Cayatoc, who was made to sign a document stating that the workers were in good mental and physical condition when they were turned over to him.
The complaint said Balonglong should likewise be held accountable for breaking the guidelines and protocols for social distancing during a state of emergency because of the COVID-19 pandemic.