Durante in Army custody; court martial looms
The Philippine Army has taken custody of former Presidential Security Group chief Brig. Gen. Jesus Durante III, the alleged mastermind in the killing of model and businesswoman Yvonette Chua Plaza, after he was relieved of his command of the 1001st Brigade in Davao de Oro.
A murder complaint has been filed by the Philippine National Police against Durante, 52, at least six more soldiers and three other men for the killing of 38-year-old Plaza, who was gunned down outside her apartment last month by one of two men on a motorcycle who used a military-issued firearm.
At least four of the suspects are missing, or not yet in the custody of the authorities, according to Army commander Lt. Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr.
The police reported that the victim had “very sensitive information” against Durante and had planned to “blackmail” him with it.
The ex-chief of former President Rodrigo Duterte’s bodyguards was taken into custody at the Army headquarters in Taguig City early this week, along with Col. Michael Licyayo, the brigade deputy commander, who was tagged as his accomplice, Brawner said.
Both were relieved from their posts on Jan. 19.
“I have ordered them to come to the headquarters of the Army here in Fort Bonifacio so that they can be restricted and so the investigation that is ongoing will be unhampered,” Brawner said in an interview with ANC on Thursday.
Possible court martial
The Army is also conducting its own investigation “to look into the truthfulness of the allegations against our officers and enlisted personnel,” he said.
The results, which are expected to come out soon, will determine whether Durante and the other soldiers would face a general court martial.
“We will be looking into the administrative aspect of their acts, while the civilian courts will be looking into the criminal aspect of the acts they have done,” Brawner said.
He said he believed that the military had “enough information” to convene a court martial, but that he was still waiting for results from the board of inquiry.
“They might arrive anytime this week, and I will be deciding from there whether I will be constituting a general court martial,” Brawner added.
The others in the murder complaint filed in the Davao City Prosecutor’s office are: Staff Sgt. Gilbert Plaza; Sgt. Delfin Sialsa Jr.; Cpl. Adrian Cachero; Pfc. Rolly Cabal; Pfc. Romart Longakit; Noel Japitan; a certain “Junior”; and a man identified only as “Master Sergeant.”
In an interview with dzBB radio on Thursday, Brawner reminded soldiers not to follow “illegal orders” from their superiors.
“Illegal orders should not be heeded, just like this one, the killing of an individual,” Brawner said, although he emphasized that the allegations against Durante had not yet been established by a court.
“We have been teaching our soldiers this (rule). They have to be discerning—which are legal and which are illegal (orders),” he added.
Soldiers should lodge a complaint within the military justice system whenever their commanders give them illegal orders so that the Army leadership could take action against their superiors, Brawner said.
According to a police diagram illustrating the connections among the suspects and their alleged roles in the killing, Sialsa implicated Durante as the murder mastermind and Licyayo provided the “logistics” and the information on Plaza’s whereabouts.
Sialsa, Cachero and Plaza, the Army sergeant, are in the custody of the AFP’s 10th Infantry Division in Davao de Oro, according to its spokesperson Capt. Mark Anthony Tito.
Tito said that the police now had custody of Sialsa’s service firearm, which was allegedly used to kill Plaza, as part of their evidence.
The police investigation said that Cabal and Longakit were involved in the surveillance of the victim, while Japitan was ordered by Plaza “to dismantle and change the color of the motorcycle” used by Cachero and Sialsa in escaping.
Although Brawner mentioned four of the suspects were missing, he did not say who they were. But Tito identified five who are still not in the custody of either the police or the military—Longakit, Cabal, Japitan and aliases “Junior” and “Master Sergeant.”
Tito said Longakit was abducted on Jan. 11 while Cabal went on absence without leave. He did not identify Longakit’s abductors. Japitan, who is not a soldier, is not in AFP custody, while the other two who were identified by their aliases, also have not been found, he said.Like in a prison
Durante and the other soldiers will be confined at the Army’s custodial center should they undergo military court proceedings, Brawner said. “They will not be allowed to go out. It’s like they are also inside the prison. When there are hearings on civil court, we will escort them,” he said.
Brawner said the civilian and military court proceedings can be conducted simultaneously as had been done in the past, he added.
In case of a warrant of arrest from civilian courts, the AFP would request them for custody of the officers for the general court martial proceedings.
Brawner assured the public that the AFP would not “pamper” the soldiers in its custody.
“We were bothered by the implication of our personnel in this criminal act but again, we don’t tolerate any criminal acts done by our personnel. In this case, we are going to cooperate with the investigation that is being done by the PNP and at the same time, on our side, we will look into the administrative culpability, the administrative cases that we will be filing against them,” he added.
‘Good as Army officer’
Durante had earlier denied his involvement in the death of Plaza, after his name was dragged due to a social media post that the slain model made in April last year, showing bruises and wounds on her face allegedly caused by him.
Plaza “was a friend,” Durante said then, and he was “saddened by her demise and condoles with her family and friends.”
Brawner said Durante was performing his duties well as an officer before he was implicated in the killing and that the general wasn’t involved in any other case.
“He has been doing good as an Army officer. In fact, he was among the first in his class to be promoted to general,” Brawner said. “He was doing good even as commander of the 1001st Brigade, they were able to eradicate threat groups in the area in the quickest possible time.”
—WITH A REPORT FROM JOSELLE R. BADILLA
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