A former Army Captain who hails from Tagbilaran City whose name was dragged into the national limelight after the President revealed in his State of the Nation Address (SONA) his ties with a notorious robbery and holdup group “in cahoots with the Martilyo Gang” cried foul at the serious accusations leveled against him.
President Aquino in his sixth and final SONA referred to the arrest on July 20, 2015 of former Army Captain Dexter Ranario Balane, 36, married and a resident of Purok 2, San Isidro District, Tagbilaran City in his boarding house in Barangay Aganan, Pavia, Iloilo for the crime of Robbery in Band.
A distraught Balane, together with his parents sought the assistance of the Chronicle to ventilate his side of the story after “I was shut out from the media, got a severe bashing and was never given a chance to be heard”.
Balane was referring to the Western Visayas media who allegedly castigated him for the series of bold robberies in broad daylight that has struck fear into the hearts of local businessmen.
In an exclusive interview with the Chronicle, Balane who is out on bail, categorically denied the accusations hurled against him saying “My record as an Army officer for more than eleven years speaks for itself. I have jealously guarded my integrity and I am not involved in anything criminal or remotely corrupt”.
Aquino’s SONA report on peace and order trumpeted the gains of the Philippine National Police (PNP) anti criminality operations “Oplan Lambat-Sibat” stated “Nitong nakaraang linggo lang, nahuli na si Dexter Balane, na lider ng robbery and holdup group na kasabwat ng Martilyo gang . . .” (Just last week, the leader of the robbery and holdup group in cahoots with the Martilyo (hammer) gang, was apprehended by our police force).
The arrest stemmed from a robbery allegedly staged by his group on February 22, 2015 at the Lhullier Pawnshop inside the Gaisano Mall in Pagadian City, Zamboanga del Sur at 1:30PM.
Balane did not discount the possibility that the President was given a bum steer by top officials of the CIDG considering that the SONA was his last address and needed big points to score on the peace and order area.
According to a February 23, 2015 Sun Star Zamboanga news report, the 15 man gang smashed the glass display with hammers and reportedly carted 168 pieces of assorted jewelries estimated at P5.6M in 41 seconds.
The news report also said that “investigation revealed that the gang men’s leader was a certain Balani, a discharged Army Captain who heads the Ozamiz group “martilyo gang”.
Balane was “reverted from the active military service” on August 4, 2013 after he was diagnosed with spondylosis, a painful condition of the spine.
According to a certification issued by the Philippine Army Office of the Army Adjutant issued on September 2, 2013, Balane “is a former bonafide member of this Command from 15 January 2002 to 04 August 2013 and assigned with the 3rd Infantry Division, Philippine Army”.
The Army further certified that Balane “rendered honorable service in the Philippine Army, while he was in the active service and that he never charged or accused of any criminal/administrative case both in the military and civil court”.
A National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) record clearance valid until June 18, 2015 also stated that there was “no record on file” of Balane.
After leaving the military service, Balane was implicated in three high profile robbery in band cases by the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) involving two jewelry shops and several banks.
“I am amazed by the efforts of my detractors in the CIDG for including my name in the SONA of our President. I could not fathom the depths of their sinister motives to malign the reputations of my family just to score pogi points”.
At the time of his arrest, Balane was employed by the Visayas Asset Protection Division, Iloilo Office of the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company (PLDT) since November 1, 2014 as Asset Protection Inspector.
As an Asset Protection Inspector, Balane was required to work eight hours each day, five days each week, and whenever necessary, may be required to work beyond the regular working hours, according to his Employment Agreement shown to the Chronicle.
TRUMPED UP CHARGES
To prove his innocence, Balane showed to the Chronicle a travel order on February 17, 2015 signed by the Head of the Visayas Asset Protection Division directing him “to proceed to Bacolod on February 23-27 to attend court hearings on cases filed against the apprehended cable thieves and conduct facility inspection”.
“How can I be in two places at the same time?”, Balane said, adding “when the robbery was committed on the 22nd of February at around 1:00PM I was still on board Ocean Jet bound for Cebu”.
