How 8-year-old girl helped police arrest defiler

By Andrew Bagala

MBARARA- Detective Corporal Alaiso Gidongo, a police officer attached to Mbarara Police Station, was summoned by the officer in charge of criminal investigations and allocated a sex-abuse-related case on September 6, 2011.
D/Cpl Gidongo was one of the finest investigators of sex-related crimes in Mbarara District and was, therefore, assigned this complex defilement case. A girl, 8, alleged that she had been defiled.

She had informed a woman in her neighbourhood that Latibu Ssentongo alias Musiramu, their neighbour in the same enclosure, had sexually abused her at Kilembe cell in Mbarara Municipality.

The residents arrested the suspect and handed him over to the police.

The girl’s story moved the female detective. She understood the gravity of the case and the risks involved. According to the girl’s narrative, the suspect didn’t use a condom. She could have contracted HIV in the process or her private parts permanently damaged by the ghastly act.

Though in pain, D/Cpl Gidongo maintained her composure and continued to record the girl’s statement. The girl told her that Ssentongo, who she often referred to as Brown Musiramu, had had sexual intercourse with her on two separate occasions.

The girl told the detective that on a day she couldn’t recall, she had gone to fetch water within the same enclosure when she met Brown at the water tap.

“Brown (Ssentongo) called me while I was standing on the doorway. I refused to heed to his call but he came and held me by the hand and dragged me to his house,” she told the detective.
She narrated how Ssentongo lured her to his bed and undressed her before forcefully having sexual intercourse with her.
“There after, he cleaned me with his towel before letting me go. He told me to tell no one, including my mother,” she said. Indeed, she didn’t.

On another day, she told the detective, Ssentongo found her washing dishes and called her. She said after she refused, Ssentongo involved her brother, who was in the same age bracket, to drag her to his room.

Her brother innocently left as soon as she entered Ssentongo’s room. She told the detective that Ssentogo once again forced her into sexual intercourse.

This time round, Ssentongo gave her Shs200 to buy snacks. Again she didn’t tell anyone. All these scenes where happening in the backyard of her home. Neither the girl’s parents nor neighbours detected what was going on in their backyard.

She told the detective that the third time, Ssentongo attempted to waylay her in the corridor as she went to buy airtime. She said when she saw him in the corridor, she took off and hid in their house until she was sure that he had abandoned his plot. She said minutes later, she came out to see if Ssetongo had left the corridor.

“As I was walking away, I met Maama Kyali (Merina Twihikye), who is our neighbour and a friend to my mother,” she stated.

Disclosure
She disclosed to Twihikye what was going on in her life but pleaded with her not to tell her mother for fear that she would be punished. Twihikye instead walked to her mother and relayed all that she had been told. The girl’s mother called her husband and informed him about the sad news and the matter was reported to police.

D/Cpl Gidongo recorded every detail of her narration. The victim couldn’t recall the dates she had been defiled. The detective knew she had to act fast. She took the girl to hospital for post exposure treatment to guard her against HIV/Aids in case the victim was HIV positive.

She also sought medical examination of the girl for possible evidence to confirm what she had told the police. A medical report on the girl revealed there was penetration though there was no evidence that it was a recent incident or it was done by the suspect. The girl had washed away all the evidence.
The detective’s task was to corroberate what the girl had narrated to the medical report and then link it to the suspect. It was a tall order.

The residents expected the police to ensure that justice is delivered. In such sex-related cases, medical reports provide the most clear cut evidence. With the medical report failing to give a better solution.
D/Cpl Gidongo resorted to doing some leg work.
She went back to the scene of crime with forensic officers to gather more evidence. The scene of crime officers combed the suspect’s home. They found no criminating evidence that could link the suspect to the crime.
The towel the victim said was used to clean her had long been washed. Even the suspect’s clothes were clean.

Unanswered questions
Questions lingered in her case file how the girl could have been defiled at the backyard of her home twice without making any alarm.

D/Cpl Gidongo turned to witnesses as the last resort. She recorded a statement from Twihikye whom the girl had said she narrated the story to. She confirmed what she had been told.

The detective then talked to the girl’s brother. The brother narrated to the detective that Ssentongo called him to bring her sister after promising him money for snacks.

He confirmed to have pulled his sister to Ssentongo’s house but said he didn’t know what Ssentongo was planning to do to her. He said he left his sister in Ssentongo’s house soon after he was given money to buy snacks.

D/Cpl Gidongo went to the mother of the girl who confirmed what Twihikye told her. She told D/Cpl Gidongo that she was overwhelmed and called her husband who called Ssentongo for a chat.

