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A day to remember: The assassination of Evelio Javier

I remember the date and the events that transpired as if these happened only yesterday.
At around 10:30 a.m. of February 11, 1986, I got a rare international call from Hongkong at my work place at the Development Bank of the Philippines. At the time, I was working as Credit Investigator at DBP and moonlighted as a journalist for Asiaweek Magazine, the regional weekly news magazine that had the same format as Time and Newsweek.
This was long before the era of cell phones, and Facebook and Twitter. News travelled rather slowly.
When I answered the phone, I recognized the voice of my editor, Zoher Abdoolkarim.
“Manuel, there’s been a murder in San Jose, Antique. Can you get a ride to go there quickly?” he said.
Zoher, in rapid fashion, told me what happened.
Former Antique Governor Evelio Javier was keeping watch over the canvassing of the electoral returns for President in the February 6, 1986 snap elections. Cory Aquino had challenged strongman Ferdinand E. Marcos, and there have been allegations of widespread cheating.
Antique province was then ruled by Marcos’s henchman, Arturo Pacificador. Javier knew that Pacificador would try to thwart the people’s will in Antique, and he kept a tight watch on the counting.
That fateful morning, Javier came down from the Capitol building in San Jose, Antique where the canvassing was being conducted to take a break. He went over to a big tree in the park to rest.
Just then, two or three armed men approached him and opened fire with M-16 armalite rifles. Javier was wounded but managed to run across the plaza in zigzag fashion to elude the bullets fired at him. He entered a store and hid inside the toilet.
His assassins, however, simply followed him. Once they got inside the store and learned where Javier had hidden, they fired their weapons at point-blank range. Javier was killed in an instant, his body peppered with bullets.
The gunmen then casually fled aboard a waiting vehicle.
I didn’t hesitate to accept the assignment. I knew history was being made. I filed a leave of absence for the day and negotiated with a taxi to drive me to San Jose, Antique.
I always brought my camera bag with me every day, and I had 3 rolls of transparency film (for slides) ready for exactly situations like this.
I don’t remember now how much the taxi driver charged.
I arrived in San Jose around 2 p.m. The atmosphere in the municipality was tense. PC soldiers were all over the place, and people looked anxiously from windows and doors.
I was told Javier’s cadaver had been brought to the Angel Salazar Memorial General Hospital, so I asked the taxi driver to take me there. Outside the hospital, I saw former Antique Governor Enrique Zaldivar and other political allies of the slain leader.
Zaldivar pointed over to the morgue. “That’s where he is now,” he said.
Without delay, I entered the morgue with my camera ready. To my surprise, the international correspondents were already swarming all over the place — Time Magazine, Newsweek Magazine, the U.S. television net works. I had to elbow my way inside to be able to take pictures of Javier’s bullet-riddled body.
I then talked with eyewitness to get their recollection of what happened.
A few minutes later, the taxi driver approached me, his face filled with dread.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
He told me a PC Major had put a handcuff on the steering wheel to disable the taxi. The PC Major apparently learned that a journalist was his passenger. So I went over to talk with the PC Major, who was the assistant provincial commander.
He asked me what I was doing there. Of course, I was there to cover the assassination of Javier. I presented to him my Asiaweek ID card. He wanted to detain me.
I wasn’t intimidated.
I told him that my arrest would become a secondary international event to the murder itself. “Sir, you will have to answer for this,” I warned him. I pointed to the international media nearby. “This will surely feast on this story,” I calmly said.
I must have seemed to be full of confidence that the PC Major relented. All right, he said, you can leave.
I didn’t waste a second in leaving. The tension had escalated. We were out of there by 6 p.m. If I remember right, my colleague Herbert Vego hitched a ride with me on the way back to Iloilo.
That night, I almost didn’t sleep as I furiously wrote the story on a portable typewriter (yes we had no laptops then). At 4 a.m. I went to the airport to send the 3 rolls of transparencies to Tony Lopez, Manila Bureau Chief of Asiaweek, through PAL cargo.
A picture showing Javier lying on the morgue table, blood pooling around hiim, and my story made it to the Asiaweek edition a few days later.
Now, 33 years later, I look back to this incident with a wish that such political violence will no longer happen again.
Javier had given his life to protect the sanctity of the ballot, and truly, he deserves to be honored on this day.

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Drilon was the protector of drug lords in Iloilo

Until now, President Duterte hasn’t fathomed the real picture of illegal drugs in Iloilo City. He has blamed dismissed City Mayor Jed Patrick E. Mabilog for the rise of drug lords and their grip on the local community before he came to power. But the truth is that Mabilog was only a pawn. He was never the political boss of Iloilo City. He took orders from Senator Franklin Drilon.

