CEBU

Seares: Remember the Ella Joy murder? Christine case could go same way

News Sense

LOURDES Pardillo, mother of Christine Lee Silawan, was “confused” when last Saturday, March 23, she learned that DSWD, on order of the Lapu-Lapu City prosecutor, released from its custody the teenaged suspect in the killing of her 16-year-old daughter.

On the same day, a few hours after the suspect walked, the family buried Christine at a memorial park in Cordova town. Last March 11, her body was found on a vacant lot in Bankal, Lapu-Lapu City. With the face disfigured by skinning or acid-splashing, the body bearing a total of 30 stab wounds all over it and some internal body parts removed, Christine was a clear victim of “savage and ghoulish” violence.

Illegal arrest

The suspect, 17, said to be her former boyfriend, was arrested March 16, six days after the murder, with the NBI armed with a search warrant, not a warrant of arrest. Last Friday, March 22, the prosecutor ruled the arrest was illegal: (1) There was a long gap between the killing and the actual arrest and thus could not be deemed the result of “hot pursuit.” (2) NBI agents who made the arrest didn’t have “personal knowledge” that the suspect killed Christine.

A news report also said the prosecutor made it clear in the order that DSWD may choose to continue keeping custody because of the circumstances the boy was caught in. Obviously, DSWD did not.

Not held, yet not off the hook

Preempted by NBI in cracking the case, the police was not miffed; it’s the same government, PNP Region Chief Debold Sinas said. It has already declared the case solved. With the teenage suspect’s release, the prosecutor stopped the inquest proceeding. What is going on? The family of Christine has the right to ask that.

The preliminary investigation will proceed but with the suspect no longer in DSWD custody. With his lawyer, the boy can defend the case outside the confines of a jail or a “Bahay ng Pag-asa.”

The prosecutor either dismisses the case or finds probable cause to file charges in court. If it files the information, it must allege that the accused “acted with discernment,” the reason he is being treated as an adult. He is not detained but he’s not “off the hook.”

Is the process confusing? To mother Lourdes, it is: “Ambot lang ana, oy. Nganong in-ana man?” She is grieving, aside from being clueless like many of us about the process. But the police, the prosecutors and DSWD, through its lawyers, know.

Minglanilla kidnapping

Eight years ago, on Feb. 8, 2011, Ella Joy Pique, a six-year-old grader, was kidnapped by a man and a woman in a dark Pajero, while she was walking home from school with friends in Minglanilla, Cebu. The following day, her naked body was found on a cliffside in Barili town, wrapped with three boulders in a white bed sheet. Three meters away were found her school bag, skirt, shorts and two P50 bills.

The brutality had some parallel with the Christine murder. But the comparison is more relevant on fumbles in arrest and prosecution.

Police at first pinned Ella Joy’s killing on Karen Esdrelon, a Cebuana, and a Norwegian national, Sven Erik. Then, on another local-foreigner couple, Bella Ruby Santos and British national Ian Charles Griffiths. Karen and Sven were cleared by prosecutors while Ruby was acquitted in court; Ruby’s partner Charles had fled the country. The prosecution relied on circumstantial evidence, mostly on testimony of Ella Joy’s friends.

Then RTC Judge Ester Veloso Ester threw out the case against Bella Ruby on a “demurrer to evidence,” that is, the defense didn’t need to present any evidence, indicating how weak the People’s case was.

Fumbling, reminder

In the Christine case, police already fell on its face in tagging Jonas Bueno, arrested in Davao City for a Danao City murder, as primary suspect. Now, the NBI appears to be teetering on its attack on the minor whom it arrested and charged for the killing.

The boy’s release must remind law enforcers to follow protocol during arrest. And this: the imperative of having evidence that convinces the prosecutor there is “probable cause” and the judge that the accused is guilty “beyond reasonable doubt.” Police and NBI consider the case technically closed with the arrest of the suspect. If the evidence does not stand in court, that becomes the problem of prosecutors who had nothing to do with the case build-up.

Let’s not have a killer or killers who will get away with Christine’s murder, as the murderers of Ella Joy did.

[“Seares: Is Bella Ruby Santos ‘innocent’?” SunStar Cebu, Oct. 12, 2014.]


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