YEARENDER: Quezon City courts hand down high-profile convictions

Janvic Mateo (The Philippine Star) - December 24, 2015 - 9:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Four judges this year have convicted suspects charged in various high-profile cases lodged before the Quezon City Regional Trial Courts (RTC).

Sentenced to serve up to 40 years in prison were former Abra governor Vicente Isidro Valera, road rage suspect Jason Ivler and Michael Flores, who admitted killing the mother of actress Cherry Pie Picache.

Valera was convicted of masterminding the assassination of his rival, former congressman Luis Bersamin in 2006, while Ivler was found guilty of murder for shooting the son of former presidential Chief of Staff Undersecretary Renato Ebarle Sr. in 2009.

Flores, meanwhile, was convicted for the crime of robbery with homicide over the death of Pichache’s 75-year-old mother Zenaida Sison in 2014.

A newly appointed judge also decided on a kidnapping case that she inherited and which has been pending before a court for 18 years.

Bersamin slay

In a 56-page decision in Sept. 30, RTC Branch 94 Judge Roslyn Rabara-Tria found Valera and his co-accused, Rufino Panday and Sgt. Leo Bello guilty beyond reasonable doubt for the murder of Bersamin and his police escort Senior Police Officer 1 Adelfo Ortega.

They were also convicted on the charge of frustrated murder in connection with the injuries sustained by Bersamin’s driver, Allan Sawadan.

Bersamin was assassinated in front of the Mt. Carmel church in Quezon City on Dec. 16, 2006.

Valera was tagged in the case after he was accused by suspects Freddie Dupo and Sunny Taculao as the mastermind in the killing of Bersamin, then believed to be the closest political rival of the governor.

Dupo and Taculao were later discharged as they were allowed to become state witnesses in the case.

Two other suspects in the case, Jerry Turqueza and Dominador Barbosa, remain at large.

In her ruling, the judge said it was clear that suspects Valera, Bello and Panday were part of a “grand conspiracy” to eliminate Bersamin.

Valera, however, denied the allegations and appealed the ruling.

His lawyer, Rolando Quimbo, accused the court of disregarding the bulk of evidence that showed “police machinations” in collating evidence that resulted in the indictment of his client.

Road rage

Meanwhile, on Nov. 23, RTC Branch 84 Judge Luisito Cortez found Ivler – the nephew of singer Freddie Aguilar – guilty for the crime of murder in connection with the shooting of Renato Victor Ebarle Jr.

In his 48-page ruling, Cortez said the prosecution was able to present overwhelming pieces of evidence sufficient to prove Ivler’s guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

The judge noted that two witnesses, Senior Police Officer 3 Edgar Tiodin and bystander Archie Castillo, identified the suspect as the person who shot the victim along Santolan Road in Quezon City on Nov. 18, 2009.

Cortez noted that the bullets recovered from the crime scene matched the pistol recovered at Ivlers’ house when he was arrested two months after the incident.

The judge said the alibi of Ivler, who said that he was not at the crime scene when the shooting happened, was weak compared to the testimonies of the witnesses.

When he was presented on the witness stand, Ivler denied that he shot the victim as he was at a party in Makati the whole night. He also presented evidence supposedly showing that the bodyguard of his mother closely resembles the suspect’s description of the eyewitnesses.

But according to Cortez, the court is not persuaded by the alibi as it “crumbles in light of the testimonies of the eyewitnesses who testified on affirmative matters.”

Cortez said that while there are defense witnesses who claimed that Ivler was in Makati on the night of the incident, these are not sufficient to prove the physical impossibility that Ivler could travel to and from the crime scene from his supposed location in Makati.

Ivler was arrested at the basement of the house of his mother, Marlene Aguilar, in Quezon City on Jan. 18, 2010 by virtue of an arrest warrant issued by a Quezon City court. He was wounded during a firefight with National Bureau of Investigation agents sent to arrest him.

Extrajudicial confession

In just a little over a year, RTC Branch 216 Judge Alfonso Ruiz II was able to hand down the verdict against Flores, who pleaded guilty to killing Sison on Sept. 18, 2014.

In a 12-page decision, Ruiz noted the “extrajudicial confession” of the suspect admitting that he committed the crime.

The judge also cited the evidence and circumstances linking him to the killing, such as his footprints and clothes that were found at the scene of the crime and the victim’s mobile phone and jewelry that were found in his possession.

Flores admitted he was high on drugs when he broke into Sison’s house.

He did not disclose details on the death of the victim, saying he passed out and saw her dead when he woke up.

18-year trial

In August, RTC Branch 98 Judge Marilou Runes-Tamang issued a guilty verdict against seven members of the Waray-Waray kidnap group charged for the 1997 abduction of spouses Virgilio and Christine Chua and their maid Analyn Simbajon.

Runes-Tamang, who was appointed in June, inherited the case and immediately issued a ruling upon taking over the bench.

The case was dubbed by the Movement for Restoration of Peace and Order (MRPO) as the longest trial in the history of kidnap cases in the country.

Found guilty beyond reasonable doubt on the charge of kidnapping with serious illegal detention were suspects Roger Ete, Crisanto Dollete, Agustin Quinala, Mario Esiderio, Cipriano Cornista and Diosdado Tandagan.

They were sentenced to serve up to 40 years in prison.

The case stemmed from kidnapping of the Chua couple and their maid in Novaliches, Quezon City on April 8, 1997.

In their testimony, the Filipino-Chinese couple said they were on their way to their factory when four men in a taxi blocked their vehicle and abducted them.

Their relatives paid P400,000 to the kidnappers in exchange for their release.

Follow-up investigation resulted in the arrest of 10 suspects, including Carlo Samson, who was later allowed to become a state witness.

Samson testified on the planning and execution of the kidnapping and pointed to his former cohorts as the perpetrators of the kidnapping.

The suspects denied participating in the kidnapping and claimed that they were framed for the crime.

However, in her ruling, Judge Runes-Tamang said the suspects can only present denials and excuses.

“Categorical, consistent and positive identification, without any ill motive on the part of the eyewitness, prevails over unconvincing alibi and unsubstantiated denials. These latter testimonies are self-serving statements, undeserving of weight in law,” read the 29-page ruling.

The suspects convicted by the Quezon City courts have been transferred to the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City.

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