MANILA, Philippines—The Court of Appeals has affirmed the conviction of Buguey, Cagayan, Mayor Licerio Antiporda III for triple homicide, ending a 12-year judicial runaround, where no less than 17 CA justices inhibited themselves from the case.
In a decision finally promulgated on Jan. 17, the Court of Appeals Ninth Division, chaired by Associate Justice Noel Tijam with Associate Justices Romeo Barza and Edwin Sorongon as members, upheld a Manila trial court’s ruling sentencing Antiporda to a maximum 44 years in prison and to pay a P50,000 indemnity to each of the families of the three fatalities.
Antiporda’s bail bond, which granted him temporary liberty and allowed him to run and win his mayoral seat, was canceled in the 28-page decision.
Earlier, relatives of the victims had appealed to the Supreme Court to speed up the case, which was strangely stuck in the appeals court.
On Feb. 4, 2000, Manila trial court Judge Teresa Soriaso had found Antiporda guilty of killing three men—Edwin Cusit, Johnny Alonzo and Ben Magguddayao—and the attempted murder of another, Jimmy de Guzman, on May 8, 1995, an election day.
In 2002, then Court of Appeals Associate Justice Bienvenido Reyes reportedly upheld the lower court’s decision but the decision was recalled a few days later. Since then, the case had been repeatedly re-raffled. About 17 justices had one after another declined to handle the case. (Reyes last year was appointed to the Supreme Court.)
A well-placed court source told the Inquirer that a number of the justices who inhibited themselves from the case cited “personal reasons,” without specifying what these were.
In the recent decision, the appellate court revised only one part of the lower court’s decision, saying that Antiporda was guilty only of attempted homicide, and not attempted murder, in the case of De Guzman.
Antiporda’s coaccused, Reynaldo Tabilas, then the barangay captain of San Isidro in Buguey, died in 1998 and thus the cases against him were dismissed.
Bloody election day
Court records showed that Cusit, Alonzo and Magguddayao were killed and De Guzman wounded on a bloody election day in Buguey on May 8, 1995.
A few hours before the men were attacked, seven political supporters of Antiporda’s father, then Buguey Mayor Licerio Antiporda Jr., who was running for reelection, were “summarily executed” near a barrio where the Antipordas lived at the time.
Among those implicated, and eventually indicted, in the murders was lawyer Franklin Tamargo, who ran and lost against the older Antiporda.
At 10:30 p.m. of the same night, in Barangay Isidro, about five kilometers from the earlier killing site, Cusit, Alonzo, Magguddayao and De Guzman—all political supporters of Tamargo—were attacked by Antiporda III and Tabilas. The victims were in a jeepney waiting for the election results.
Known as “Cerry,” Antiporda at the time was only 22, the president of the Sangguniang Kabataan and the heir-apparent of his father as Buguey mayor.
In junking Antiporda’s appeal of his conviction, Justices Tijam, Barza and Sorongan said that none of the established exceptions were “present to warrant a reversal” of Judge Soriaso’s decision.
The justices said that the affidavits of desistance executed by the witnesses and the complainants, and submitted by Antiporda in his motion for a new trial in February 2006, “deserve[d] scant attention” because the Supreme Court itself does not give credence to such documents made “after the conviction of the accused.”
About 10 witnesses and complainants executed recantations and affidavits of desistance after Tamargo, who also acted as the private prosecutor, died.
While the justices said they could not completely ignore the affidavits of desistance cited by Antiporda in his appeal, they noted: “(T)he lapse of a considerable length of time from the moment the trial was held to the execution of said documents put to serious doubt the motive and sincerity of the authors of these documents as well as the circumstances surrounding their execution.”
The justices also said they were “not persuaded” by Antiporda’s other arguments that included the alibi that he was at home when the killings of Cusit et al. took place.