Ellah Joy Pique kidnap-slay: Case dismissed
Ria Mae Y. Booc, Mylen P. Manto (The Freeman) - October 11, 2014 - 12:00am

CEBU, Philippines - The Regional Trial Court has dismissed the criminal case filed against Bella Ruby Santos, one of the accused in the kidnap-slay of a six-year-old schoolgirl in 2011 for insufficient evidence.

Judge Ester Veloso, in her 17-page order, granted the motion for demurrer of evidence filed by Santos after the prosecution’s witnesses failed to positively identified her as responsible for the death of Ellah Joy Pique.

“The court is not convinced of the reliability of the child’s identification of the accused Bella Ruby Santos. By the time she had been taken as a witness, there had already been a previous mistaken identification of another woman named Esdrelon by the child’s companions. The prosecution has not established why this child’s identification would be better and more reliable than that of the other children who were also with her at that time and why she was not even initially considered as witness by the police,” the order read.

Veloso added the prosecution did not even present the policeman who investigated the child to “shed light on the manner of the questioning of the child, for the court to determine if no suggestive remarks or questions were made” to make her pick out Santos from among pictures of 15 women shown to her at the Minglanilla Municipal Hall.

Pique was kidnapped on February 8, 2011 while she was on her way home from school in Calajoan, Minglanilla, and found dead the following day in Barili town. Santos and her fiancé Ian Charles Griffiths, who is still at large, were charged before the court for kidnapping with homicide.

To prove the guilt of the accused, the prosecution presented 12 witnesses, including the child.

Veloso said after the prosecution rested its case, it was only the child, a Grade 6 student, who claimed to have seen the actual abduction of Pique on the said date at around 4 p.m.

“The rest of the prosecution witnesses could not pinpoint with absolute certainty either to the accused Santos as the perpetrator or to Ellah Joy as the victim; neither did the results of the search warrant and the subsequent DNA tests yield anything that would establish the guilt of the said accused. The court thus sees no need to discuss their testimonies except that of the child witness,” she stated.

In her testimonies, the child witness stated that on the said date while she was walking home behind Ellah Joy, her younger sister who was Ellah Joy’s classmate, twin girls and another girl, a Mitsubishi Pajero driven by a foreigner stopped nearby.

She said a woman seated in the front of the Pajero asked Ellah Joy for her mother’s name and address, and offered to bring her home. She added when she later found out that Ellah Joy had been kidnapped she told her father and the principal what she had seen.

She said her sister and the twins went to the police and identified Karen Esdrelon and Norwegian national Sven Erik Berger as the ones responsible for the kidnapping. However, the complaint filed against Esdrelon and Berger before the Cebu Provincial Prosecutor’s Office was dismissed due to insufficient evidence.

Esdrelon and Berger were able to show documentary evidence including footage from closed circuit TV cameras of a hotel that it was impossible for them to be at the crime scene. Their documentary evidence and the footage were confirmed by the National Bureau of Investigation-7.

After the complaint filed against Esdrelon and Berger was dismissed, the authorities filed a complaint, this time again Santos and Griffiths, and the Cebu Provincial Prosecutor’s Office found probable cause to indict them for trial.

The child witness testified against Santos and Griffiths during the trial. She was shown pictures of women at the Minglanilla Municipal Hall before the trial began and pointed to Santos. She admitted that she had also been watching the news on TV, where she saw the accused and learned that her name was Santos. She also said that it was her neighbor who told her that it was Santos who killed Pique.

With the foregoing facts, Veloso said the prosecution failed to establish why the child witness’ sister or the other girls were not presented in court against Santos when in fact they were there during the abduction of Pique.

Aside from that, she said the child witness’ description of the woman who abducted Pique was very general that could “fit every other woman one meets on the street.”

Veloso said there must be a positive identification of the accused.

“In every criminal prosecution, the identity of the offense like the crime itself must be established by proof beyond reasonable doubt. Indeed, the first duty of the prosecution is not to prove the crime but to prove the identity of the criminal, for even of the commission of the crime can be established, there can be no conviction without proof of identity of the criminal beyond responsible doubt,” the order read, adding the accused were presumed innocent unless proven otherwise.

With that, Veloso lifted and set aside the hold departure order issued against Santos on July 13, 2011 and the cash bond worth P500,000 she put up for her temporary liberty was cancelled and ordered returned to her.

Before the trial of the case, Santos had filed a motion to post bail. It was granted on April 12, 2013 and she posted bail on April 16, 2013. Santos was arrested in Manila by the NBI-7 by virtue of the warrant of arrest on October 7, 2011 and detained at the Naga City Jail.

Relief

Santos appeared emotional during an interview after her case was dismissed, and thanked the Lord for answering her prayers and for her lawyers who did their best.

Although she was happy with the development of the case, she said she is also sad because the real culprits behind Ellah Joy’s abduction and killing are still free.

She said she wishes the parents of Ellah Joy strength in their quest to find justice.

Santos said that Griffiths already knew that the case against her was dismissed, however, Griffiths still stands accused in the crime as he was not present during the arraignment and the court proceedings.

Lawyers Rameses Villagonzalo and Julius Caesar Entise said that they were not entirely sure that the court would grant their demurrer to evidence but they were hopeful and confident because they did their best.

Dead end for the case?

Renante Pique, the father of Ellah Joy, said his family was sad upon hearing of the dismissal of the case. With tears in his eyes, Renante said they cried upon being informed the case was dismissed.

He added that he does not know what to do and will still meet with the Children’s Legal Bureau, which was part of the prosecution team to discuss any possible remedy. He added that he did not read the entire decision yet but respects the decision of the court.

Provincial Prosecutor Pepita Jane Petralba said that they can no longer file an appeal or a motion for reconsideration of the case as it was dismissed.

When asked if he is open to the possibility of a reinvestigation of the case, Renante said he is  okay as long as there is hope and the people are willing to help.

Meanwhile, Senior Superintendent Patrocinio Comendador, former spokesperson of the Task Force Ellah Joy, was dismayed by the dismissal of the kidnapping with homicide case filed against Bella Ruby Santos last Wednesday.

Comendador is now the Regional Chief Directorial Staff of the Police Regional Office-9 in Zamboanga City.

He said Renante texted him yesterday informing him of the decision of the court.

“Naguol siya kay mura lagi kuno siya ug nadoblehan… gipatay pa ang iyang anak unya wala pa gyud nahatagan og hustisya and it was so unfortunate to know that the case was dismissed,” Comendador said, adding that they cannot do anything about it as it’s the court’s decision.

Comendador said he believes they had strong evidence, but some of these were disallowed by the court during the hearing of the motion to quash the search warrant after the defense questioned the validity of the evidence.

“Basin tungod ato na-weaken ang kaso but wala na kaayo ko nakasubay kay nabalhin man ko unya naa na pud to sa prosecution,” Comendador explained.  —/BRP (FREEMAN)

ACCUSED CASE CHILD COURT ELLAH ELLAH JOY JOY PROSECUTION SANTOS VELOSO
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