Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 23:33:00 04/17/2009
AFTER watching the way the police have been handling the investigation of the death of Trinidad Arteche Etong, ABS-CBN news anchor Ted Failon’s wife, Filipinos have reason to be afraid -- very afraid -- of their so-called protectors.
From the time the Quezon City police began working on the case, it was clear they wanted to pin down Failon in a murder charge.
With little to go on but a fertile imagination, Superintendent Frank Mabanag, chief of the Quezon City Police District’s Criminal Investigation and Detection Unit, theorized that Etong could have been killed in their Pajero and brought up to the bathroom where Failon claimed to have found her lying in a pool of blood.
Right in his own house, Failon was made to undergo a paraffin test as police investigators gleefully posed behind him for souvenir photos.
Even as Etong was undergoing emergency treatment for a bullet wound to her head, the police “invited” Failon to submit to an investigation that would drag through the night up to the early hours of morning.
Eight hours later, the investigators finally let him go.
But soon after that, Mabanag announced that a “manhunt” had been launched for the broadcaster who, it turned out, had just gone back to the hospital to be with his wife.
When the paraffin test yielded a negative result, a gentler and more humane police force would have taken it as a cue to ease up a bit and give Failon, his kin and his household some space to rest and maybe try to come to terms with the tragedy.
But no, the frustrating outcome seemed only to have roused the Quezon City police to intensify their persecution of everyone closely or remotely involved in the case.
In a series of operations, policemen arrested first, Failon’s two maids, his driver and a utility man, and later, two of his in-laws.
Especially brutal was the arrest of Failon’s sister-in-law, Pamela Trinchera, who was dragged protesting and screaming out of the hospital where her sister was being treated.
The police recommended that all, except Failon’s brother-in-law, be charged with obstruction of justice, an offense the police were hard put to define.
The four house help stand accused of tampering with evidence because they cleaned up the bathroom where Etong was reportedly found and the car in which Etong was brought to the hospital.
All claimed they did it on their own (to spare Failon’s younger daughter the trauma of seeing her mother’s blood, according to the maids) and without any intention of hiding a crime.
It seems not to have occurred to the investigators that if indeed Etong died by her own hand -- a possibility they say they have not ruled out -- then no crime was committed, in which case they will have to explain what kind of evidence was tampered with -- evidence of a non-crime, perhaps?
The case against Trinchera (which the prosecutor mercifully dismissed) was even curiouser.
The police wanted her charged for blocking a procedure that the policemen themselves described as inconclusive.
That was what they said when the paraffin test on Failon yielded a negative result.
Why did they insist on doing a test that has been discredited (according to one forensic expert) on a woman who was fighting for her life?
It is not for us to say whether Etong’s death was suicide or murder.
What we can say is that what the Quezon City police have done is an overkill.
Chief Superintendent Roberto Rosales, the National Capital Region police chief, says the investigation is being conducted carefully and by the book.
But as crime investigations go, this one has been going at lightning speed for a police force that remains clueless about assassinations of two Cabinet undersecretaries, not to mention the murders of scores of journalists and activists.
It is clear that the investigators are rushing to implicate anyone and everyone on anything, and especially Failon if they can.
And the reason is obvious: Failon has been a thorn in the side of the Quezon City police, with his biting radio commentaries on the rubout of suspected car thieves on EDSA a couple of months ago and the recent upsurge of carjacking cases in the city.
This is sweet revenge for some city police officers, and they don’t care who gets hurt.
Neither do they care if the whole nation watches as they wage their vendetta in the glare of television cameras.
Their message to the media and the public is unmistakable: Don’t mess with us or else...
Perhaps it is time Filipinos began to ask whether they should continue to support with their taxes an organization that is going berserk.
Continuing to do so is beginning to look like suicide.