Philippine police's 'big catch' that never was

Updated On: Nov 08, 2005

Manila - It was a case of mistaken identity that has left the Arroyo government red-faced and offered further proof - if indeed any is needed - of the dismal state of the country's police force and its intelligence community. A day after President Gloria Arroyo declared that her government was winning the war on terrorism following the arrest of an alleged top Abu Sayyaf leader, the Philippine National Police (PNP) announced to the nation that they had got the wrong man.   

     On Nov 5, President Arroyo went on television to announce the capture of Abu Sayyaf chief of staff Radulan Sahiron following a two-year operation. PNP chief, Gen Arturo Lomibao, flew to Dipolog City to examine the "big catch" - only to discover that the one-armed man paraded before him was not Sahiron, who has a US$5-million reward on his head.
     The Abu Sayyaf leader is linked to 21 kidnap-for-ransom cases, including the 2000 abduction of 21 Western tourists and Asian workers from a resort inSipadanMalaysia
     "We got one all right, but only a look-alike," said Gen Lomibao, who had with him a reporter who could positively identify Sahiron. 
     The look-alike has been identified as Antonio Gara, a 43-year-old cockfight aficionado. Gara was arrested outside his house in a town in Zamboanga Sibugay province. 
     Like Sahiron, Gara has only one arm, a pair of "Chinese eyes" and is of the same height. However, the real Sahiron had had his right arm amputated while Gara did not have a left arm. Police said Gara would be returned to his family.
     In a statement, Gen Lomibao said the police had conducted a legitimate operation which involved trusting information relayed by a former intelligence officer "who has delivered in the past". 
     The two-year operation had the blessings of the presidential task force on anti-terrorism headed by Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita.
     "We apologise for the unintentional lapse," Gen Lomibao said. He added that in the long, tedious fight against terrorism, "there are hits and misses.This incident is a constant reminder that the enemy is still out there". 
     The blunder was the latest in a number of mistaken announcements made by the Arroyo government in recent years involving crime operations.

* One-armed suspect not Abu leader (Philippine Daily Inquirer, Nov 7)

* Wrong 'bandit' has govt red-faced (The Manila Times, Nov 7)