By Ali Macabalang
COTABATO CITY – The National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF) has secured the release of three imams purportedly framed up by police elements in an anti-drug operation in Enrile, Cagayan Valley early this month.
The case against the three imams was dismissed by the Office of the Provincial Prosecutor in Tuguegarao City, Cagayan due to lack of probable cause,” NCMF spokesman Jun Alonto-Datu Ramos posted on Facebook on Wednesday.
The announcement went viral in social media as hundreds of netizens hailed the swift dispensation of justice on Habib Ditongcopun, Noraldin Lucman, and Musanif Madaya, all clerics serving as imams in different mosques in Cagayan Valley.
The imams were in tears calling for help and protesting their “arbitrary” arrest on their first day of detention on March 1 as shown in a video footage taken through cellphone camera by responding fellow Maranaos.
Last Wednesday, with tears flowing down their faces as they exited from detention, the imams embraced NCMF Secretary Saidamen Pangarungan.
Information on the imminent release of the imams was given to the Manila Bulletin in a phone call by Datu Ramos on Tuesday evening while he and Sec. Pangarungan were travelling from Marawi City to Cagayan de Oro City for a night flight back to Manila.
Pangarungan was supposed to spend time with friends and kin in Marawi City after brokering a day-long dialog in that city between war-displaced residents and Task Force Bangon Marawi officials led by Chair Eduardo del Rosario, Datu Ramos said.
“He (Pangarungan) cancelled his meeting with relatives to fly back to Manila and secure the imams’ freedom from the Enrile municipal police station the following morning,” the NCMF spokesman said.
Datu Ramos posted Wednesday afternoon several photos showing Pangarungan being swarmed by Muslim traders and other imams in a festive gathering, including a kanduli (thanksgiving) for him and other field NCMF officials.
He said the imams’ release order was signed by lawyer Ronnel Nicolas of the Tuguegarao City-based provincial prosecutors’ office.
Lawyers Melchor Battung, Banjo Lucman and Rayhanah Macarimpas, backed by NCMF-Northern Luzon Director Abdullah Macarimpas represented the imams in the preliminary investigation.
Pangarungan’s earlier coordination with PNP Chief Oscar Albayalde and Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año led to the relief from office of the Enrile town police chief and seven police officers, who purportedly “framed up” the imams in the March 1 anti-drug operation. The eight cops were assigned to Sulu province, according to an earlier report from Datu Ramos.