It was well planned but the cover story was shot full of holes.
The killings of two Ozamiz robbery gang leaders in police custody last week appeared to have been well planned, but a weak link in the plan gave way and yesterday the police brought murder charges against two of the 14 officers involved.
The killings highlighted the huge problems of the 150,000-strong police force, widely considered one of the most corrupt government agencies in the country.
Interior Secretary Mar Roxas said the investigation of the July 15 murders of Ricky Cadavero and Wilfredo Panogalinga Jr. was continuing to determine if other policemen involved also conspired to kill the two convicted gang leaders.
During the investigation, however, one of the policemen told the true story, including his own participation in faking evidence of the supposed attack on the police vehicle.
Roxas said the investigation was still in progress.
“We will not spare anyone. There will be no cover-up and no whitewash here,” he said.
Roxas said the masterminds and the motive for the killings, “whether it was to silence anyone or whatever,” were still not known.
“The point is these two men were shot while in the custody of the police and the first story the policemen gave us was false,” he said.
Asked why only two officers were charged, Roxas said he did not wish to preempt the gathering of evidence.
“The point here is that some people are being investigated if they were part of a conspiracy and should be charged as principals to murder. You need first to prove conspiracy. The crime of one is the crime of all,” he said.
Citing the results of a fact-finding probe by the Philippine National Police, Roxas said the shooting deaths of Cadavero and Panogalinga apparently at the hands of their police escorts appeared to have been well planned, bolstering suspicions of a rubout.
“Well, they had a cover story, right? But now it has been proven that the cover story is not true,” Roxas told reporters at a news conference in Camp Crame, Quezon City.
Roxas identified the charged police officers as Senior Insp. Manuel Magat and Insp. Efren Oco, members of the Regional Special Operations Group (RSOG) of the Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Aurora, Quezon) police.
The charges were based on the confession of one of the policemen who escorted the police vehicle that was carrying Cadavero and Panogalinga when the cops shot the two men, Roxas said.
Roxas said the earlier story of the policemen that motorcycle-riding men attacked the police vehicle in an attempt to spring Cadavero and Panogalinga was contradicted by the admission of one of the cops.
The officer who confessed also admitted that it was he who fired shots at their own vehicle, Roxas said.
The suspect had “admitted that he was the one who shot the right windshield and the front right wheel of the Toyota Hi-Ace van, meaning he was the one who shot at the Hi-Ace. It wasn’t true that (men on) motorcycles chased them or that a motorcycle rider shot at them,” Roxas said.
“He [the suspect] also averred that he believed that the gunshots that he heard coming from the rear portion of the van one meter away from where he was were the ones that hit Cadavero and Panogalinga. He did not notice anyone shoot the van from the outside,” Roxas said.
He said the suspect’s statement was the strongest evidence yet arising from the fact-finding investigation.
Roxas did not name the policeman, but National Bureau of Investigation head agent Ferdinand Lavin told the Inquirer Thursday that the “state witness” could be one of 16 policemen subpoenaed by the NBI for its own investigation of the case.
Lavin declined to say who the witness could be out of “respect [for] the results of the investigation of the Philippine National Police.”
He said Magat and Oco appeared at the NBI Thursday to submit their statements, “the same documents submitted to the PNP.”
Cadavero and Panogalinga, who were facing illegal weapons and explosives charges, escaped from prison last year, and were recaptured in a safe house in Dasmariñas, Cavite, on July 12.
Roxas and PNP Director General Alan Purisima presented Cadavero and Panogalinga to the media during a news conference in Camp Crame on July 15.
After the news conference, the RSOG cops were supposed to turn over the two men to the Bureau of Corrections for incarceration in New Bilibid Prison (NBP) in Muntinlupa City.
The policemen drove to the NBP, but they did not hand the two men over to the corrections bureau. Instead, they changed vehicles and drove to their camp in Dasmariñas, supposedly to put Cadavero and Panogalinga through a police inquest.
Instead of taking the shortest route, the cops took a long route via Laguna province where, in a secluded part of the highway in San Pedro town, they shot the two men.
Then the cops told their story of the motorcycle-riding attackers and the prisoners’ attempt to grab their sidearms, forcing them to shoot the two men.
Cadavero’s mother welcomed the filing of charges in the case, saying the wheels of justice had begun to move for her son and Panogalinga.
“Thank you so much. We know we are moving toward justice,” Luzviminda Cadavero, said in a talk with the Inquirer by phone.
She said she hoped the high-ranking officials who ordered the killing of her son and his friend would also be prosecuted and punished.
She could not say, however, who the high-ranking police officials were.
Luzviminda Cadavero, a resident of General Santos City, claimed that her son was killed to prevent him from disclosing the payoffs he had made to police officers.
In an interview with the Inquirer last week, Cadavero’s older sister, Rosalinda Cadavero, said her brother told her by phone last December that he paid the “warden of New Bilibid Prison P500,000 and the jail guards P200,000 each to allow him to escape.
Cadavero, she said, paid off all policemen in Cavite for protection after his escape.—With reports from Nancy C. Carvajaj, Niña Calleja and AFP
Ozamiz gang leaders’ slay case: Cop confesses it was rubout