MANILA, Philippines—Puerto Princesa City Mayor Edward Hagedorn suspects a conspiracy in the transfer of the remaining state witness in the January 2011 murder of Palawan broadcaster Gerry Ortega to the same jail where another state witness was killed last week.
Hagedorn said he found it suspicious that both suspects-turned-state witnesses were suddenly confronted with cases in Lucena City to justify their removal from the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Witness Protection Program (WPP) and their eventual transfer to the Quezon provincial jail.
“It’s very alarming… Something is wrong. We see a conspiracy,” said the long-time city mayor who is running for Senate as an independent candidate.
Hagedorn said he suspected “employees of the DOJ working with whoever is working to transfer the witnesses to Lucena.”
“Why Lucena in both cases? It seems that’s what they’ll use as a slaughterhouse,” Hagedorn added.
Dennis Aranas, the alleged lookout, was found hanging inside his cell at the Quezon provincial jail in Lucena City on Feb. 7.
Jail officials immediately ruled it as a suicide, but an autopsy by the forensic officer of the Public Attorney’s Ofice indicated that Aranas was beaten and strangled to death.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said Aranas was removed from the WPP last year because prosecutors decided his testimony was “immaterial” to the Ortega murder case.
Due to Aranas’ fate, the remaining state witness Rodolfo “Bumar” Edrad Jr. is now terrified of testifying, according to Hagedorn.
Edrad, who allegedly hired the gunman who killed Ortega in broad daylight in front of a used clothing store in Puerto Princesa City two years ago, had implicated Palawan Gov. Joel Reyes and his brother Coron Mayor Mario Reyes to the murder.
The Reyes brothers went into hiding and have remained at large.
Hagedorn said Edrad’s testimony was very important to the case since he had pointed to the mastermind.
The mayor claimed Edrad had been told by his handler in the WPP that after he testifies in the Ortega case, he would be brought to Lucena City to face the case filed against him.
“So he does not want to testify anymore. He’s afraid. It’s a slaughterhouse,” Hagedorn said.
Hagedorn questioned the timing of the filing of the case against Edrad in Lucena City, adding it was “highly questionable” for a judge to issue a warrant without a hearing to verify the complaint.
He said Edrad had been seen on TV many times before, but “after he was offered money and he rejected it, a witness came out.”
Before Aranas died, another suspect turned state witness Percival Necias Sr., the alleged source of the gun used to kill Ortega, died while under police custody in September last year.
Hagedorn said they were told Necias died of a kidney ailment. “But we never learned if he was poisoned because no one followed it up,” he said.