Joshua Garciano was present when Philippine Air Force Staff Sergeant Mark Herbert Oberes was mercilessly beaten and set on fire inside a car in Barangay Valencia, Carcar City.
But Garciano, 22, insisted his only participation was to drive the vehicle that transported the victim to the crime scene from Talisay City. And on Wednesday, exactly a week after the incident, Garciano, through his lawyer Rameses Victorious Villagonzalo, made formal his intent to be discharged as a state witness.
Villagonzalo, accompanied by Garciano’s parents, went to the Talisay City Prosecutor’s Office past 9 a.m. to submit their pleading.
“Respondent Garciano wants to help attain justice to those concerned. He can be of great help for the successful prosecution of this case,” the lawyer said.
Although only the trial court can approve any request to be admitted as a state witness, the law allows the parties to enter into a prior agreement while the case is still with the prosecutor’s office.
“Should the state and the private complainant agree with Garciano’s proposal, he will execute as a state witness a detailed account of what really happened under the examination or assistance of the public prosecutor,” Villagonzalo said.
If Oberes’ family will not agree to admit Garciano as a state witness, Villagonzalo said they would be left with no choice but to face head on the accusations against his client.
Sought for comment, Bert Padilla, the spokesperson of the Oberes family, said they would leave it to their lawyer to determine if Garciano’s offer would be acceptable.
“Our lawyer still has to receive and review a copy of the motion requesting (that) the accused, Joshua Garciano, (will turn) state witness,” he said in a text message to Cebu Daily News.
“While the lawyer is reviewing it, the Oberes family is convinced that there is no absolute necessity for Joshua’s testimony in court,” he added.
Based on the evidence they gathered, Padilla said Garciano, an engineering graduate (not a licensed engineer as stated in previous reports), was involved in the plan to kill Oberes.
In her affidavit submitted to the prosecutor’s office, the victim’s wife Diana said Oberes had showed her some death threats sent by Garciano through text messages.
Diana said she was certain that Garciano played a key role in Oberes’ death.
The remains of Oberes, who was with the Philippine Air Force for 16 years, lie in state in his residence in Sitio Sangi, Barangay Pajo, Lapu-Lapu City.
His family has been tight-lipped about the details of his funeral, saying they want it to be discreet and private.
“We’re concerned about the security,” said Padilla, whose wife is the sister of Oberes.
While there were allegations that Garciano sent death threats to Oberes, Villagonzalo said there was nothing in the case filed by the police that establishes his client’s participation in the planning and actual killing of the victim.
And even if Garciano had executed an affidavit of confession after he was arrested, Villagonzalo said its contents were inadmissible as evidence as they were not subscribed and sworn to at the prosecutor’s office.
Villagonzalo said they were hoping that the family of Oberes and the prosecutor would agree to admit Garciano as a state witness to help the victim’s family secure justice.
Under Section 17, Rule 119 of the Rules of Court, the judge may allow an accuse to turn into a state witness if, among others, there is an absolute necessity for the testimony of the accused, when there is no other direct evidence available for the proper prosecution of the offense, and if the accused does not appear to be the most guilty.
The prosecutor and the complainant also have to agree to allow an accused to become a state witness.
The Talisay City police earlier filed a murder complaint against Garciano and his 20-year-old girlfriend Resamie Cabañog who were arrested, with the help of informants, an hour after the body of Oberes was found inside a burning vehicle in Carcar City last Jan. 31.
When presented before the prosecutor, the two suspects opted to undergo a preliminary investigation, which gave them the chance to submit their counter-affidavits and refute the allegations.
Garciano and Cabañog are now still held at the Talisay City Police Office stockade.
Aside from the two suspects, the police also filed a murder complaint against Cabañog’s mother Edna, the alleged mastermind in the killing, and the men Edna supposedly hired to kill Oberes, namely, Tomas Isugan and two other unidentified men. Edna, Isugan and the two unidentified men have remained at large.
Police disclosed that Oberes had an illicit relationship with the younger Cabañog for some time. When Resamie decided to break up with Oberes, the soldier allegedly threatened to post their sex acts on social media. Enraged, Edna allegedly hatched the plan to kill Oberes.
Authorities continue to track down the whereabouts of Edna and the other suspects who were reportedly spotted in Guihulngan City, Negros Oriental.
“We have an ongoing operation. As to the details, I can’t divulge them yet as they are highly confidential,” said Supt. Marlo Conag, chief of the Talisay City Police Station, in a phone interview on Wednesday evening.
Edna, who was considered the primary suspect in the case, earlier sent surrender feelers to the police, but the plan has not materialized yet.
Padilla said the family of Oberes hoped the remaining suspects would turn themselves over to the police peacefully.
“I hope their conscience will bother them all,” he said.
If Edna and the other suspects are innocent, Padilla said there is no reason for them to hide.
“Why don’t they surrender and face the accusations against them? ” he added.