NBI links cops to Cebu lawyer's death

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Wednesday, April 16, 2014


CEBU CITY - Five officials of the Highway Patrol Group (HPG) Central Visayas now face criminal complaints for their alleged involvement in the ambush that killed lawyer Noel Archival and two of his staff members.

A joint team from the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) Central Visayas and Special Investigation Task Group Archival filed Tuesday multiple murder and frustrated murder against the HPG 7 officers before the Office of the Cebu Provincial Prosecutor.

Named respondents were Senior Supt. Romualdo Iglesia, HPG 7 director; Chief Insp. Eduardo Mara, HPG provincial chief; Senior Supt. Joselito Lerion, HPG 7 Special Operations Team head; SPO4 Edwin Galan, HPG 7 custodian; and Police Officer 1 Alex Bacani.

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The complaints were filed less than two months after Archival, his aide Candido Miñoza and his driver Alejandro Jayme, were ambushed in Coro, Dalaguete town last February 18.

Brothers

Lawyer Rennan Augustus Oliva, NBI 7 supervising agent, said the team will file today, Wednesday, additional administrative complaints for gross misconduct, conduct unbecoming of a public official and violation of the anti-graft law against the five policemen before the ombudsman’s office.

Cebu City Councilor Nestor Archival welcomed the filing of the case against officials of the Highway Patrol Group.

“We are happy about it. We are truly happy about this development,” he said.

The councilor, who is in China, said he found out about the decision to file criminal complaints last week, when officials from Camp Crame paid a courtesy call in his office. Archival is expected to be back in Cebu City on Friday.

Archival's killing
BOX OF COMPLAINTS. Administrative Officer Luis Labiaga (right) of the Office of the Cebu Provincial Prosecutor receives a box of documents from the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), led by lawyer Ermie Monsanto (in striped shirt), who filed criminal complaints against five officers of the Highway Patrol Group in connection with the ambush that killed lawyer Noel Archival and two other men nearly two months ago. With them is Councilman Nelson Archival of Talamban, Cebu City (second row, in yellow shirt), the slain lawyer’s brother. (SUN.STAR FOTO/AMPER CAMPAÑA)


Another brother, Talamban Councilman Nelson Archival, joined the NBI team that filed the complaints Tuesday at the prosecutors’ office.

“The wheels of justice have finally started to grind,” Nelson said.

Atty. Oliva of the NBI said that the team will ask Deputy Ombudsman Pelagio Apostol to place the respondents under preventive suspension, while prosecutors go over the case.

Survivor, 2 guards

The NBI 7 attached at least 46 annexes to support the complaints. These include the testimonies of Paolo Cortes, Archival’s companion who survived the attack, and two security guards who were on duty when two impounded vehicles were taken out of the HPG 7 compound before the ambush.

In a letter to Provincial Prosecutor Jane Petralba, NBI 7 Chief Max Salvador cited the testimony of Cortes, the lone survivor in the ambush.

Before the attack, Cortes told NBI 7 investigators, a red Toyota Vios kept blocking their path while Archival’s party was on their way to Cebu City last Feb. 18. They had just attended a court hearing in Dumaguete City.

A Mitsubishi Strada pickup also tailed them, he said.

“Recordings from CCTV showed those minutes before the ambush; a red Toyota Vios and a gray Strada kept on flanking and sandwiching the Ford SUV before it was mowed down by gunfire,” said the NBI’s Salvador.

After the attack, video footage showed the red Toyota Vios and gray Strada speeding toward Cebu City.

Shells matched

Salvador said that a forensic examination also showed that the slugs found in the crime scene were fired from two M16 rifles and two 9mm firearms, indicating that four or more persons carried out the attack.

Several days prior to the ambush, Salvador said, Archival had relayed to his friends and family his “personal safety concerns, threats on his life from HPG 7 operatives.”

Archival was reportedly worried about his safety after he filed several criminal cases against the HPG 7 officials before the anti-graft office and in the regular courts.

Salvador said that Archival and several HPG 7 operatives, led by Senior Supt. Lerion, “almost came to blows” after the lawyer reported to the Mabolo Police Station the alleged attempt of some HPG 7 officers to extort P200,000 from one of his clients, Jane Catherine.

Testimonies and logbook entries at the HPG 7 showed that Senior Supt. Iglesia drove an impounded Mitsubishi Strada (NVO-543) out of the impounding area in the morning of February 17, 2014, a day before the ambush.

Movements

The following day, Senior Supt. Lerion drove a Toyota Vios (GSC-995) out of the HPG 7 impounding compound at 9:42 a.m.

Around 3:38 p.m., Lerion drove the Vios back inside the HPG impounding area. 

The Mitsubishi Strada, which Iglesia still drove, also entered the impounding compound in Lahug, Cebu City around 4:22 p.m.

Archival had been ambushed around 1 p.m. that same day.

According to the NBI’s documents, the Strada was brought to the Off Road motor shop in Maguikay, Mandaue City last February 24 for repairs.

But PO1 Bacani “hastily” took the vehicle from the car shop around 3:35 p.m. last March 20, Director Salvador of the NBI said in his letter to the prosecutor’s office. (That was the same day the NBI served a search warrant on the HPG compound.)

The Land Transportation Office 7 certified that the plate number NVO-543 had been issued “to another Mitsubishi Strada” that belonged to Mary Ann Villarin Alfaro of Bulacan.

Changing plates

The plate number GSC-675, which had been seen on the Vios, also turned out to have been issued to a Suzuki jitney cab owned by Charito Sanoza of Naval, Biliran. Another plate number also seen on the red Vios, GSC-995, had been issued to a Honda CRV that belonged to Celestina Chavez of Camputhaw, Cebu City.

During surveillance, Salvador said, the NBI discovered that the HPG 7 personnel were “interchanging and using different plate numbers for other vehicles.”

“After the incident, plate numbers GSC-995 and NVO-543 were no longer seen attached to any impounded vehicle inside the HPG 7 impounding area,” said Salvador.

“Clearly, HPG 7, headed by Iglesia and Lerion (operations chief), were using the impounded vehicles in nefarious activities with connivance and concurrence of Mara (impounding area chief) and Galan (who was in charge of the impounded vehicles),” said Salvador.

Shells, gunpowder

The HPG 7 officials were tagged as suspects after a joint operation by the NBI 7, Criminal Investigation and Detection Group and Special Weapons and Tactics in Cebu City traced one vehicle, allegedly used in the shooting, to the HPG impounding area in Barangay Lahug.

Results of the ballistic test also showed that the shell casing from one M16 rifle, which was found inside the red Toyota Vios, matched the four cartridges that had been recovered in the crime scene.

Forensic tests also showed gunpowder nitrate residues on the front panel and window frame of the car’s front passenger side and its rear right side.

Salvador said that the physical, documentary and testimonial evidence “clearly established” that the red Toyora Vios (GSC-995) was the same vehicle mentioned in the search warrant.

“This linkage convincingly proved that (Senior Supt. Romualdo) Iglesia as well as other HPG 7 personnel are involved in the slaying and wounding of (Atty. Noel) Archival and his companions,” said Salvador.

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on April 17, 2014.

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