MANILA, Philippines - Six people, including a former provincial jail warden, were convicted yesterday for conspiring to kill then Masbate City mayor Moises Espinosa Jr. in 2001.
Charlie Quidato, former provincial jail warden; his brother, Isagani, former jail officer; Ramilo Ayque, former jail guard; and inmate Alex Alteza were meted life sentences.
Their co-perpetrators, Dindo Niez and Pio Badaguas, were sentenced to more than 20 years in jail. This will be added to the length of time they will serve in New Bilibid Prison, where they are currently detained for another crime.
In a 58-page decision, Judge Rosalyn Mislos-Loja of Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 41 said the denial of all the accused “failed insofar as the testimonies of the witnesses” are to be considered.
Loja denied the alibi of all the accused, saying the identification by witnesses is “worthier than self-serving denial of the accused.”
The judge added that she could not see any ill motive on the part of the prosecution witnesses when they pointed to the six as those who conspired to kill Espinosa.
Espinosa, who only served as mayor for 40 days, was shot dead during a feast in the plaza of Barangay Bantigue, Masbate City at past midnight on Aug. 9, 2001.
“Espinosa initially opted not to grace the coronation rites at the plaza but he changed his mind and proceeded to the place from his office about 8 p.m.,” the court said.
Bantigue is about three kilometers away from the city proper. The court said Espinosa was accompanied by security escort Jose Cortez.
The 45-year-old politician was about to escort a woman out of the dance floor when he was shot. He was rushed to Masbate Comprehensive Hospital but died after three hours.
Warden as organizer
According to witnesses, Charlie organized a team to kill Espinosa. Two people saw Isagani shooting Espinosa with .45 caliber handgun.
According to witness Rolly Ogaya, an inmate of the provincial jail and one of the assassins allegedly hired by the jail warden, Charlie summoned him hours before the attack. Charlie instructed him to dress up “as they were going somewhere else,” the court said.
“When (Ogaya) went back to the office of the warden, he saw the latter, Ayque, Niez, Alteza, and (Alberto) Choy, all equally dressed up and armed with guns. Ogaya was given a shotgun,” said the court.
The court said Charlie laid down the instructions to ensure Espinosa ’s death. He instructed Ayque and Choy to go to the plaza when Espinosa was called to dance.
The shots were timed during the fireworks display. Cortez told the court that he saw the mayor’s bloodied hands while holding his upper right arm.
“At some point, five gunshots were heard and (Charlie) was seen by Ogaya running toward the place, firing shots,” the court said. The gunfight lasted for 20 minutes.
The assassins went back to the warden’s office, where Charlie allegedly asked if Espinosa was dead. Ayque said yes. The next day, Isagani arrived and confirmed Espinosa’s death.
No motive, masterminds
Espinosa’s sister, Maloli, was teary-eyed as the decision was read out loud. “Justice finally! After more than a decade,” she said.
The motive behind Espinosa’s death or who masterminded the crime have yet to be established. “There’s a court of conscience,” Maloli said.
The accused have repeatedly denied involvement in the crime. Charlie’s lawyer, Alex Almario, said they will file an appeal.
Espinosa belonged to one of the political families who ruled Masbate for years. His father, congressman Moises Espinosa Sr., was assassinated at the Masbate airport in 1989.
His uncle, former congressman Tito Espinosa, was killed near the House of Representatives in Quezon City in 1995. - By Aie Balagtas See