Balane painstakingly recalled that on February 21, 2015 he was in Bohol for the 60th birthday of his mother and went back to Iloilo via Tabuelan, Cebu the next day.
“From Tabuelan, Cebu I took the ferry to Escalante City, Negros Occidental arriving at dawn of February 23, 2015”.
Balane resigned from PLDT five days after his arrest in deference to the image of the company despite knowing he would be jobless while awaiting for a decision from the court.
“My case was elevated to the RTC after I failed to submit counter affidavits because the prosecutor’s office claimed that my whereabouts were unknown despite the fact that my personal file in the PLDT and my Army records were all available”.
Balane also denounced the manner of his arrest by CIDG personnel where he was handcuffed, his room searched without any Barangay Official present and his PLDT ID and company issued handcuffs went missing “believed to be confiscated by the CIDG personnel”.
Balane intimated to the Chronicle about the pattern of apparent frame-ups perpetrated by CIDG officers against him whenever robbery cases were committed by groups identified with the so called “Martilyo gang”.
“The first botched attempt to frame me was in the P714 thousand SM North EDSA F & C Jewelry heist on December 15, 2013 where seven suspects allegedly including myself smashed the showcase of the jewelry shop with hammers”.
The robbery in band case filed by SM Mart Inc. against Balane was dismissed by the Office of the City Prosecutor of Quezon City on November 3, 2014 for insufficiency of evidence in the “absence of any credible evidence that would clearly show his direct participation or proper identification of his person”.
Of the seven accused, only Balane appeared during the preliminary investigation and clearly established that he was in Cebu at the time the alleged crime was committed.
“The second attempt to link me to crimes perpetrated by Mindanao gangs was in 2014 when a series of bank and jewelry shop robberies happened in Cagayan de Oro City”.
According to Balane, the cases filed against him were all dismissed by the City Prosecutor for lack of evidence and the file copy of the dismissal resolution is in the possession of his lawyer, Atty. Angie Galeon.
“This latest attempt to link my name has reached the Office of the President and it saddens me that I was again used to bolster the CIDG’s so called accomplishment records”, a dejected Balane told the Chronicle.
Balane also decried his inclusion in the apprehended list read by Aquino “when my name was lumped with” international terrorist Zulkifli Abdhir alias “Marwan”, retired Army General Jovito Palparan tagged by human rights activist as “berdugo (butcher), BIFF leaders Usman, Tambako and Pagao, CPP chair Benito Tiamzon and his wife Secretary General Wilma Tiamzon and cadres (core groups) of the CPP-NPA-NDF.
Balane narrated to the Chronicle that his troubles started after he reprimanded his trusted aide, a former army private 1st class for using his name in his criminal activities.
At that time, Balane was with an army unit in Molave, Zamboanga del Sur but was later moved to Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija to train as a member of the Army’s Special Forces (SF).
According to Balane, his trusted aide resented his friendly admonition and started linking his name to criminal activities in Mindanao while successfully worming his way to the good graces of the CIDG.
“With the remaining faith that I still nurture towards our justice system, I hope that through the courts my name and that of my family will be cleared including the integrity of the Boholanos just like the two cases that were dropped”.
BOHOL IN SONAS
It was unfortunate that the sixth and last SONA of Aquino put Bohol in a bad light even as the province was prominently mentioned in his 3rd SONA declaring the completion of the New Bohol Airport before the end of his term.
The 4th SONA was still about the New Bohol Airport while the 5th SONA, Aquino was all praise for the Boholano’s response to the aftermath of the 7.2 magnitude earthquake that ravaged the province saying “In the midst of a calamity, we witnessed just what could be achieved when our people come together to respond to the challenges brought by a disaster”.
A SONA is defined as a constitutional obligation and yearly tradition, wherein the Chief Executive reports on the status of the country, unveils the government’s agenda for the coming year and proposes to Congress certain legislative measures. (Chito M. Visarra/Bohol Chronicle)