Friday, March 09, 2007

Iloilo City Boy in Pasig City Jail

This week I spent the better part of Wednesday and Thursday (March 7 and 8) in the Pasig City Police Department office. My wife Gemma Bagayaua, the online editor and staffwriter for Newsbreak Magazine, was arrested by elements of the Pasig City Police due to the libel charge filed by senatorial candidate Luis "Chavit" Singson due to the article entitled "The Second Gentleman" they published about two years ago. The police also had warrants of arrest for Marites Vitug, Maan Hontiveros, Aries Rufo and Lala Rimando but since only Gemma was at the Newsbreak premises at the time they served the warrant, only my wife was arrested. All her other colleagues were attending meetings and conferences at that time.

When I received Gemma's text message that she was being detained at the Pasig Police Station, I was having a late lunch at Emerald Restaurant in Roxas Boulevard, Manila with Lito Banayo, Nixon Cua (who are both running for Vice Mayor and Councilor of Manila respectively under Fred Lim's ticket), Peter Sing, Raymond Burgos and former Congressman Harry Angping. Reading my wife's text message, I wasn't so bothered at that time considering that this was not the first time she had to face a libel charge. Variously, my wife has been accused of libel by Tony Leviste (for her article "Tony's Fortune" which by the way won the Jaime V. Ongpin award for investigative journalism in 2003) and the late Senator Bobby Barbers (for "Barber's Cut" which likewise won 2nd honors in the JVO Awards in 2003). She was also a co-accused in the libel charge filed by Senator Juan Ponce Enrile (which he has since withdrawn in exchange for one year's worth of subscription to Newbreak Magazine). So when I saw her text message, I did not take it with alarm but merely took it to mean as her way of saying "honey, I will be late for dinner." March 7 was our 10th anniversary as a couple and we always celebrated it by having dinner in a nice restaurant. After my lunch I had another meeting scheduled at Heritage Hotel and was supposed to pick her up after office hours at the Newbreak offices at Tektite, Ortigas and then to dinner. I was planning to take her to Cafe Juanita in Barangay Kapitolyo, Pasig for our 10th anniversary as a couple.

I was in the middle of my Heritage Hotel meeting when I received another text from Gemma asking me if I knew someone from Pasig (I used to PR for Pasig Mayor Enteng Eusebio). It seems that her lawyers (I wasn't able to get their names but they said they were junior lawyers from the firm of Harry Roque) were encountering "difficulties" at the Pasig RTC and that the people there were "uncooperative." Since my wife was arrested past 3:00 pm and the courts usually close at 4:30 pm, her window for posting bail was quite slim. Cecille, their staff at Newsbreak, was already stationed at the RTC Pasig Cashier's office pleading for the cashier, a certain Lea dela Cruz, to wait just a little more for the P10,000 bail money to arrive. But the Cashier's window was closed promptly at 4:30 pm and they failed to post bail. Her lawyers subsequently attempted to post the bail at the Quezon City Night Court. But when they arrived there around 6:00 pm, they found the "Night Court" already closed! Informed of the ongoings thru text, only then did the reality of the situation dawned on me: my wife may have to spend the night in the Pasig City jail. I hastily left Heritage Hotel and drove like a demon to Pasig.

When I arrived in Pasig, I found my wife being booked ("pinag-papiyano" in street parlance) at the Warrants and Subpoena Section. The next moments were a blur: answering calls from friends asking what's going on, how they can help, etc., making calls to authorities and seeking advice from my lawyer-friends on what to do next.

