A SENATE panel grilled an undersecretary of the Department of Justice (DOJ) on Tuesday at the resumption of its hearing on the killing of former Albuera, Leyte mayor Rolando Espinosa.
The hearing was conducted by the Senate committee and dangerous drugs chaired by Senator Panfilo Lacson and committee on justice and human rights headed by Senator Richard Gordon.
In a report dated March 12, the Senate panels recommended the filing of murder charges against former police Criminal Investigation and Detection Group in Eastern Visayas chief Superintendent Marvin Marcos and 18 others, saying the killing of Espinosa was "premeditated".
The investigation on Wednesday focused on the DOJ's going against the recommendations of the Senate panel after it decided to downgrade the charges from murder to homicide thereby allowing the suspects, mostly CIDG members, to post bail and get back to work after being reinstated.
Justice Undersecretary Reynante Orceo who owned up to have done the review and making the recommendation to downgrade the charges appeared at the hearing to explain the DOJ side.
Obviously piqued, Lacson asked Orceo if his authorization to recommend the downgrading of the charges against Marcos and others from murder to homicide is still valid with the issuance of the Justice Secretary of Circular 19 that limits his authority to review and decide petitions to those petitions submitted within the period of July 1 to Dec. 31, 2016.
Lacson learned that the petition to review the charges against Marcos and were filed April 5, 2017, which Lacson figures makes Orceo's recommendations invalid.
Lacson also wondered why Circular 19 was hard to find and not available on their website.
Orceo said he acted on his own and was given by Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre III the right to decide the matter even without the DOJ chief's approval.
Senator Gordon described the DOJ decision as "salahula."
"It stinks, and it is unforgivable," the senator said.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said that the hearing only showed that there was a cover-up.
"If anything, the hearing this morning proved that there’s a cover-up on the liability of Marcos. Instead of being able to explain what happened, it is obvious from the hearing today that there’s a deliberate cover-up to allow Marcos and his group to be reinstated and to allow Marcos and his group to be able to post bail. To me, what the hearing today confirms is a conspiracy to cover-up," Drilon said.
Despite the findings of National Bureau of Investigation, the Senate, the Internal Audit Services and the earlier DOJ resolution saying it was murder, the DOJ has stood by its decision to downgrade the charges.
Drilon said that it is part of the cover-up, particularly in the case of Orceo.
"Maliwanang naman na talagang nagkasabwatan para hindi mailabas ang katotohanan. Ang sinabi ng NBI, murder; ang sinabi ng Senate, murder; ang sabi ng Secretary of Justice sa Senado, murder; ang sabi ni Orcero, hindi ko narining lahat ‘yan, wala sa record ‘yan. Kaya maliwanag na may cover-up. Ang nangunguna rito siguro ang pinuno ng Department of Justice," Drilon said.
Drilon figured that Justice Secretary did not attend the hearing to avoid the difficult questions.
"Where he (Aguirre) agreed earlier that it was a premeditated killing. A first year law student would know that premeditation is a qualifying circumstance and therefore, a killing that is premeditated is murder. And yet, his undersecretary said it’s homicide and I disregard the opinion of the secretary of justice," Drilon said, adding that he would recommend that Aguirre should be compelled to attend.
Drilon said he is studying the accountability of Orceo under the anti-graft law if any and would recommend to the committee to file charges against him if necessary.
"If there’s basis I would not hesitate to recommend to the committee that we file an anti-graft case against Orceo, at the very least, because, obviously, he’s lying. His testimony is not credible at all. It’s part of the cover-up," he said.
Drilon find it hard to believe that Orceo acted on his own without consulting his superior.
Asked by reporters, as to the cover up as for what or the benefit of whom, Drilon responded: "For the benefit of Marcos. Because they do want to charge him with murder and they downgraded the charges. Obviously he was reinstated because of his finding that there was no premeditated killing, that there was no act committed, which would warrant dismissal. If the finding was murder, there could have been a dismissal from service. Because of the cover up, he would stay in service."
Drilon asked reporters: "Maniniwala ba kayo na ang ginawa ni Orceo ay walang basbas ng kaniyang sekretaryo? Maniniwala ba kayo that Orceo did this on his own? Is it credible?"
As to the validity of Orceo's recommendation considering Circular 19, Drilon said that an appeal must be made from the resolution of the prosecutor.
"I don't know if that is still feasible. But the problem is, the NBI cannot do that, even if they’re the complaining party, because the NBI is under the control and supervision of the DOJ secretary. Maybe the relatives of Yap and Espinosa can file a petition for review before our regular court system," he said.
Senator Paolo Benigno "Bam" Aquino said the return of Supt. Marvin Marcos and his men to service sends a bad signal to the public that anyone can get away with any wrongdoing, including murder, as long as they have close ties with high officials of the country.
“What signal does this send? Kapag gumawa ka ng mali, as long as okay ka sa taas, ibabalik ka sa puwesto. That's the signal being sent to the public,” said Sen. Bam during the hearing of the Committee on Public Order and Illegal Drugs on the downgrading of the murder case against Marcos and his men and their subsequent return to service.
For their part, the NBI represented by Director Dante Gierran and the DOJ panel of prosecutors represented by Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Lilian Doris Alejo, reaffirmed their conclusions in their reports, that the Espinosa slay was clearly premeditated and that murder charges should be filed against suspected members of the PNP.
"Why are we risking the credibility of the police force for these individuals?” questioned Aquino.
Senator Grace Poe, for her part, blamed Philippine National Police Chief Ronald de La Rosa for his failure to explain to President Duterte the implications of the controversial DOJ decision.
"Dapat nag recommend ka kay Presidente kung ano ang tama. We all know that this is not right," Poe said.
PNP Chief replied: "I am trained to follow orders. The President ordered me to put them to work as they are paid for by the government".
"For the record, wala po akong binago sa recommendation. Sinunod ko lang ang DOJ decision," de La Rosa said.
Poe said that those in the DOJ who recommended murder charges against Marcos et al were transferred to other parts of the country, which Poe found malicious.
Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Lillian Doris Alejo, one of those who recommended murder charges to be filed against Marcos maintained her stand that it was premeditated murder.
She explained that everything was based on facts and testimony and circumstances.
"Hindi po normal para sa akin bilang prosecutor na mag-o-operate mga pulis nang madaling araw at i-di-disarm ang kapwa pulis at pinaluhod pa ng patalikod sa.kanila, at nung may nag thumbs down ay pumutok na ang mga baril," she said. (SunStar Philippines)