But isn’t it strange that despite the massive reportage and media commentaries on the illegal drugs problem in Iloilo City, Drilon never ever said anything about it? He reads my every blog and Facebook post, and there is no denying he knew about how bad the illegal drugs problem had grown during the years 2010-2016. In fact, I sent him an email sometime in 2012 beseeching him to do something about it. And when the late Melvin “Boyet” Odicta tried to storm into the premises of Aksyon Radyo Iloilo on November 19,2015, Drilon squelched the calls for a Senate investigation into the incident, saying it was a minor police matter.

Drilon was not just the political kingpin of Iloilo at the time. All the national government agencies, including the PNP, PDEA and NBI, bowed before him like a demi-god. Only those who received his blessings were given assignments as Regional Directors in Western Visayas, which has Iloilo City as the regional center. Despite such power that he wielded, Drilon never issued orders for the police to crack down on the drug syndicates. What he did was show a fondness for Barangay Monica-Blumentritt Punong Barangay Keith “Dabing” Espinosa, wife of Jing Jing Espinosa, a top lieutenant of the Odicta syndicate.

Kap dabing with drilon

VIP treatment palagi si Kap Dabing Espinosa na asawa ni Jing Jing Espinosa sa mga okasyon ni Drilon.

Drilon with Kap Dabing

And he was always quick to downplay the magnitude of the problem. Not once had he chastised Mabilog, his cousin and protege, about the growth of the syndicates. In short, it was Drilon who gave protection to the syndicates. And it’s time President Duterte took him to task for this crime against the nation.

Iloilo’s tres Marias

President Rodrigo R. Duterte has ordered the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) to disclose to the public the names of 211 barangay captains who are allegedly involved in the illegal drugs trade. I’m wondering if the three barangay captains in Iloilo City — all women — whose names have been linked to illegal drugs are included in the list. They are Keith “Dabing” Espinosa of Barangay Monica-Blumentritt, Remia Prevendido-Gregori of Barangay Bakhaw, and Noemi Hablo of Barangay Desamparados.

Espinosa is the wife of Jing Jing Espinosa, who is now serving a prison sentence for the shooting and wounding of an unarmed individual in his barangay more than a decade ago. Jing Jing was reputed to be a right hand man of the slain drug group leader Melvin “Boyet” Odicta, also known in Iloilo as “Dragon”.

Gregori is the sister of another drug group leader, Richard Prevendido, who was also killed in a police raid on Sept. 1, 2017. Her son, Bonifacio Gregori, is now in jail facing drugs charges. Her barangay is notorious as a lair for illegal drugs distribution.

Hablo’s deceased husband, Rusty, was a suspected drug peddler. He fled to Mindanao at the height of the tokhang operations of the police. But he was apprehended there in Mindanao; while in prison, he suffered from a nervous breakdown, and was reported to have committed suicide.

Supreme Court rules: De Lima’s arrest legal

The issue of legality over the arrest of former DOJ Secretary and Senator Leila de Lima has finally been settled by the Supreme Court when it dismissed her motion for reconsideration last Tuesday, April 17, 2018. It means De Lima can no longer play the card of being a victim of persecution (the way she abused her own power when she was DOJ Secretary). She will now have to face the charges against her in a full-blown trial.

Leila de Lima

Photo credit: Jansen Romero/Manila Bulletin

Indeed, even just the frequent visits of De Lima to the National Bilibid Prisons where she partied with convicted drug lords should have been enough to jail her. There was no justification for such closeness with hardened criminals. It lends credence to the allegations that she collected money from the drug lords, thereby making her a party to the illegal drugs trade.

I am appalled the Liberal Party politicians found nothing wrong with such behavior. Well, I guess rubbing elbows with criminals was the norm during their stay in power. The Supreme Court ruling makes De Lima no different from other arrested individuals facing trial, and it’s time the trial courts order her transfer to an ordinary jail.

We must keep in mind that the charges filed against De Lima aren’t political in nature. These involve illegal drugs. She must be incarcerated in the Muntinlupa City jail where other persons facing the same cases are detained. It’s time she doesn’t get special treatment.

 

Questions raised on ‘delay’ in prison sentence execution vs Jing Jing Espinosa

A prominent lawyer in Iloilo City has expressed surprise, and disbelief, that a prison sentence imposed on Jesus “Jing Jing” Espinosa Jr. was not immediately carried out after the Regional Trial Court Branch 31 received a Resolution from the Supreme Court upholding his conviction for frustrated murder four years ago.

