Pampanga couple slay: 2 ex-cops held on gun raps

Pampanga couple slay: 2 ex-cops held on gun raps

Pampanga couple slay: 2 ex-cops held on gun raps

Geneva Lopez and Yitshak Cohen —photo from Geneva Lopez’s Facebook page

MABALACAT CITY, PAMPANGA, Philippines — Two former policemen tagged as “persons of interest” in the abduction and murder of beauty pageant candidate Geneva Lopez and her Israeli boyfriend Yitshak Cohen were arrested on Saturday for illegal possession of firearms.

A police report obtained by the Inquirer on Sunday identified one of the arrested as dismissed policeman Michael Angelo Guiang, who earlier executed a sworn statement that he was the middleman Lopez and Cohen met in Capas, Tarlac, on June 21 for the 20.5-hectare agricultural land the couple was allegedly buying.

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READ: In Tarlac, 2 remains found amid search for beauty pageant bet, BF

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Police also arrested former policeman Rommel Abuza in a separate operation on Saturday.

The couple’s decomposing bodies were found buried in a remote quarry site in Sta. Lucia village in Capas on Saturday morning, two weeks after the couple’s disappearance on June 21.

Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) operatives, along with Tarlac policemen, served a search warrant on Guiang in San Francisco village in Santa Ignacia, Tarlac, for violation of the Comprehensive Firearms and Ammunition Regulation Act.

The warrant was issued by Judge Edwin Sunga Bonifacio of Branch 111 of the Tarlac City Regional Trial Court on July 5.

Authorities reportedly found a 9mm Taurus pistol with a magazine loaded with seven live bullets and a hand grenade from Guiang’s residence during the search.

The CIDG said the search warrant was served in the presence of the village chair and a councilman of San Francisco.

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Another CIDG-led team arrested Abuza after a pistol was found in his possession when lawmen served a search warrant issued by the same judge on his residence in San Luis village in Tarlac City on July 6.

Seized were a Para Ordnance .45-caliber pistol with a magazine loaded with six live bullets, a hand grenade, a fragmentation grenade, and numerous rounds of ammunition for different calibers of firearms, including 109 pieces of live bullets for caliber 5.56 and 191 pieces of live bullets for caliber 7.62.

Guiang and Abuza were assigned to the Angeles City police at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic before they went absent without leave and were later dismissed from service.

Both are facing charges of violation of the firearms regulation law and possession of an explosive under Republic Act No. 9516.

Land deal or debt?

On June 23, Lopez’s sister Joni went to the police station here to report the couple’s disappearance after they could not be contacted by phone or through their social media accounts since 3 p.m. on June 21.

A report by the city police quoted Joni as telling the investigator that Geneva, 26, and Yitshak, 37, had gone to Tarlac to talk to someone about a parcel of land.

“Ms Lopez (Joni) added that prior to the incident, they were informed by her sister that they (Geneva and Yitshak) would both proceed to Capas, Tarlac, to meet or transact with a certain Michael Angelo Guiang in Capas, Tarlac, with regard to the land that was pawned to them by Mr. Guiang sometime in 2021,” the police report stated.

But on June 25, the Capas police said Geneva and Yitshak went to Capas to meet a middleman and to inspect two parcels of agricultural land with a combined area of 20.5 hectares in Armenia village, Tarlac City, which the couple was buying.

The Capas police’s assertion was based on the sworn statement executed and submitted to them by Guiang.

But on July 5, Yaniv Cohen, the older brother of Yitshak, told Pampanga-based CLTV 36 that the latter did not go to Tarlac with his girlfriend to buy land.

He said Yitshak went to Tarlac to get the land title that he had already bought in the past.

A July 6 news report by Jerusalem-based online newspaper The Times of Israel quoted Yaniv as telling news site Ynet that the couple was to meet with a man who borrowed money from Yitshak in the past.

Collateral

The report also said the man’s mother was ill when Yitshak loaned him money that had since remained unpaid.

The debtor, it added, arranged a meeting with Yitshak on June 21 in Tarlac, “telling him beforehand that he would give him land in exchange for the debt.”

About 12 hours after Lopez and Cohen supposedly met with Guiang, the sport utility vehicle (SUV) they were using was found ablaze along the uninhabited portion of Cojuangco Road in Cristo Rey village in Capas. The road leads to Armenia, Tarlac City.

A still unidentified witness had come forward and told the CIDG everything he knew, even admitting that he was the one who set on fire the SUV the couple used upon the order of someone whom the police have yet to identify.

The Lopez and Cohen families jointly offered a P500,000 reward for information that would help locate the missing couple. The Angeles City government offered a separate reward of P100,000.

The police did not say if it was the reward money that prompted the witness to come forward.

Gunshot wounds

On July 5, policemen found the site in Capas where the couple were buried and were able to exhume their decomposing bodies after securing a warrant from a local court in Tarlac.

The recovered bodies of Lopez and Cohen were found with two gunshot wounds each, the National Bureau of Investigation said on Sunday, after performing an autopsy on the couple.

NBI Director Jaime Santiago said on radio dzBB that Lopez had a gunshot wound to her thigh and a bullet that went through her back and exited her chest, while Cohen had a gunshot wound near his armpit with another bullet fired toward his chest that exited his back.

A slug was found in Lopez’s body and would be submitted for ballistic examination, Santiago said.

“Their families have already identified them through their clothing and body marks. The bodies were in a state of decomposition so we needed to identify them, and one of those ways was to conduct an autopsy,” he noted.

Meanwhile, the Embassy of Israel in Manila on Sunday mourned the death of Cohen and Lopez.

“Our heartfelt condolences go out to their families during this incredibly difficult time,” the embassy said in a statement, adding that it was in touch with Cohen’s family to assist in the return of his remains to Israel.

The Inquirer learned that Lopez’s remains were already cremated.

The embassy also thanked Philippine authorities for probing the case and locating the couple.

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“We are confident that the authorities will thoroughly investigate this tragic incident and bring those responsible to justice,” it said. —with a report from Jane Bautista

TAGS: CIDG, missing beauty contestant, NBI, Pampanga

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