DOJ clears Espino, Celeste in 2012 Pangasinan mayor’s slay
LINGAYEN, Pangasinan, Philippines — The Department of Justice (DOJ) has cleared Pangasinan Gov. Amado Espino Jr., Rep. Jesus Celeste and a local newspaper publisher in the 2012 gun slaying of then Infanta Mayor Ruperto Martinez, for lack of probable cause.
The 14-page resolution dated June 1, which Espino received on July 2, was signed by members of the DOJ prosecution panel composed of Assistant State Prosecutors Olivia Torrevillas, Rassendell Rex Gingoyon and Aristotle Reyes.
The case against Espino, Celeste and the publisher stemmed from a complaint filed by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) on Feb. 13, 2013, which was based on a statement of a 16-year-old witness, who happened to be the publisher’s son.
The witness said that sometime in November 2011, he heard Espino, Celeste and his father plan Martinez’s murder during a meeting in Celeste’s resort in Bolinao town.
Martinez was shot and killed by two men in front of his house in Barangay Cato in Infanta town on Dec. 15, 2012. The gunmen were eventually arrested.
“After a careful evaluation of the evidence at hand, this panel finds the [statement of the witness] inherently incredible,” the panel said.
The witness’ claim that Espino, Celeste and his father discussed the plot to kill Martinez in his presence was inconsistent with human experience, it said.
“Are the respondents that dumb to conspire to commit a crime in the presence of a 16-year-old child? Criminal minds conceive their murderous plan in utmost secrecy and known only among themselves,” the panel said.
It also said it was not impressed with the witness’ detailed narration of other criminal incidents that allegedly happened when he was only about eight years old.
It said that even Martinez’s wife and two sons did not believe the witness’ story, saying Espino and Celeste were close allies of the slain mayor.
“What then could have motivated [the witness] to execute his [statement]? Or who could have exploited or manipulated [the witness] into executing such an accusatory statement?” the panel asked.
Based on facts and circumstances, the filing of the complaint against Espino and Celeste was politically motivated, the panel said.
It noted that the witness first tried to seek the assistance of then Alaminos City Mayor Hernani Braganza, who lost to Espino in the 2013 gubernatorial elections.
The witness then approached Manuel Tolentino, a mayoral candidate in Alcala town and Braganza’s party mate. Tolentino then took the witness to the group Akap sa Bata, where the witness narrated his knowledge about some criminal activities in Pangasinan.
The panel said Akap sa Bata had an affiliate, called Akap Bata, a party-list group that vied for a congressional seat and was supposedly affiliated with Braganza.
“Under the circumstances, we view with suspicion the manner by which the [statement of the witness] was obtained and executed,” the panel said.
The panel also saw the political motive in NBI’s “selective filing” of a criminal charge against Espino and Celeste. It said the witness mentioned Zambales Gov. Hermogenes Ebdane Jr. as one of those who allegedly hatched the murder plot but he was never included in the charge sheet.
Ebdane earlier denied involvement in the alleged plot to kill Martinez.
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