DIGOS CITY, Philippines—One of the suspected killers of the Rev. Cecilio Lucero of the Catubig parish in Northern Samar in 2009 might have thought he could run forever from justice by hiding in the sleepy town of Sta. Cruz in Davao del Sur.
But Jerry Espera, a former soldier who hails from Mondragon in Northern Samar, made the biggest mistake of his life by applying for a job as bodyguard of Sta. Cruz Mayor Joel Ray Lopez.
Lopez said it was his practice to thoroughly verify the backgrounds of individuals applying for jobs in the government and most of all of people wanting to be part of his bodyguard.
Lopez said about two weeks ago, while on an official trip to Manila, he received a call from a man who identified himself as a member of the Lopez clan too.
“He wanted to be my bodyguard and told me about his background as a soldier,” the mayor told the Inquirer.
Lopez said he had misgivings about accepting the call because he did not know the man in the first place and he wondered how the former soldier got his number.
Lopez said he told the man to wait for his return so they could meet in person.
After Lopez returned from Manila, he said, the man showed up at his office in Sta. Cruz.
The name Jerry Domasig Espera of Mondragon, Northern Samar, was clearly written on the application, Lopez said.
He said he told Espera to wait to be contacted by the mayor’s office.
After the man left, Lopez said, he had the man’s picture scanned and e-mailed to the police in Northern Samar.
When the feedback came, it turned out that Espera was one of the suspects in the killing of Father Lucero.
Lopez also learned that Espera had a pending warrant for kidnapping with rape.
Lopez had Espera arrested on February 12 on the strength of the pending warrant and he has since been returned to Northern Samar, according to Sta. Cruz police chief Senior Inspector Alfredo Santillana.
The priest, a younger brother of former Northern Samar Rep. Wilmar Lucero, was driving his car in the morning of September 6, 2009 when he ambushed by some 30 masked men in Barangay Layuhan in San Jose, Northern Samar.
One of the priest’s companions, Isidro Miras, was wounded but his police escort was unscathed.
The former congressman said that prior to the ambush, the priest had called him to say he had had an argument with the commander of an Army detachment in Catubig, also in Northern Samar, over alleged abuses by soldiers.
The Lucero family and the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines asked then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to act swiftly on the priest’s killing.