Atty. Eldrid Antiquera, a former Iloilo City Councilor and legal assistant of the late Raul M. Gonzalez when he served as Justice Secretary, told Aksyon Radyo Iloilo that the circumstances that caused the delayed execution of the jail sentence should be investigated to make sure there was no hanky-panky.

“The Supreme Court takes these things seriously, because such negligence can thwart the course of justice,” Antiquera said. In many cases, court officials found to have been remiss in their duties have been suspended for similar omissions, he added.

Rosenia Jover, OIC Clerk of Court of Branch 31, issued a notice of hearing to both the prosecution and the defense lawyer, as well as the bail bond companies, on Tuesday, October 4, 2016, to tackle the revocation of the P200,000 bail bond for Espinosa.

Another court official told me that the revocation of the bail bond is the first step toward the issuance of a warrant of arrest to put Espinosa behind bars and begin serving his prison sentence.

notice-of-hearing

NOTICE OF HEARING ON THE REVOCATION OF BAIL BOND SET FOR OCT. 4, 2016. (Photo credit: RMN 774)

Espinosa, also known as “Bondying” in the order of battle of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), was found guilty as an accomplice for frustrated murder when he and two others shot and wounded Mark Serra in Barangay Monica on November 24, 2002.

Espinosa was able to submit a paraffin test report showing that he was negative for nitrate powder burns during his trial and was meted out a lighter sentence of six months and one day of prision correccional as minimum to eight years and one day as prision mayor as maximum.

He was convicted way back in 2006 by then RTC Branch 31 judge Rene Hortillo.

Espinosa appealed his conviction to the Court of Appeals. In a decision handed down on July 14, 2008, the Court of Appeals Eighteenth Division upheld the trial court’s ruling.

The case was elevated to the Supreme Court on a petition for review on certiorari. But the Supreme Court, in a Resolution dated May 30, 2011, denied the appeal for failure of petitioner Espinosa to substantially show any reversible error in the C.A. decision. The decision was declared “final and executory” by the Supreme Court on October 24, 2011.

Following judicial procedure, the case records were remanded to the Court of Appeals which in turn sent back the files to the lower court, Branch 31.

The markings on the documents show that RTC Branch 31 received the by registered mail on September 7, 2012. At the time, RTC Branch 31, along with all other courts of the RTC and Iloilo City MTC, were housed at the De Paul College campus in Jaro district as the Hall of Justice was undergoing refurbishing and repair.

The records affirming the conviction virtually vanished then, and it was only last July this year, during the conduct of an inventory of cases, that the same was noticed. Or so OIC Clerk of Court Rosenia Jover said.

For Antiquera, that explanation should not be accepted “hook, line and sinker.”

This discovery was made public only last Monday in The Daily Guardian and this blog, along with interviews with Aksyon Radyo Iloilo anchorman John Paul Tia and RMN 774 anchors Novie Guazo and Regan Arlos.

Indeed, the excuse is too shallow to be accepted. Almost every year, trial courts are mandated by the Supreme Court to conduct inventories of cases. This means RTC Branch 31 should have discovered this oversight in 2013 or 2014.

But why did it take four years?

drilon-with-kap-dabing

Monica barangay captain Keith “Dabing” Espinosa, wife of Jing Jing Espinosa, poses with the most powerful man in Iloilo City — Senator Franklin Drilon.

There are speculations that somebody powerful may have intervened to “bury” the case records, and it was only after President Rodrigo Duterte came to power that it was resurrected.

Kap dabing with drilon

VIP treatment palagi si Kap Dabing Espinosa na asawa ni Jing Jing Espinosa sa mga okasyon ni Drilon.

 

Jing Jing Espinosa faces ‘delayed’ prison sentence

 

A conviction for frustrated murder on Monica barangay kagawad Jesus “Jing Jing” Espinosa Jr. had long been affirmed by both the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court, but because of the topsy-turvy files at the temporary quarters of Regional Trial Court Branch 31 in September 2012 at the De Paul College campus, the case records were buried out of sight.

And it was only during an inventory of cases conducted by RTC Branch 31 that court personnel discovered the case folders remanded by the Court of Appeals for implementation of the decision handed down by then RTC Branch 31 presiding judge Rene Hortillo imposing a prison term for Espinosa.jing jing gets ready to rule iloilo city

“By the time we found the case folders containing the decision of the Court of Appeals and order from the Supreme Court affirming the conviction, Judge Hortillo had already retired, and we could not proceed with the case,” a court official told The Daily Guardian over the weekend.

The official said it was only recently that RTC Branch 34 Presiding Judge Yolanda Panaguiton-Gavino was designated as acting Presiding Judge, and she is expected to report to her assigned sala in Branch 31 today, Monday, September 26, 2016.