She said Ssentongo was asked about the sexual offence on her daughter and he denied any wrongdoing. She said Ssentongo later asked to talk to her husband in private.

The detective turned to the girl’s father for a statement. The father told the detective that during the chat, Ssentongo admitted to committing the grave offence and blamed Satan for tempting him into such a heinous crime.

On getting the admission, the girl’s father tricked Ssentongo into joining him in the house so that they settle the issue amicably.

He said Ssentongo agreed and the girl’s father closed the door and locked him inside. He then reported the matter to the police and Ssentongo was picked from his house and detained at Mbarara Police Station.

D/Cpl Gidongo sought a statement from Ssentongo who maintained his denial of the offence. When asked by the detective whether he made an admission to the father of the girl that he defiled her, he said he did it to save his life.

“He held a knife and said he was going to kill me. I pleaded with him not to. He told me that I should accept that I defiled his daughter so that he can spare my life. I did exactly that to save my life,” Ssentongo told D/Cpl Gidongo.

Ssentongo jailed
After recording all the statements and receiving medical examination reports of the girl and Ssentongo, D/Cpl Gidongo pieced her evidence together putting him at the scene of crime and linking him to aggravated defilement.

She took the file to the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and it was sanctioned. Ssentongo was taken to court and later remanded. In the High Court, he denied the charges. Prosecution brought all the witnesses, including the girl.
The girl firmly took the court through the account as she had done at the police. The judge was convinced that Ssentongo defiled the girl. On October 7, Ssentongo was convicted of aggravated defilement and was sentenced to 48 years in jail.

Witness accounts

D/Cpl Alaiso Gidongo recorded a statement from Merina Twihikye whom the girl had said she narrated the story to. She confirmed what she had been told. The detective then talked to the girl’s brother.

The brother narrated to the detective that Ssentongo called him to bring his sister after promising him money for snacks.

He confirmed that he pulled his sister to Ssentongo’s house but said he didn’t know what Ssentongo was planning to do to her. He said he left his sister in Ssentongo’s house soon after he was given money to buy snacks.

D/Cpl Gidongo went to the mother of the girl who confirmed what Twihikye told her. She told D/Cpl Gidongo that she was overwhelmed and called her husband who called Ssentongo for a chat. She said Ssentongo was asked about the sexual offence on her daughter and he denied any wrongdoing.

She said he (Ssentongo) later asked to talk to her husband in private. The detective turned to the girl’s father for a statement. The father told the detective that during the chat, Ssentongo admitted to committing the grave offence and blamed satan for tempting him into such a heinous crime.

Sentence

Ssentongo was taken to court and later remanded. In the High Court, he denied the charges. Prosecution brought all the witnesses, including the girl. The girl firmly took the court through the account as she had done at the police. The judge was convinced that Ssentongo defiled the girl. On October 7, Ssentongo was convicted of aggravated defilement and was sentenced to 48 years in jail.

Hope, love prevail in conserving endangered Philippine cockatoo

Philippines, May 02, 2017 – rappler

PALAWAN, Philippines — Veronica Marcelo, 51, wakes up early in the morning to go to the coconut-fringed shoreline facing the Rasa Island Wildlife Sanctuary – the stronghold of the critically endangered Philippine cockatoo, locally known as the katala.

She has been doing this for nearly 17 years now, bringing with her a logbook and a pen to monitor the number of katala moving off the island to forage for food.

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Marcelo serves as a volunteer for Sagip Katala Movement (SKM), a community-based organization formed under the Philippine Cockatoo Conservation Program (PCCP). SKM is mostly composed of women who devote time to look after the threatened bird species that visits the coastal barangay of Panacan every day.

“I manually count the katala I see flying over and perching on the coconut trees,” says Marcelo. “I don’t find it mundane. When you’re used to doing this task and truly fall in love with it, your day won’t be complete without attending to it.”

Rasa Island is one kilometer off the coast of Barangay Panacan in Narra, a first-class town in southern Palawan. From the mainland, you will be stunned by its verdant mangroves set against the azure sky and cerulean sea.

Five wildlife wardens from the indigenous group Tagbanua are staying there to guard the 1,983-hectare island against unruly poachers.

Interestingly, these warders used to be wildlife poachers. They had a change of heart. after meeting with members of Katala Foundation Inc. (KFI) which has implemented the PCCP since 1998. They opted to become wildlife protectors, to lead dignified lives not just for themselves but also for their familiez.

