Former volunteers of the Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) and the Netherland Development Organization (SNV) made public their bitter distress over allegations of “special protection” extended by “some elements of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) in Bohol to the prime suspects in the brutal murder of Atty. Manuelita “Mia” Mascarinas Green.
The volunteers who were assigned by the VSO and the SNV to work in the Philippines wrote the Sangguniang Panlalawigan (SP) expressing their “outrage at the injustice inflicted on Mia and her family.”
In an email message to the Office of the Vice Governor and the SP, seventy-three former VSO volunteers urged the SP to ensure that the perpetrators of the premeditated and brutal murder of Atty. Mia are brought to justice with both speed and efficiency.
Deeply disturbed by allegations of “special protection” extended by the PNP and the NBI in Bohol to the prime suspects in the murder of Atty. Mia compelled the volunteers to seek the assistance of the SP.
NBI Bohol Chief Atty. Rennan Augustus Oliva when asked to respond to the allegations of the VSO volunteers said in a text message ” Can you please go to our office on Monday and read our final report on our investigation. Unsay ilang basis sa ilang statement kay libelous kaau na (What is the basis of their libelous statements?).”
The Chronicle was still awaiting the response of Bohol Police Provincial Director, Police Senior Superintendent Felipe Natividad.
The letter raised serious concerns over “claims of connections” to the very center of power in the Philippines of the alleged “mastermind” of the killing who they believed hails from Mawab, Compostela Valley whose father is a retired member of the “security forces who now owns a security agency in Tagum.”
The former colleagues of Stuart Green, husband of Atty Mia also asked tourists “to think twice about visiting Bohol until this crime has been solved and to inform the Bohol resorts they were planning to visit as to the reason.”
The SP, in its regular session on May 5, 2017 passed a resolution urging law enforcement authorities to bring the alleged perpetrators to justice.
The SNV, a Hague-based non-profit, international development organization established in 1965 providing capacity development services to local organizations in 38 countries focusing on agriculture, renewable energy, and water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH).
According to the letter addressed to the SP, the VSO volunteers were “appalled to know of the immediate release” of the murder suspects after they were arrested for illegal possession of illegal drugs, firearms, and ammunition – “upon the recommendation of the local prosecutor.”
Apparently referring to Lloyd Gonzaga and Romarico Benigian, the prime suspects in the killing of the 49-year old lawyer and public accountant, who were both arrested by a police composite team on October 13, 2016 inside the premises of Alona Embrace Hotel located at Purok 7, Barangay Tawala, Panglao.
But Gonzaga was released on bail a few days later and the complaints were dismissed by Assistant Provincial Prosecutor Mildred Maglajos in a joint resolution on November 24, 2016, on the grounds that the small hut where the firearms and illegal drugs were found was not indicated in the sketch described in the search warrant.
A warrant for the arrest of Gonzaga and Benegian was eventually issued after Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 2 Presiding Judge Jennifer Chavez-Marcos ruled on January 12, 2017 that the search was valid paving the way for the reversal of the dismissal order by the Office of the Provincial Prosecutor.
Upon receipt of the decision, Deputy Provincial Prosecutor Eric M. Ucat, in a seven-page joint order on March 31, 2017 “reversed, set aside and modified, accordingly” the November 24, 2016 joint resolution dismissing the complaints against Gonzaga and Benigi-an.
An arrest order was issued by RTC Branch 48 Presiding Judge Jorge Cabalit on April 7, 2017, against Gonzaga and Benegian for unlawful possession of firearms and ammunition and violation of RA 9165 known as the “Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.”
The letter also assailed the seeming ease in which the alleged perpetrators fled Bohol “possibly because it took so long for the police to apply for a search warrant” taking a jab at both the police and the judicial system.
The police reportedly applied for a search warrant in the morning of February 16, 2017 before Judge Chavez, went back before the close of office hours at 5:00PM and conducted the search at Alona Embrace Hotel, the residence of the suspects in Barangay Tawala, Panglao in the early morning hours of February 17, 2017.
It remains unclear if hot pursuit operations were conducted by police authorities hours after the identity of the suspects were confirmed by an eyewitness to the killing.
ABSENT FROM THE SCENE
Gonzaga claimed in their counter-affidavits that they were nowhere in the scene of the crime at JA Clarin cor Zamora Sts., Barangay Dao, Tagbilaran City at around 4:50 in the afternoon of February 15, 2017 with closed circuit television (CCTV) footages supporting their contentions.
Gonzaga left for Davao City via Jagna together with his wife in the afternoon of February 14, 2017 arriving at their parent’s residence in Ladislawa Garden Village, Buhangin, Davao City at 11:54 in the morning of February 15, 2017.
On the part of Benegian, two witnesses executed a joint affidavit proving that they “positively saw Benegian in the smoking area of Alona Embrace Hotel in the afternoon of February 15, 2017 “at about 4:00 PM until about 6:30 to 7:00 PM.”
The volunteers chided the Bohol PNP for declaring that the murder of Atty. Mia has been “virtually solved” with the identification of the killers.
These previous declarations “are not helpful and simply do not stand up. A crime can only be considered solved once the perpetrators are caught and convicted”, the letter stressed.
Calling on the PNP, NBI and the prosecution service to “step up their game” by acting with utmost efficiency in the preparation of evidence – forensic and testimonial.
Gonzaga and Benegian are facing warrants of arrests for three counts of attempted murder against the three children of Stuart and Mia Green with bail set at PhP120,000 each issued by RTC Branch lll Presiding Judge Leo Lison designated as the Family Court.
Benegian, who was later identified in a police rogue gallery by the nanny of the three kids opened the left car door and after finishing off Atty. Mia with several shots aimed his gun at her and the three children but apparently, the gun jammed.
According to the nanny’s testimony, Benegian left the crime scene on board a motorcycle after giving her a smile “as if he was mocking me.”
While Gonzaga, after failing to unlock the right car door left on board a motorcycle driven by a male person.
A non-bailable order of arrest was also issued against Gonzaga by RTC Branch 48 Presiding Judge Jorge Cabalit for violation of Republic Act (R.A.) 10591 known as the “Comprehensive Firearms and Ammunition Regulation Act”.
Both suspects and several John Does are still at large. (Chito M. Visarra)