DOJ chief names ex-usec in Degamo case ‘bribe try’
Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla on Friday said a former ranking official of the agency had dangled a hefty sum to the arrested suspects in the assassination of Negros Oriental Gov. Roel Degamo, allegedly in exchange for withdrawing their confessions that also linked Negros Rep. Arnolfo Teves Jr. to the killing.
In a TV interview and later at a media briefing, Remulla pointed to Reynante Orceo, a former justice undersecretary, as the lawyer who allegedly offered P8 million each to the suspects currently detained at the National Bureau of Investigation.Ten former soldiers and a longtime Teves bodyguard are facing murder charges over the March 4 attack on Degamo that also left eight other people dead.‘Orchestrated’
“If I’m not mistaken, the initial report we got was that he was offering them P8 million so they can rest easy concerning their principal who is a congressman and a gambling lord. Eight million each was offered to them so they would make a turnaround on their earlier statements,” Remulla said in an interview on CNN Philippines.
He answered in the affirmative when asked if Orceo was the same “former DOJ undersecretary’’ whom Levito Baligod, a lawyer for the Degamo family, earlier accused in media interviews of trying to bribe the suspects.
The DOJ chief spoke of Orceo in the same vein when speaking to reporters later, adding: “I’ve mentioned him because he walked into the NBI claiming to be the lawyer of Marvin Miranda (the Teves bodyguard) and Miranda denied knowing him in the beginning.’’ In the CNN interview, Remulla went on to recall the “orchestrated recantations” of 10 of the 11 suspects last month.
Except for Miranda who had not made a confession, all the suspects—between May 22 and May 31—retracted their statements admitting participation in the crime, claiming they were tortured while in police custody.
In a text message to reporters on Friday, Orceo denied Remulla’s allegations, saying: “The imputation that I offered Php8M to the accused in the Degamo murder cases to recant their affidavit is based on … ‘information he received’. This is purely hearsay.”
Orceo said Remulla’s statements were thus “devoid of evidentiary weight or probative value,” stressing he was involved in the case only as Miranda’s lawyer and the “recantations of all the other accused should be attributed to their respective counsels, not to us.”
Aside from naming Orceo, the justice secretary also linked lawyers Dany Villanueva and Jord Jharoah Valenton—counsels for the 10 suspects who had recanted—to the alleged bribery attempt.
“(The NBI) said there were lawyers, lawyers on top of this … experts orchestrating the legal defense of this terrorist group,” Remulla said.
Like Orceo, Villanueva and Valenton issued statements denying the secretary’s allegation.
“On my oath, I have nothing to do with the alleged orchestration of recantations. As early as the first time we were given the chance to talk to our clients, they themselves told us as early as April 18 that they were recanting. Only now is the SOJ (secretary of justice) talking about some payment,” Villanueva said in an interview.
Valenton, for his part, said in a text message: “My clients know nothing about what the good secretary is saying. My clients were constrained to recant or disown their statements for they were taken by violence, threat and intimidation, as well as in violation of their constitutional rights.’’
Orceo served as justice undersecretary from 2017-2018, during the Duterte administration.
As a DOJ official, he became controversial in 2017 for downgrading—from murder to homicide—the charges filed against Police Supt. Marvin Marcos for the killing of Mayor Rolando Espinosa of Albuera, Leyte, in November 2016. Espinosa was killed in what the police said was a “shootout” at the provincial jail, where he was then detained for alleged possession of illegal drugs.
Abalos defends cops
Also on Friday, Interior Secretary Benhur Abalos defended the police officers who handled the Degamo case against claims that they tortured the suspects. “When (the crime) happened, a lot of people died and we have high emotions here but they (the suspects) were immediately captured. I would like to emphasize at this point that they were caught through the joint efforts of the military and police, and of course the NBI helped later on,” he said.
Abalos expressed confidence that the cases against the suspects would still lead to a conviction despite the recantations, saying the “circumstantial evidence and forensic evidence” gathered by the investigators could still be used against them.
The 10 suspects who had recanted—Jhudiel “Osmundo” Rivero, Dahniel Lora, Romel Pattaguan, Rogelio Antipolo Jr., Joven Javier, Winrich Esturis, Eulogio Gonyon Jr., John Loui Gonyon, Joric Labrador, and Benjie Rodriguez—are all former soldiers.
Rivero, the first to do so, descibed in a counteraffidavit how he was tortured. “A plastic bag was placed over my head while a piece of wire was used to choke me. I fainted, and when I regained consciousness I noticed that my neck was swelling, and I am still enduring it to this day,” he said.
He said his tormentors also threatened to harm his family if he would not implicate Teves.
Just as ‘expected’
A lawyer from the Public Attorney’s Office, Rivero said, even advised him to just obey the police for his own safety.
Senior Deputy State Prosecutor Richard Anthony Fadullon earlier said the recantations were no longer surprising at this point in the case.
“As far as the DOJ is concerned, we expected that the recantations would be made by the suspects. It is their right to do so especially now that they have lawyered up. Assuming we have received the copies (of the counteraffidavits) already, it doesn’t mean it will prove that the earlier statements they gave are actually untrue,” Fadullon said.