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The Gatdula cause célèbre


Claiming innocence, former police general Magtanggol Gatdula, who was fired as Director of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), vowed to fight back to clear his name of allegations of kidnapping and extortion. 

However, he conceded that when the President lost trust and confidence in him, that was his signal to go out.  And that’s precisely the crux of the matter: President Benigno “P-Noy” Aquino III expects his appointees to walk a straight line – “daang matuwid” -- in the performance of their jobs.  

According to Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, Gatdula was relieved from his post following the recommendation of a DOJ fact-finding panel -- which investigated the alleged kidnapping and extortion of Noriya Ohara, a 33-year-old Japanese national -- to file charges against him and other NBI officials involved in the caper.

The DOJ report said that Gatdula participated in the planning and cover-up of the alleged crime last October 29 in which NBI agents abducted Ohara, who is in the country illegally.  According to the report, the NBI agents demanded a P15-million ransom from Romulo Marzan’s family with whom Ohara was staying.  The NBI agents threatened the Marzans with criminal charges for harboring an illegal alien.  After haggling over the ransom amount, which took place in the NBI office, the Marzans paid the agents P6 million.

During the investigation, Ohara incriminated Gatdula before the DOJ panel whom she positively identified from a picture of Gatdula hanging on the wall of the office of Mario Garcia, chief of the NBI-Security Management Division (SMD), where she was initially brought in after her abduction.   

*“Rescue” operation

But here is the stinger:  Garcia, who led the operation, claimed that it was to “rescue” Ohara. He said that Gatdula went to the SMD office only to look at Ohara saying,  “Help her with what she needs.” However, Gatdula told the panel that his visit to the SMD office was a “routine inspection” and that he didn’t remember meeting or seeing Ohara. 

In regard to the “rescue” operation, Garcia said that somebody gave him a letter written in Nihongo purportedly from Ohara in which she alleged that she was being abused by the Marzans.  But Ohara told the panel that she was coerced into writing the letter. When the letter was translated, it was a request for help about her properties!

The DOJ report established the motive behind the “rescue” operation: The Chief Consul of the Japanese Embassy told the panel that Ohara inherited a huge inheritance from her father.  In June 2009, she fled to evade her father’s creditors and the Japanese government who wanted to collect her inheritance tax.  She entered the Philippines illegally via Guam.  She then assumed a false identity and purchased a house in Las Piñas City, which was registered in the name of Romulo Marzan’s sister, Rosemarie, who became her friend.  In 2011, Ohara went to live with the Marzans in Bugallon, Pangasinan.  It was in Bugallon where Ohara was “rescued” by the NBI agents.

Gatdula claimed that his dismissal was politically motivated.  But the President said that Gatdula was fired because of insubordination. He said that after Ohara’s detention at the NBI had become public, Gatdula was ordered to transfer Ohara to the Bureau of Immigration because of her status as an illegal alien.  But Gatdula did not carry out the order; thus, he was fired.   

*Political angle

It is interesting to note that Gatdula is a member of the politically powerful Iglesia Ni Cristo (INC).  INC endorsed and supported P-Noy during the 2010 presidential elections, which was a “command vote” for P-Noy.  INC members are known to vote as a solid bloc for whomever the INC leadership endorses.

It appears that as a result of the INC endorsement, P-Noy appointed many INC members to high government positions.  One of them was Magtanggol Gatdula.  However, recent events seem to manifest a cleavage in P-Noy’s alliance with INC.

INC was allied with former Ombudsman Merceditas “Merci” Gutierrez who resigned after the House of Representatives impeached her and before the Senate impeachment trial began.  P-Noy’s overt act to remove Merci as Ombudsman did not please the INC leadership.  And then there was the case of INC member Artemio Tuquero who was on the shortlist for Merci’s replacement.

In my article, “Gloria’s Trojan Horse” (July 20, 2011), I wrote, “There is one candidate for Ombudsman who I believe is Gloria’s ‘Trojan horse,’ presented to P-Noy to make sure that if he’s appointed Ombudsman, Gloria would remain untouchable for the next seven years.”  I was referring to Tuquero who was favored by some of P-Noy’s political allies including Sen. Francis “Chiz” Escudero and Executive Secretary Pacquito “Jojo” Ochoa Jr.  However, P-Noy decided against appointing Tuquero.  Instead he appointed his personal choice, retired Supreme Court Justice Conchita Carpio-Morales.  


Did it surprise anyone that when former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was charged with electoral sabotage, she hired the legal services of Tuquero to defend her?  And did it come as a surprise that when the House of Representatives impeached Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona – Gloria’s midnight appointee -- he hired an INC member, Serafin Cuevas, as his lead counsel?

In politics, nothing happens by accident.  The series of “coincidences” seem to point to the political realignments that are forming as the 2013 election is heating up and the 2016 presidential election is looming in the horizon.  But De Lima said that Gatdula’s dismissal had nothing to do with his religious affiliation.  Of course, it had nothing to do with his religious affiliation.  But nobody is saying that politics had nothing to do with it.  
Which makes one wonder: Is Gatdula the sacrificial pawn in P-Noy’s king’s gambit? If so, who would play the “king”?

By Perry Diaz

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