Cebu judge asks PNP: Did you let them run away from Camp Crame?
How did three former policemen accused in the killing of Cebu lawyer Noel Archival and companions get away?
They were allowed to leave the premises of Camp Crame after a restriction order ended in July last year, and were later “dropped from the rolls” when they didn’t come back.
This explanation was given yesterday in open court by two representatives of the Highway Patrol Group (HPG) and PNP in Camp Crame.
“The order that placed them under restricted custody was actually lifted. And that is allowed under PNP rules,” said Alfredo Austria legal counsel of the HPG. He appeared in court with Chief Inspector Leo Cajulao of the Personnel Holding Administrative Section (PHAS).
A puzzled Executive Judge Soliver Peras of the Regional Trial Court in Cebu City at one point said “I don’t care about the rules” in pointing out the apparent deception.
“Since the three accused were removed from their posts at the HPG 7, people in Cebu were made to believe that they were just at Camp Crame,” said the judge.
“They are supposed to be roaming around within the vicinity of Camp Crame. But where are they now? Did you let them run away?”
The judge ordered the PNP officers to submit within five days documents to show that the three accused men were dropped from the rolls as well as the PNP rule invoked about an expiry period for camp restriction.
Criminally charged for the Feb. 18, 2013 ambush-slay of Archival and his three companions, were Romualdo Iglesia, Joselito Lerion, and Alex Bacani of the HPG 7 based in Cebu City.
Instead of being arrested, they were relieved from their posts and placed in the custody of Camp Crame in Metro Manila.
It was too late to find them when arrest warrants were issued in December last year by Argao RTC Judge Maximo Perez who later inhibited from handling the case.
In January, the three accused were dropped from the PNP rolls because they stopped reporting for work. They are now considered civilians.
Executive Judge Peras of Cebu City—the nearest court to Argao – was asked by prosecution lawyers to issue an “alias warrant of arrest” against the three men.
During the hearing yesterday, Austria and Chief Inspector Cajulao of the PHAS stood at attention to answer the judge.
They specified no period of camp restriction that expired, but defense lawyer Inocencio de la Cerna Jr., counsel of Lerion, explained later to Cebu Daily News that a 90-day period for camp restriction expired in July 2014.
“There are a certain number of days wherein a policeman can be restricted to camp. When the warrant was issued by the court (last December), it was already beyond the (90-day) period within which they can be under the custody of Camp Crame,” he said.
Unsatisfied with the answers in court, lawyer Gloria Lastiomosa-Dalawampu, one of the counsel of the Archival family, said they are preparing administrative charges against ranking PNP officers, including Chief Supt. Arrazad Subong, head of the PNP Highway Patrol Group, who lifted the restriction order.
She said camp restriction of a policeman facing a case in court is meant to ensure that once a warrant is issued, he or she can easily be located.
“If one is restricted to camp, he or she is deemed arrested. When these three policemen were pulled out of the HPG 7, they were already considered arrested,” she said.
Dalawampu was accompanied by lawyers Democito Barcenas and Rameses Villagonzalo during the hearing yesterday. Villagonzalo is the counsel of the lone survivor in the case. Talamban Councilor Nelson Archival, brother of the slain lawyer and Head Agent Rennan Augustus Oliva of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) were also present.
Prosecutors have asked the Supreme Court to transfer the trial venue from Argao town to Cebu City for security purposes.
The accused earlier asked the Supreme Court to move the trial to Manila.
The case will eventually be raffled off to a judge in Cebu City which is the nearest court from Argao in terms of jurisdiction but Executive Judge Peras said they have to wait for the Supreme Court’s ruling .
In an interview, Barcenas said that by refusing to submit to the authoriies the three men accused of frustrated and multiple murder showed that “their flight is an indication of guilt.”
NBI investigators said Archival was tracked down and killed because he had earned the ire of HPG officials in several cases where his clients accused police officers of extortion.
The Archival family has offered a P500,000 reward for information leading to their arrest.
“I smell collusion with the HPG headquarters,” said Dalawampu.
“They can’t escape criminal and administrative liabilities for failure to produce the three HPG policemen after pulling them out of Cebu,” she said.
The lawyer said the order dropping the three policemen from the rolls aproved that they were already Absent without Leave when the arrest warrant was issued in December.
Archival, along with his companions Candido Miñoza, Alejandro Jaime, and Paolo Cortes were ambushed on the road when their vehicle was passing the national road in Dalaguete town, southern Cebu.
Only Cortes, Archival’s on-call assistant, survived the attack.