THE assault on Prosecutor Irene Alejado-Meso was connected to her work in the Office of Regional State Prosecutor, where she sits on several panels handling high-profile cases.
This was the assessment of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) in Northern Mindanao, which stepped into the case after the Office of the Regional State Prosecutor (ORSP) expressed disappointment with the way the local police are handling the investigation.
Regional State Prosecutor Jaime L. Umpa underscored NBI’s entry into the case, saying it needs “competent investigators to reassure government prosecutors that any danger they face in the performance of their duty is responded to resolutely.”
Tuesday’s attack on Prosecutor Meso has brought alarm among the members of the prosecution, Umpa said. A number of fiscals working under the ORSP have not reported to duty since the incident occurred out of fear, he added.
NBI-Northern Mindanao Director Romulo G. Manapsal shared Umpa’s view, saying “the incident should not be taken for granted because it affects not only to the victim but the entire prosecution bureau.”
Information gathered by the NBI showed that the assault on Meso was tied to a case she is presently handling, Manapsal said, adding they are not discounting other possible motives.
The NBI official, however, was unable to specify which case because it may jeopardize the ongoing investigation.
“We are optimistic we will able to identify the perpetrators and bring them to justice,” Manapsal said. “We have witnesses who can identify them especially that the incident was done in broad daylight.”
He added: “We are not giving a timetable but we well leave no stone unturned in our investigation.”
Umpa decided to enlist NBI’s help into the case after City Police Director Benedicto B. Lopez said the incident may have been a carnapping case—not attempted kidnapping as the lady prosecutor believed it had been.
Umpa said it was unbecoming of Lopez to speculate on the carnapping angle, when the victim herself believed the two men had tried to abduct her, and the police investigation was still ongoing.
Umpa lectured Lopez on the “principle of criminal investigation.”
“In all stages of criminal investigation, evidential reasoning for which the motive stands should be given weight. You just don’t fire off speculations after reading a police report, which most likely is lacking in important details,” the regional prosecutor said.
“That said, any law enforcer should keep his mouth shut until the investigation is over. What’s he’s (Lopez) doing now is at best is muddle the investigation,” he added.
Lopez told another local daily last week that the men who tried to overpower Meso in her car could have been aiming for her Toyota Vios, bearing license plate KDZ-329.
Citing the report from the Macasandig Police Station, the official noted that the men had tried to wrest Meso’s car key and attempted to start the engine but failed.
Umpa said the police “miserably” misinterpreted the prosecutor’s narration of the event, and failed to consider other events that occurred during the incident.
Based on Meso's narration, Umpa said the men did not try to throw her out of the car -- as Lopez had suggested.
“They held on to her, and it was the victim who struggled to get out of the car for her safety,” he said.
The police, he said, also failed to account the wrench left by the men inside Meso’s car. Meso had earlier said her attackers may have been planning to knock her unconscious with it.
Reddish scratches were still visible from the prosecutor’s face and neck when she spoke to this paper at the Macasandig Police Station, three hours after the incident.
Umpa said it was also impossible for Meso’s attackers to stage a carnapping in a crowded place, where traffic enforcers are visible all day long.
“Her (Meso) car is just plain Toyota Vios, not a Ferrari or something that you’d risk your life with it. Carnappers can find that car in many parking lots in Cagayan de Oro,” he said.
Jacinto J. Oco, a traffic aide who witnessed the incident, said the two men calmly walked to a waiting vehicle -- a red Mitsubishi Strada, which was positioned just a meter away from the prosecutor’s car.
Seeing that Meso was still screaming at the men, Oco said he tried to stop the car but the driver accelerated instead, nearly hitting him.
A check at the Land Transportation Office traced the name and address of the getaway vehicle. A pursuit operation ensued three hours after the incident.
However, the pickup type vehicle bearing license plate GDD-899 inside Villa Angela Subdivision in Barangay Balulang was a red Mazda -- not Mitsubishi Strada.
Probers said the getaway vehicle may have been carrying a fake license plate.
Umpa said the attempt to kidnap Meso appeared to have been planned.
“That the type and color of the two vehicles matched could have meant that the brains behind this foiled kidnapping had planned of this well. More likely, they sought and found a vehicle closely resembling theirs and copied the plate number,” he said.
Among the high-profile cases Meso currently is the rebellion case against Alfredo Mapano, who is said to be the highest ranking cadre of the New People's Army in Northern Mindanao. Mapano was captured in Cagayan de Oro last year.
Meso also handles several drug cases in Cagayan de Oro and the rape case filed against three policemen in Lanao del Norte last year.
She is also a member of a panel that recommended criminal cases against the suspects in the cybersex den raided by authorities a year ago. One of the suspected operators is a police officer assigned at Camp Crame (not Alagar, as earlier reported). (Annabelle L. Ricalde)