Probe bureau chief sacked over kidnap-extortion case

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Thursday, January 19, 2012

MANILA (Updated) -- Magtanggol Gatdula will end his two-year stint as the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) chief after a panel of investigators found him criminally and administratively liable for the kidnapping of a Japanese national.

A three-man panel of investigators led by Undersecretary Francisco Baraan III furnished a report about Gatdula’s involvement in the case filed by Japanese businesswoman Noriya Ohara.

Gatdula said he is ready as he is also set to counter the allegations hurled against him.


“I serve at the pleasure of the President (Benigno Aquino III) as his appointee. With regard to the report of the fact-finding panel, there will be legal action, so we will face them in the legal front,” Gatdula told Sun.Star.

According to the panel, Gatdula appears to have prior knowledge of the criminal operation carried out by a team of NBI agents who kidnapped Ohara.

But Justice Secretary Leila de Lima asked the panel to reassess Gatdula's criminal culpability to determine the extent of his participation in the case.

She said she wants a final determination whether Gatdula should be held responsible for either direct participation, just an accessory, or obstruction of justice.

In a 176-page report, the panel recommended a reshuffle or revamp of key officials of the NBI to set a new direction and to infuse fresh leadership and effective management in the entire institution of the NBI.

Except for Gatdula's case, de Lima said the panel's recommendations regarding criminal culpability of the other NBI officials and agents involved would still be subject to a preliminary investigation by the National Prosecution Service.

The recommendation for administrative sanctions would be forwarded to the Office of the Ombudsman for proper action.

De Lima said Aquino was already furnished a copy of the report.

“We’ve been working with them (NBI) in other cases, so it’s been very painful for us to reach this decision. That’s why I am asking the panel to review and reassess the exact culpability of Director Gatdula for kidnapping and serious illegal detention. Given the rank, the status, given the magnitude, I just want to be very sure,” de Lima said.

Aside from Gatdula, the panel recommended for preliminary investigation for kidnapping and serious illegal detention NBI officials identified as Mario Garcia, special investigator and former chief of the NBI-Security Management Division (SMD); his assets Chona Elen Esplana and Virgelito Gutierrez alias “Labsky”; Raul Dimaano, special assistant director for Gatdula; Senior Inspector Jose Odelon Cabillan, former executive officer of the NBI-SMD.

Also recommended to be held criminally liable were other “security volunteers” who participated in the kidnapping for ransom identified as Eduardo Romeo, Arman Alumisen, Fritz Gerald Argente, Marvin del Prado, a certain former Master Sergeant Dela Cruz, Donald Dela Cruz, Ricee Marquez, Rinee Marquez, Carl Plantado, a certain “Mags”, Jay Ducusin, and John and Jane Does.

The panel based its report on the testimony of NBI special investigator Jose Odelon Cabillan, who claimed that Gatdula also covered up for the operation of the other respondents to abduct and extort money from Ohara.

The Japanese complainant had come to the country in 2009 to evade alleged Yakuza syndicate members who were said to be running after her, and had taken up residence with a Filipino family in Pangasinan.

Ohara reportedly managed to enter the country without passing through immigration, thereby making her an undocumented alien.

Based on the panel’s findings, Garcia gave direct orders to the SMD team whom he illegally sent to Gueset village, Bugallon, Pangasinan, to unlawfully take, kidnap, detain, and keep under their guard Ohara, who had assumed the alias “Marife Laganas”.

The SMD team also allegedly demanded and accepted ransom in exchange for her release.

The Marzan family, Ohara’s host, in its sworn statement, alleged that the members of the NBI-SMD arrested the Japanese national for immigration violations last October 28, 2011.

The Marzan family added that the NBI asked for the amount of P100 million in exchange of Ohara's freedom but the amount was reduced to P15 million after negotiations.

Members of the Marzan clan -- Glenda Marzan, Cristina Vinluan and Johnny Perez -- promised to pay P6 million in installments to the NBI agents in order to facilitate her release.

They identified Cabillan and a certain Chona as the ones who received their first payment amounting to P1 million last October 29. On November 2, 2011, the Marzans gave P4 million to Cabillan inside the SMD chief's office and another P1 million on November 9, 2011.

“The panel hopes that this fact-finding investigation has served the purpose of uncovering the truth with the end view of bringing those responsible therefore, the bar of justice and account for their misdeeds and wrongdoing inflicted upon the hapless Japanese woman and the Marzan family,” the report stated.

Meanwhile, deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said the President has already received and reviewed the report's contents and has made a corresponding action.

"He did not pose any objections to the recommendations of the panel,” she said, adding Gatdula's removal shows Aquino’s impartiality to either friends or foes.

The Palace allayed the fears of foreigners who may experience similar incidents, saying the government will ensure accountability and not tolerate such act.

Gatdula’s successor will be announced by Aquino, said de Lima, as she was reportedly asked by the President to submit a list of possible replacements.

For now, de Lima said the President gave her the clearance to appoint an officer-in-charge until Gatdula’s replacement will be named.

While his exit has been controversial, Gatdula’s entry to the Aquino administration in July 2010 was also given a political color due to his professional ties with Senator Panfilo Lacson, who was then hunted by the government for double murder charges.

Gatdula served as deputy chief of Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Task Force headed by Lacson when he was still the concurrent chief of Philippine National Police back in 1999.

In his Road Map to 2020, Gatdula said he is “bent on having the NBI feared and revered by the people, feared by lawless elements, and revered by law-abiding citizens.” (Virgil Lopez/Jill Beltran/JCV/Sunnex)

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