MANILA – The Philippine National Police (PNP) on Saturday denied allegations that its personnel harassed the wife of an onion farmer from Pangasinan who had appeared in a Senate hearing.
In a statement, the PNP said officers of the Bayambang municipal police visited Merlita Gallardo at her house in response to an advisory letter from the provincial office of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), requesting verification and gathering of additional information on the alleged suicide incidents of Gallardo's husband and four other farmers from Bayambang, Pangasinan.
Gallardo appeared before the Senate agriculture, food, and agrarian reform committee on Monday.
She said they went into debt in 2021 due to losses from planting onions in Pangasinan.
This was allegedly the reason why her husband killed himself.
Gallardo said a few days after the hearing, policemen came to their house and urged her to sign a sworn statement.
“The PNP would like to clarify that the incident which occurred between a Senate hearing witness Mrs. Merlita Gallardo and the personnel of Bayambang Police station was a mere misunderstanding. It was not intended to harass or cause her any harm or her family. Rather it was to clarify and give more comprehensive reports on the truthfulness of the information regarding the alleged suicides,” read the statement.
The PNP said its personnel never coerced Gallardo to recant her statements during the Senate hearing or sign an affidavit against her will.
It said the statement that she was asked to sign was the result of an interview conducted by the investigator to clarify the circumstances of the death of her husband due to respiratory failure secondary to organophosphate poisoning.
“Such statement was also made in support of the findings of the PNP that the death of her husband on Jan. 19, 2021 was the only suicide committed by a farmer in Pangasinan, contrary to the alleged five suicide incidents of farmers in such place,” it added.
The PNP said its personnel performed their duties in full uniform, on board marked patrol vehicles, and assisted by Barangay officials during their visit to Gallardo's residence.
Meanwhile, PNP Chief, Gen. Rodolfo Azurin Jr. instructed Pangasinan Police Director, Col. Jeff Fanged, to reach out to Gallardo to extend assistance and assure her safety, and allay her apprehensions over the series of visits by police officers.
“The PNP assures the public of our full support in the ongoing Senate investigation in aid of legislation. We are at all times ready to render appropriate security for Mrs. Gallardo and her family and any possible witness as may be requested to allow them to further testify as resource persons in the Senate hearing,” Azurin said.
Interior Secretary Benhur Abalos has already ordered the provincial director in Pangasinan to explain the issue, as he ordered an investigation into the alleged harassment of the farmers.
“Actually pinapaimbestigahan ko nga kung ano ba talaga itong nangyaring ito at pinapasulatan ko yung ating provincial director doon yung sa DILG na kung ano ba talaga ang nangyari rito. So I will make her explain, pinapag-explain ko siya ngayong umaga tungkol dito (I have directed the DILG provincial director to conduct an investigation and write a report on the incident. I will make her explain. This morning, I asked her to explain). I think the PNP is also doing their own separate investigation. Everything should be transparent and magkakaroon ng due process dito (so there would be due process),” Abalos told reporters on Friday. (PNA)