Sandiganbayan junks Pestaño slay case for lack of jurisdictionBy Cynthia Balana, Nikko Dizon
Philippine Daily Inquirer
The Sandiganbayan on Tuesday dismissed the murder case filed by the Office of the Ombudsman against 10 former and active Navy officers in connection with the death of Ensign Philip Andrew Pestaño on board BRP Bacolod City in 1995 for lack of jurisdiction.
The antigraft court also lifted the hold-departure order it issued on Jan. 25 against all the accused.
In a 13-page decision, the antigraft court’s Third Division said it did not have jurisdiction over low-ranking officers and dismissed the case “without prejudice to filing of the same case in the proper court.”
The Sandiganbayan said it only handles cases involving officers starting from the rank of colonel in the Philippine Army and Air Force, and from the rank of captains in the Navy.
The highest rank among the accused was held by Lt. Cmdr. Ricardo Ordoñez. But at the time of the incident, he was occupying a position two levels lower than that of naval captain,” the decision noted.
“The accused are therefore correct in claiming that this court has no jurisdiction over the case,” it said.
Other coaccused in the crime were Navy Commanders Reynaldo Lopez and Alfrederick Alba; Lieutenant Commanders Luidegar Casis, Joselito Colico at Ruben Roque; Machinery Repairman 2nd Class Sandy Miranda; Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Welmenio Aquino; Petty Officer 1st Class Carlito Amoroso; Petty Officer 2nd Class Mil Leonor Igacasan, and a “John Doe.”
Pestaño was found dead in his cabin on BRP Bacolod City, a supply ship to which he was assigned, on Sept. 27, 1995. Military investigators had concluded the ensign committed suicide.
But Pestaño family members said the young ensign had threatened to expose illegal activities in the Navy, including an allegation that the ship was transporting weapons, illegally cut logs, and drugs.
They believe he did not commit suicide but instead was murdered in order to silence him.
The lawyers of the accused Navy officers called the decision “a victory.”
“It’s already a victory,” lawyer Ana Luz Cristal told reporters in Camp Aguinaldo in a phone interview.
Cristal also said the Sandiganbayan’s order could also invalidate the order of the Ombudsman to dismiss her clients from military service.
“I think that could be. We are assuming that already,” Cristal said.
Lopez, one of the accused, added that whether or not their victory was temporary, the antigraft court’s decision had already dealt a big blow to the prosecution.
“This only means that the Ombudsman itself made many mistakes: They made their own information, they violated their own law, their own rule. They know that those who can be charged at the Sandiganbayan are only those with Salary Grade 27 (and above) but they insisted (on charging us) even if we were under Salary Grade 26. This is to their own embarrassment,” Lopez said in Filipino.
Asked if the Pestaño family would pursue the case in the lower courts, Lopez said “they have the right to do so” but asked them to think hard about it.
“They know it was suicide. If they insist on the case, they would have to find (evidence)… and present a prima facie case,” Lopez said.
Cristal insisted there was no basis to pursue a criminal case against her clients since all the investigative bodies that looked into the incident concluded that Pestaño had committed suicide.
The Pestaño family have yet to comment on the decision.