Three men who were suspected to be members of the New People’s Army (NPA) were recently acquitted of having shot and killed a Panganiban farmer nine years ago.
In her ruling that was promulgated in a Legazpi City court last June 9, 2019, Regional Trial Court Branch 43 Presiding Judge Lelu P. Contreras dismissed the murder rap against Rudy “Dick Dick” Turado, Christian Santos and Ruel Tocina after the prosecution failed to prove their guilt beyond reasonable doubt.
Tribune research shows the trio, along with NPA leader Ka Melwin and several unidentified guerillas were tagged in the execution of a 72-year old farmer at the barangay plaza of San Miguel on May 22, 2010.
The victim, Loreto dela Cruz, was then having dinner with his wife, Julia, and grandchildren Danny and Alden Dimaano when three communist guerillas entered, with one of them pointing a gun at Alden.
The prosecution said that the first one to enter was Santos, clad in an Army uniform, who looked for Loreto, followed by Tocina and Turado.
After grabbing the farmer, the trio allegedly hogtied him with the use of nylon cloth and brought him to the barangay plaza where he was gunned down by his abductors led by Ka Melwin.
The victim sustained one gunshot wound in the mouth and three more in the stomach, causing his instant death. Responding elements of the Panganiban police led by SPO2 Florencio Eubra and the 83rd Infantry Battalion (PA) headed by 2Lt. Rodel Balatbat recovered at the crime scene 31 live ammunition for M-16 rifle, two empty shells for M-16 rifle and one empty shell for M-14 rifle.
The police said dela Cruz was suspected by the NPA of being a police and military informer after the guerillas suffered a setback at the hands of government troops a month earlier on April 12 in the mountains in sitio Sara-saraan near the barangay.
Responding to a report that the NPA were extorting money from a candidate, the team led by 2Lt. Balatbat went to the area and fired upon the guerillas, resulting in the recovery of an M-16 rifle and AK-47 rifle as well as backpacks containing subversive documents. At least three rebels were believed to have been killed and at least one injured during the clash.
In her testimony, Julia claimed she knew the three men since they were her barrio mates and that there was talk in the barangay that they were NPA members. She also said she followed the group at a distance as they went to the plaza but did not see him being shot four times.
In the course of the trial, Turado was arrested two years later while Santos fell into police hands in 2013 after playing basketball at the plaza, with Tocina also collared sometime later.
However, the Court ordered their transfer to the Legazpi city jail after the Virac district jail Inspector received intelligence reports that the NPAs were planning to launch an attack to rescue their comrades.
All three accused steadfastly denied involvement in the killing but Judge Contreras found the testimony of Turado and his witness riddled with contradictions and inconsistencies.
As witness of the Court, the victim’s son, Lorenzo, revealed that he fetched his mother in their house and told her that his father was already dead.
He also said that, as they went to the plaza, his mother never informed him of what happened earlier as well as the identity of the perpetrators.
Judge Contreras stated that it is very clear that Julia lied when she repeatedly declared that she followed her husband while he was being dragged by the three armed men towards the plaza.
She added that the Court could not believe why she failed to identify the three men to Lorenzo at the first instance when he informed her that her husband was already dead when it was the most appropriate time to reveal their identity, especially to a family member.
“While this Court commiserates with Julia and her family, however, this Court needed proof beyond reasonable doubt to convict the three (3) accused, which, unfortunately, the prosecution failed,” the 20-page decision concluded.