“This case will be among the first to be taken up with Judge Gavino,” the official said.

She added that under court rules and procedures, Judge Gavino will issue a warrant of arrest against Espinosa and his companion, Robinito “Bord” Malaga, for them to be put to jail and serve the penalty for frustrated murder.

the-daily-guardian-front-page-sept-26-2016Espinosa and Malaga were found guilty for shooting and seriously wounding Mark Serra, a resident of Barangay Monica, at around midnight on November 24, 2002. A third accused, Cris Rudy Balidiong, died during the pendency of the case.

Espinosa was meted a prison term of six months and one day of prision correccional as minimum to eight years and one day of prison mayor as maximum. Malaga was sentenced to a more severe prison term of eight years and one day of prision mayor as minimum to 14 years, 8 months and one day of reclusion temporal as maximum.

Case records show that Serra was walking towards home from a dance hall in Barangay Concepcion that night when he passed by a foot walk where he saw Balidiong, Espinosa and Malaga standing on both sides.

Just as Serra passed by the three, Balidiong just shot him without provocation.

Although wounded, Serra was able to run away, during which time he saw Espinosa and Malaga emerging from the shadows with hand guns and firing at him but missed.

Both Espinosa and Malaga gave chase, their guns firing. Serra was hit on the left shoulder and right side of his back, court records show.

It was only when Serra reached the house of his first cousin that his attackers fled.

Serra was rushed to the Iloilo Mission Hospital where he had to undergo an operation to save his life.

In convicting Espinosa and Malaga, then RTC Branch 31 Presiding Judge Hortillo said there was no way Serra could not have identified his attackers, as he lived in the barangay, and the area where the attack took place was lighted.

In his decision dated June 20, 2005, Hortillo swept aside the defense of denial put up by the accused and pronounced them guilty of frustrated murder.

However, Espinosa filed a motion for reconsideration on the ground that the trial court failed to give weight to the PNP Crime Laboratory report showing that he was negative for powder burns.

In an amended order, Hortillo reduced the penalty for Espinosa as an accomplice in the crime.

Espinosa filed an appeal before the Court of Appeals which upheld the ruling of Hortillo on July 14, 2008. He then filed a petition for review with the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court denied the appeal on May 30, 2011. An entry of judgment declaring the decision final and executory was made on October 24, 2011.

The markings on the case records show that these were sent by registered mail by the Court of Appeals on August 23, 2012 to RTC Branch 31 which had by then moved to its temporary sala at the De Paul College campus.

The Department of Public Works and Highways declared the Hall of Justice unsafe for occupancy and undertook refurbishing works to improve the structural integrity of the building.

The case records were marked “Received” by RTC Branch 31 on September 7, 2012.

The records also indicate that Espinosa’s counsel at the time, the late Atty. Felipe Macahilig, received a copy of the decisions at around the same time.

But the chaotic condition of the files at the temporary Hall of Justice led to the misplacement of the Court of Appeals and Supreme Court records.

During the whole month of July this year, RTC Branch 31 personnel conducted an inventory of cases along with the rest of the judiciary and it was only then that the oversight on the enforcement of the decision was discovered.

All the courts and other agencies that held office at the Hall of Justice were ordered to evacuate from the Hall of Justice on February 25, 2012 after a strong earthquake caused cracks on its walls and floors.

This is the second prison sentence to be imposed on Espinosa.

In 1995, he was also convicted for the murder of a deaf-mute in Barangay Monica. He was sentence to serve an indeterminate sentence of 10 years and one day as minimum to 17 years and four months as maximum.

He was released from the Bilibid prison after serving the minimum prison sentence.

 

 

Odicta’s release illegal?

The release of Melvin Odicta Sr. from the National Bilibid Prisons in 1995 continues to be a burning issue among lawyers.
A few night ago, a municipal trial court judge and two lawyers told me the Muntinlupa City RTC executive judge who issued the release order by virtue of a petition for a writ of habeas corpus did so without legal basis.
“If it was an application of the indeterminate sentence law under the new law amending the prison sentences for illegal drugs, then there should have been an application with the Parole and Pardon Board,” the judge said.
It was purely an executive function which needed approval of the President of the Republic, the two lawyers added.
Besides, the three of them echoed my earlier observation — based on Supreme Court decisions — that a petition for habeas corpus is not a proper remedy for convicted felons.
The release order was, in effect, an illegal act overturning the decision of an equal court which was affirmed by the Supreme Court.
It is turning out that Jun Alojado Capulot has succeeded in opening up a huge can of worms that could bring down an empire in Iloilo City.