ZAMBOANGA CITY, Southern Philippines – Mayor Celso Lobregat wants the truth on the fatal shooting of a policeman and a state-protected witness while supposedly secure inside a justice department safehouse somewhere east of the city.
He dismissed feedback from the city’s police that the shooting, which injured a second state witness, was simply the result of the conflict between the late Police Officer 1 Tomasito Dauba and the now detained PO3 Carmelito Macansantos.
“There might be other motives really behind the incident. Let us not speculate but let us not also say the case is solved or that the case is finished,” the city mayor stressed of the July 5 incident.
“The court hearing on the kidnapping case is still ongoing and one witness is dead and another witness is in critical condition,” the mayor pointed out, referring to Marvin Agullana, Mark Ausley and the kidnapping of Eliseo Hablo.
Moreover, two of the accused in the criminal case Agullana and Ausley were testifying on are policemen, leading Lobregat to stress: “So what happens if there are no more witnesses? No more case.”
Lobregat’s call for a thorough investigation is put into context by how Zamboanga City has been beset my numerous cases of kidnap-for-ransom, the latest being the July 12 abduction of two US nationals and a Filipino.
A large majority of the kidnapping incidents in the remain unsolved. Those that have been resolved at the level of the police have been elevated to the trial courts, with the state offering protection to people who, like Agullana and Ausley, are willing to testify.
Police officers Dauba and Macansantos were among the protectors. While part of the police force got detailed to the justice department’s poorly-staffed Witness Protection Program as marshals.
Agullana and Ausley had information on the kidnapping of Hablo, a local businessman who ran a successful fishing company and who owned a chain of bakeries in the city.
Hablo was kidnapped in the evening of Jan. 8, 2009, while about to enter his residential compound along Gov. Camin Avenue.
Policemen recovered him in the morning of Feb. 10 of the same year after a raid of the alleged kidnappers’ hideout in Barangay San Roque, on the city’s western side.
The police raid resulted in the arrest of eight people, including the two policemen and a lawyer, the alleged mastermind. They are all detained at the Zamboanga City Reformatory Center (ZCRC).
Incidentally, a hearing was scheduled on the day of the shooting. Dauba, Agullana and Ausley were infact preparing to leave to attend the proceeding when gunshots were heard around 7:50 that morning.
Before they could go, narrated Sr. Supt. Edwin de Ocampo, Macansantos arrived at the safehouse and “uttered bad words.”
Dauba supposedly reacted and, in response, Macansantos drew his sidearm and opened fire, killing Dauba and hitting Agullana, who died at a local hospital a few hours later, and injuring Ausley who, as of this writing, reportedly remains under critical care.
“Matagal nang may alitan yong dalawa (Dauba and Macansantos hadn’t gotten along for some time),” disclosed De Ocampo, the current city police director, to whom Macansantos surrendered to after the shooting.
Amid Lobregat’s apprehension, De Ocampo has asked the Western Mindanao Regional Office of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to take over and, in the process, turned over to them custody of Macansantos.
Lobregat is now urging that the NBI’s probe focus on the circumstances that led to the killing and include a comprehensive review of the records of all policemen assigned to protect state witnesses.
This, he maintained, should include an evaluation of their medical records to ascertain their mental health. Policemen, he pointed out, are supposed to undergo a neurological and psychiatric examinations before entering force.
“The records have to be reviewed,” he said.
City Prosecutor Ricardo Cabaron, for his part, is confident that the prosecution of those indicted for the Hablo kidnapping can continue despite the loss of one state witness.
Cabaron said Agullana has already testified substantially in direct and cross examinations, explaining that, as such, his testimony “is now on the record.”
Ausley, though, still needs to return to the witness stand.
Meanwhile, De Ocampo said he has ordered an canvass of policemen they could pick to replace Dauba and Macansantos as protection marshals.
One of the requirements is that they are related to any of the suspects implicated in the kidnapping case. (Reported by Bong P. Garcia, Jr. for PECOJONPH/knr)