I am immensely thankful to friends who showed up in Pasig and helped us during our "hour of need." Among the first to arrive was my good friend and fellow PR practitioner Peter Sing who turned the ordeal into one big fiesta. He came bringing Kentucky Fried Chicken and Pan de Pidro and fed everyone in the precinct (yes, even the arresting police officers). Lynette Baldivino and Armand Sebastian also arrived. Dennis Gonzalez and wife Deeda Villadolid also visited us later that night along with former officemate Jeanette Bandiola. Gemma's colleagues in Newsbreak, Glenda Gloria and Carmela Fonbuena were with her all throughout her ordeal and also spent the night in the Pasig police station. Dax Lucas, my Ateneo classmate and now a business writer for Inquirer, also arrived (in barong too boot which lead people to think he was a fiscal, not a journalist). Vic Sanchez, who is well-known in Pasig being the son of the late human rights and labor lawyer Bobbit Sanchez, also dropped by to see if Gemma was well-treated. Members of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), led by Benny Antiporda and Allan Encarnacion, also arrived in force and held a vigil outside the Pasig Police department. I am also thankful to friends who texted in their support: Bright Liwanag, Obi Roco, Percy Flores, Errol Leones, Ed Carillo, Noel Ducusin, Roy Golez, Rommel Hinlo, Allan Dueñas, Cha Cha de Vera, Malou Espina, Lyn Rillon, Ding Gagelonia, and Lito Banayo. There were countless others who came, fellow journalists and complete strangers, who just wanted to show their support for Gemma. Thank you.

Later that night, I was informed by my wife's editors, Marites Vitug and Glenda Gloria, that Senator Drilon was willing to take Gemma in cognizance if we can find a judge to sign the release papers. By that time, I was already resigned to the fact of my wife spending the night in Pasig. With all the tsismisan (that's what you get when you put journalists and political operators in one room) and friendly banter, I was already "enjoying" myself and was no longer in the mood to go home. I think my wife, who seems to take her arrest as a "badge of honor," seems to be taking the incident better than me. I thought it was really embarrassing at first but later I realized to take my wife's arrest with dignity. Earlier, rumors circulated that Chavit is supposedly go to the precinct to "talk" to Gemma. Then a certain Susan Corpuz-Pabalan (together with two other ladies whose names I forget already) arrived claiming that they were representing Chavit. Gemma knew Susan well from their UP days where they were both members of the UP Student Council and SAMASA. She was even kind enough to bring a package of food and personal items for her. Susan's message basically was: apologize and the charges will be dropped. Of course, my wife said no. Not long after that, Gemma and senatorial candidate Mike Defensor (who was also a UP student leader in his day) talked on the phone. His message basically was: don't worry we are trying everything to have you released - to which my wife politely said thank you to. We were also informed that Camp Crame and Malacañang were closely monitoring the case and making sure that the incident will not go out of hand.

So after Marites told me about Senator Drilon's offer, I talked to Dennis Gonzalez and his brother Iloilo City Congressman Raul Gonzalez, Jr. if he knew of any judge who would be willing to sign the release order. Congressman Jun Gonzalez promptly replied saying that he will try to locate two of his UST Law School buddies who are now judges and that he had already informed his father, Justice Secretary Gonzalez, about the matter. At the same time I called up a lawyer-friend and sought his opinion on the "release on cognizance" avenue. The lawyer pointed out that since we were not able to pay the bail and get a receipt from the Pasig RTC in the first place, Gemma still cannot be released even on cognizance. Minutes later, Congressman Jun called to report that he is still unable to contact his friends (probably because of the lateness of the hour) but that he will continue trying to reach them. He also said that he had already informed his father, Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez, Sr. about the case and that in as much as his father would have wanted to intercede, he doesn't want to be seen calling judges and interfering in the case which by then has already attracted considerable media attention. I told him to stop bothering to look for a judge because Gemma was not able to post bail in the first place.

So there your are - in the end, all our legal wranglings and manueverings were defeated not by any high ranking official or influential politician but by a lowly clerk, an ordinary cashier in the Pasig Regional Trial Court!

So goes Day 1 of our ordeal. I will write about our Day 2 in Pasig tomorrow (which I promise has more drama than Day 1).


Anonymous said...

I'm very sorry to hear this travesty done to your wife.This is now what become to our beloved Philippines,we are being thrown back to the Marcos era.I,enjoy your blog that sometimes I have to comment, if there's a way to help you in your legal defense, a website perhaps that we could channel some funds.

Anonymous said...

with all due respect, let's forget about these legal maneuverings to get your wife out of the cell--that would be like chavit the snake singson wriggling his way out of the heat for his convenience. the real challenge now is to gather all journalists to pasig and make this a rallying point. hold a blogging conference at the site. blog all the kabalstugan ni chavit, and spread the word around.