Rampant poaching

Before it was declared as a protected area, Rasa Island was a silent, hapless witness to the rampant hunting of the red-vented katala.
Wildlife warden Reynaldo Abellar, 36, recalls that when he was 8 years old, he usually frequented the island with his grandfather to gather katala and eventually sell them to buyers who had been supplying the pet trade and the local demand for bush meat.

“Back then, there were days we were able to collect 30-50 heads,” Abellar recounts. “We’re not the only ones who were climbing the trees to fetch katala as there were other outsiders who did the same.”

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“It was an easy way of getting money,” quips 49-year-old Lucito Dangis, another wildlife warden.

“I remember when I was young, I was amazed at how my cousins were earning a huge amount of money – a katala offspring can be sold for P50, and it can buy more kilos of rice during that time,” Dangis says.

“It all started as a pasttime until it became a way of life. I’d been training youngsters to do the same so they can help their parents in providing food on the table,” he adds.

The island was also a place from which locals from a nearby fishing village used to cut down mangroves and other tree species for fuel wood and building materials, reducing the number of trees where katala can roost and nest.

For Abellar and Dangis, the realization had dawned on them after taking to heart what the world may stand to lose.

Such threats had caused the local katala population to drop to as low as 23 heads.

“And surely, if we continue hunting for katala, they will definitely vanish in the wild. And when they’re gone, you cannot bring them back anymore,” Abellar says, recalling his epiphany.

Recovery of population

The downward trend in the bird’s population was averted when the PCCP intervened. Implemented through non-governmental organization KFI, the katala population has grown to over 300.

“After almost 20 years of project implementation, the population increase is the tangible success indicator,” says KFI Program Manager Indira Widmann. “From 23, now we already have at least 300 individuals of katala here in Rasa Island.”

This upward trend can also be seen in the PCCP project sites in Puerto Princesa City and the towns of Balabac in the south and Dumaran in the north.

Now, the population is estimated at a little more than 1,000 individuals in the world.

Aside from katala, the island also nurtures other bird species, notably the great-billed heron, the gray imperial pigeon, and the mantanani scops owl. The immediate seas surrounding it are home to important marine species like dugong, and the green sea and hawksbill turtles.

Holistic approach

KFI believes that species conservation would not be enough to ensure the survival of katala. Equally important is the preservation of its natural habitat, which sums up the very essence of ecosystem approach that takes into consideration the environment as a whole.

“Inasmuch as we protect the Philippine cockatoo, we are also protecting our very own survival. Through employing a holistic approach – although their habitat is the small patch of coastal, mangrove forests in this island, we are also protecting the marine environment which supports the town’s fishery production,” Wildmann explains.

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As a protected area declared through Presidential Proclamation No.1000, s. 2006, all kinds of destructive activities are prohibited in the island and its surrounding waters. On top of that, this wildlife sanctuary is also designated as core or no-take zone in the province’s Environmentally Critically Areas Network map.

Synergy among stakeholders

Narra Mayor Lucena Demaala says these designations have been further enforced with the rigid implementation of municipal ordinances stopping cyanide and dynamite fishing around the shallow coral island, prohibiting the cutting of trees, and banning illegal entry and occupation in the island itself.

“The katala is worth conserving for the future generation,” Demaala says.

Conservation education in schools and at the community level continues to encourage the people to share a place with the adorable bird which started to move to the mainland in the 2000s and forage malunggay seedlings at the locals’ backyard, says KFI Field Operations Coordinator Siegfred Diaz.

“People get to know that the existence of katala, as an indicator species dwelling in lowland forests, tells us how healthy our environment is,” Diaz says. “With that, they even more appreciate it flying and even visiting their backyard from time to time.”

Just like in other PCCP sites across Palawan, the Narra local government gives counterpart funding through an annual budget appropriation that provides for incentives for wildlife wardens.

This feat could not have been achieved without the active participation of all sectors involved, says Widmann. “It’s not about us. This success is a result of the concerted effort of the local government units, international funders, local communities and concerned government agencies.”

The story of conserving the katala teaches people to persevere and not to lose hope. It also shows that people – regardless of the “bad” the things they did – can still change for the common good.

As for Marcelo, she vows to continue her volunteer job until the very end. “I’m getting older and older every day, so strolling by the beach and under the shade of coconut trees, taking in the sea breeze really help me keep fit. Here, I got more friends, young and old alike, and they respect me,” she says.

“As long as I can, I’ll keep going, I’ll keep on telling the younger generation to live in harmony with katala. Aren’t we proud, of all the places in the world, they can be seen here? It’s our country’s living treasure.”

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