‘P8 million each for Degamo suspects’ retraction’
MANILA, Philippines — A cool P8 million was the price for having each suspected gunman recant his sworn statement implicating those behind the brazen attack last March 4 that killed Negros Oriental governor Roel Degamo and nine others, the Department of Justice (DOJ) chief revealed yesterday.
Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla cited an intelligence report from the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) pointing to one of the suspects’ lawyers, former DOJ undersecretary Reynante Orceo, as the one who allegedly bribed the suspects to recant their statements implicating Negros Oriental Rep. Arnolfo Teves Jr. and his client, Marvin Miranda, as the masterminds.
“If I’m not mistaken, he (Orceo) was offering them P8 million each to reassure them about – and to believe – their principal, who is a congressman and a gambling lord,” Remulla said, referring to Teves.
Orceo could potentially face charges of obstruction of justice if it is proven that money changed hands, Remulla told CNN Philippines.
“It leaves a bad taste in the mouth. We try our best to serve the people in this capacity,” Remulla said. “It’s very unfortunate there are people who will stoop so low, if ever these things are proven.”
In a message to The STAR, Orceo dismissed Remulla’s allegation that he was behind any bribery, calling it “hearsay.”
“As lawyers, which Secretary Remulla is supposedly aware of, such statements are devoid of evidentiary weight or probative value. In fact, Sections 13 and 38 of the new lawyers Code of Professional Responsibility and Accountability prohibits the imputation of misconduct and the non-posting of false or unverified statements,” Orceo said.
He said he could not comment on the alleged under-the-table dealings with the 10 suspects, because he represents the only one who has not recanted his statement – Miranda, a military reservist Remulla earlier identified as Teves’ co-mastermind in the killing.
Miranda has nothing to recant because he has not cooperated with authorities and has not admitted to the crime.
“We only represent Miranda. All the other accused are represented by different counsels. The recantations of all the other accused should be attributed to their respective counsels, not to us,” Orceo said.
The lawyers for the gunmen who took back their statements also denied Remulla’s allegations.
“I am completely clueless about this allegation. It is impossible that would happen while they are under NBI custody under NBI’s watch,” lawyer Danny Villanueva said in a Zoom interview with reporters.
For his part, lawyer Jord Valenton said: “I did not do that, and I will never do such a thing. Let’s just go back to the issues at hand.” The lawyers represent the alleged gunmen facing murder charges before the Manila Regional Trial Court — Joven Javier, Romel Pattaguan, Dahniel Lora, Jhudiel/Osmundo Rivero, Rogelio Antipolo Jr., Joric Labrador, Benjie Rodriguez, Winrich Isturis, Eulogio Jr. and John Louie Gonyon. In an interview with radio dzRH yesterday, Villanueva emphasized that all individuals who initially admitted their involvement in the plot to kill Degamo have submitted recantations, except for Miranda.
He also does not have personal information regarding Miranda’s participation in the recantation of other suspects. “The suspects interact, maybe during the hearing of the case because they share the same video conference facility,” Villanueva said in Filipino. Remulla, on the other hand, denied the allegations made by the suspects’ lawyers that their clients were tortured under custody and forced to confess to the crime or implicate anyone. But Villanueva said they took the photographs of the torture marks found around Rivero’s neck and other parts of Javier’s body. “We have personal knowledge, we saw the marks and burnt hands,” he said. Villanueva added that the DOJ was given 15 days to respond to their request for a medical examination. Asked about the possibility of transferring the accused individuals to the custody of the Philippine National Police (PNP), Villanueva expressed disagreement. “If they are transferred to the custodial center or Manila City Jail, they will be killed,” he said. For his part, Interior and Local Government Secretary Benhur Abalos defended the PNP against allegations of torturing the suspects.
Speaking partly in Filipino, Abalos told reporters: “As far as the PNP is concerned, I have asked them, and they assured me that they truly conducted their actions in accordance with the law.”
He also expressed confidence, after meeting with Remulla, that the case against Teves is strong despite several of the suspects’ recantations and assured families of the victims and those who survived the attack with injuries that justice will be served.
As Teves has refused to return to the country and face investigation, he has appealed before the Supreme Court in Timor-Leste the denial of his request for asylum. Remulla said he already informed authorities in Timor-Leste about the ongoing proceedings before the Anti-Terrorism Council to designate Teves as a terrorist. “He will not get that citizenship. The world will not coddle a terrorist,” he told dzRH radio. — Mark Ernest Villeza, Romina Cabrera