Press Release
March 25, 2006


Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Nene Q. Pimentel, Jr. (PDP-Laban) today asked law enforcement authorities to investigate the arrest and detention of 11 youngsters who were hitchhiking in the mountains of Benguet but were allegedly mistaken as members of an armed group that raided a local military camp.

The hitchhikers, including one woman, were hitching a ride in a dump truck along the Halsema Highway, on Feb. 14 when they were stopped and apprehended by elements of the Philippine National Police Provincial Mobile Group and Regional Mobile Group.

As reported in the e-mail of the Manja Bayang of the Cordillera Human Rights Alliance the hitchhikers were thereafter brought to the PNPs 1604th camp of the PNP where they were allegedly tortured.

Unable to bear the physical, emotional and mental torture they received from their police interrogators, the hitchhikers were forced to admit the allegation that they were the ones who staged the raid on the military camp in Cabiten, Mankayan, Benguet on Feb. 10, 2006 although they were completely innocent of the charge, the report said.

They were later brought to the Benguet Provincial Jail where they are still being detained and subsequently charged with robbery and homicide.

Pimentel requested Philippine National Police Director General Arturo Lomibao to demand an explanation from the PNP regional commander in the Cordillera Region and the PNP provincial commander in Benguet, on the incident and to verify reports that the arrest of the 11 hitchhikers, who came from different parts of the country, was a mistake.

I hope that our law enforcement authorities will act fast to investigate this incident and find out the truth. For if it were true that the arrested hitchhikers were just fall guys and falsely charged by the lawmen, the error should be rectified right away by releasing them from jail, Pimentel said.

The minority leader said the PNP probers must look into the allegations of the suspects that they were subjected to severe torture and whether they were represented by lawyers before they were formally charged.

In other words, we would like to know whether the right of the suspects to due process was not violated, Pimentel said.

He noted the complaint of the hitchhikers that their cellphones had been confiscated and they were not able to contact their families for help.

According to the e-mail of Manja Bayang of the Cordillera Human Rights Alliance, all the belongings of the hitchhikers were confiscated by the members of the PNP mobile groups who were in full battle gear.

The report said the hitchhikers were subjected to various forms of torture during their interrogation at the PNP 1604th camp.

They were hit on different parts of the body, including the genitals, gravely threatened to be killed, ordered to kneel on the ground under the heat of the sun, drowned in water, suffocated in plastic bags, thrown in dug-outs deep enough to be human graves, made to stand in the nude in the middle of the night while cold water was being poured on them, and punches and kicks were delivered to their bodies. At one time, their torturers were drinking alcohol while subjecting the young victims to unimaginable suffering.

Pimentel said that regardless of whether there was evidence or not to the alleged offenses imputed against the young hitchhikers, such barbaric atrocities applied on them by their tormentors are by no means legally justified and badly reflects the low regard of law enforcers for human rights.

The 11 backpackers were identified as Rundren Berloize Lao, 18; Anderson Tabocanon Alonzo, 18; Aldoz Christian Madroza, 18; Ron Baquiran Pandino, 20; Ray Lester Esguerra Mendoza, 16; Jethro Villagracia, 21; Neil Russel Sarmiento Balajadia, 25; Darwin Padilla Alagar, 21; Arvie Molmog Nuez, 21; Jefferson dela Cruz dela Rosa, 20; and Francess Ann Galdonez Bernal, 15.

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