Thursday, July 26, 2012

Tuguegarao vice mayor, 5 cops charged with murder

BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya, Philippines – The vice mayor of Tuguegarao City, the capital of Cagayan province, and five policemen have been charged with multiple murder before the Office of the Ombudsman for the killing of five suspected guns-for-hire last May. The Commission on Human Rights (CHR)-Cagayan Valley, which assisted the victims’ families in filing the case, identified among those charged as Vice Mayor Danilo Baccay and Senior Superintendent Alexander Rafael, Abra police director. Also included in the complaint sheet of five counts of murder, grave misconduct and grave abuse of authority as well as incriminating an innocent person are four Cagayan policemen identified only as John Does. “The John Does, who are (Rafael’s) former subordinates, are allegedly assigned at the Regional Intelligence Unit (at the) police regional office (in) Tuguegarao City,” said the CHR, adding that they served as Rafael’s escorts when the killing took place. The CHR said its findings show there was a probable cause to indict the suspects in the killing of Leonard Apolonio, Daniel Villamor, Nomer Biendima, Isabelo Bernal and Michael Bermudez, all from Abra, who police had tagged as members of a gun-for-hire group. Baccay was linked to the killing after he was found to own one of the firearms found in the crime scene. In earlier reports, he admitted owning the gun but claimed that he had lost it. Earlier, the regional police based in Tuguegarao City said the killing was the result of a legitimate shootout with Rafael’s group along the Maharlika Highway in Barangay San Lorenzo, Lallo town last May 1. Rafael claimed then that the slain suspects aboard a Toyota Corona had tailed them while they were on their way to his hometown in Cagayan from Ilocos Sur. His group, he said, was only forced to fire back at the suspects after they refused to stop when they were flagged down. The CHR, however, said, “There is no argument as to the fact that the victims were killed by police Senior Superintendent Alexander Rafael and four unidentified police officers from the Intelligence Division of Police Regional Office No. 02.” “From the number of gunshots found in the (victims’) vehicle, one cannot help but describe it as overkill... The (victims’) vehicle was surrounded by the police involved, who then indiscriminately fired upon said vehicle,” the CHR said in its report. The CHR said the victims could be even “part of the convoy of no less than respondent police director Alexander Rafael.” The CHR conducted its own investigation after the victims’ families expressed suspicion that the incident was a case of rubout and not a legitimate shootout, as the police claimed. Earlier, Chief Superintendent Rodrigo de Gracia, Cagayan Valley police director, said one of the slain suspects was earlier apprehended by the Abra police and supposedly confessed their supposed illegal activities in Cagayan, including a plot to assassinate several prominent politicians in the province. - By Raymund Catindig and Charlie Lagasca