DAVAO CITY -- Three of the four persons accused in the kidnapping of an Indian national here last April pleaded not guilty during their arraignment before the Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 16 on Monday, June 22.

Respondents Josephine Urdaneta Onas and siblings Bobby and Noel Onin entered a not guilty plea to the charges of kidnapping and serious illegal detention filed against them.

Meanwhile, RTC Branch 16 presiding Judge Emmanuel Carpio ordered the postponement of the arraignment for another accused, Indian-national Jerry Singh Balbir, to July 14 after his legal counsel, lawyer Rene Alexis Villarente, requested for an interpreter from the Indian Embassy due to difficulty in communicating with Balbir.

Carpio also told Balbir's counsel to send a letter, requesting for an interpreter for the accused, to the Indian Embassy in Manila and the Bureau of Immigration as there is no local counterpart available in the city.

Villarente, during the hearing, also said that he will coordinate with the Davao Medical School Foundation for someone who can serve as an interpreter during the scheduled arraignment.

Lawyer Michael Castanos assisted the Onin brothers during the arraignment, while Onas, who is the live-in partner of Balbir, was assisted by Villarente.

Carpio scheduled the pre-trial conference for all of the accused on July 27.

Earlier reports said that the four accused, together with two unidentified cohorts, were charged with kidnapping and serious illegal detention by Prosecutor Faizal Padate in a resolution dated April 20, based on the complaint filed by victim Jaspal Singh Malhi and testimonies of Bhupinder Singh, Sukhdeep Sidhu, Lolita Suco and police operatives who negotiated with the suspects for the release of the victim.

Malhi was abducted on April 7 after collecting money from his borrowers in Ula. He was on his way home when a white Mitsubishi Montero blocked his way. Three suspects alighted from the same vehicle and forcibly abducted him at gunpoint.

The Onins were arrested near their residence at Purok 3, Punta Dumalag in Matina Aplaya after Senior Police Officer 2 (SPO2) Jores Salaysay and SPO2 Alvin Vales of the Anti-Kidnapping Group-Mindanao coordinated with the victim's relative Sukhdeep Sindhu in negotiating with the Onins until they agreed to have a payoff of P200,000 in exchange for Malhi's release wherein the supposed payoff turned out to be a police entrapment operation.

Balbir and Onas' arrest, on the other hand, followed as they were pinpointed by Ronald Santic of Purok Dragon Fruits in Tugbok, who confessed to the police that he was supposed to be part of the kidnapping, and the victim. They were arrested around 6 a.m. at their residence. (Sun.Star Davao)