Comendador insists there was no rubout; orders relief of Getafe police chief
The Commission on Human Rights in Central Visayas (CHR 7) has begun to investigate allegations of a “rubout” in the police raid on Banacon Island in Getafe, Bohol that led to the death of suspected drug lord Rowen “Yawa” Secretaria and two others, even as the Police Regional Office (PRO) insisted it was a legitimate operation that ended in a shootout.
Leo Villarino, CHR 7 investigation division officer-in-charge, said he asked CHR Bohol officer in charge Alfonso Bayocot to secure all important documents related to the incident while waiting for the formal complaint from the mother of Jason Montes, 22, a resident of Barangay Ermita, Cebu City, who was killed along with Secretaria last Saturday.
“We are already gathering the documents, that’s already the start of the investigation. We are just waiting for the complainant to sign the formal statement,” Villarino said, referring to Jason’s mother, Susana, who went to CHR 7 on Monday to inform the latter of her family’s intention to lodge a formal complaint against the police. The family also asked for an autopsy to determine the extent of Jason’s injuries that resulted to his death.
Villarino said that even if Jason’s mother would change her mind and no longer pursue a case, the CHR would still proceed with the investigation.
“We can pursue our investigation motu proprio but for now, we are taking it as a complaint filed by the mother of the victim,” he added.
Villarino said they also planned to visit Banacon Island to talk to witnesses and relatives of the fatalities.
But Chief Supt. Patrocinio Comendador Jr., PRO 7 director, said Secretaria was a legitimate target who was able to dispose of at least five kilograms of shabu per week which, according to a Dangerous Drugs Board estimate, could be valued at about P59 million.
Comendador said he even ordered the relief of Senior Insp. Marcelino Mejias as police chief of Getafe over his failure to take action on the presence in the area of Secretaria, who was allegedly moving freely between the Getafe town proper and Banacon even if he was the third most wanted drug personality in Cebu City.
“For so long a time, Yawa’s group has been operating in his (Mejias) area of jurisdiction. I want to know why they were not able to arrest the suspects when the Getafe police office is just a 20-minute boat ride away from Banacon Island where Yawa was operating,” Comendador told reporters yesterday.
Comendador admitted the Bohol Provincial Police Office (BPPO) was not informed of the operation against Secretaria for “operational security purposes.” “On operations involving high level targets, we do not inform lower units as per confidentiality of the raid. We have to consider different levels of operational security,” Comendador told Cebu Daily News by phone yesterday.
The BPPO, he said, was directed to take care of the “investigation side after the operation was done.”
Comendador dispelled suspicion that BPPO and Getafe policemen were protecting Secretaria, saying “we do not want to speculate.” But he admitted that he ordered the relief of Mejias so that there would be no perceived bias in favor of Secretaria, or so that nothing could hamper the investigation. Mejias, whose relief would take effect today, June 1, would be placed on a “floating status” at the Regional Police Holding Administrative Office (RPHAO-7) in PRO-7 camp in Cebu City.
Mejias, sought for a comment, insisted Secretaria was difficult to catch.
“Naglisud gyud mi og monitor ana niya sa tinuod lang. Panagsa ra kaayo na siya mag-anhaan unya dili magdugay.
Mosibat dayon. (To be honest, we had a hard time monitoring Secretaria. He seldom visited the island. And if dropped by, it would not be for long),” said Mejias in a phone interview.
The death of Secretaria and two of his alleged cohorts, Montes and Dario Torremocia, however continued to raise question amid the insistence of the Montes family and of a ten-year-old female witness that the suspects were unarmed and allegedly summarily executed by the policemen who raided Secretaria’s hideout on Banacon Island on May 28.
The girl, a relative of Secretaria from Barangay Ermita who was on the island with her father, claimed that Secretaria and Montes had raised their hand in an apparent act of surrender but police operatives still shot them.
But Comendador debunked the allegation, even as he welcomed the CHR probe. He, however, expressed dismay over reports that Montes was helplessly killed by the police.
“Yes, last Saturday’s incident was ‘like a movie scene,” he said, alluding to statement of the young witness about what happened during the police raid.
“But probably the facts are twisted. Supposedly, the lead actors are the police officers while the character actors are the criminals. Some are twisting the story to make the police appear like the evil ones. Let us distinguish who are the good and the bad here,” he added.
Comendador believed some Banacon residents were fabricating stories to stop the police from controlling the area.
Based on police investigation, drug lords could easily operate on the island not because of its proximity to both mainlands Cebu and Bohol but because they were no policemen to monitor them there.
Secretaria was considered “untouchable” on Banacon as he provided presidents with free food and and electricity through a solar power source and a generator.
“We understand the sentiments of people especially that the slain criminal (Secretaria) acted like Robin Hood (a 14th-century English folk hero who took from the rich to give to the poor),” Comendador said.
But policemen, he said, won’t be discouraged and will continue to run after criminals, especially drug personalities, that use the island as the center of their drug operation.
“We will not hesitate nor will be harassed by any complaints. They are trying to twist the facts to slow down our operation. But that will not happen. We will even step it up higher and accelerate. We will pursue it to the end,” Comendador said.
Senior Supt. Clifford Gairanod, Cebu Provincial Police Office (CPPO) director, yesterday also defended his men who took part in the Banacon Island raid, stressing it has never been their style to salvage their targets.
“Kay misukol duna gyuy shootout. Sa kadaghan sa operations namo, amo ba’ng gi-salvage? Wala man. Basta mosukol anha pa, kon mosurrender sila peacefully wala gyod untay shootout,” he added.
(There was a shootout because they fought back. With our numerous operations, was there ever been a case of salvaging? Never. But if they fight back, that’s when we responded. If they had surrendered peacefully, there would have been no shootout).
The CHR, he said, is “free to investigate.”
Operatives of the Regional Public Safety Battalion (RPSB) arrived on Banacon yesterday to diffuse tension in the area and to search for possible hiding places of Secretaria’s two brothers, who also have separate warrants of arrest for murder.
Comendador described the surviving Secretaria siblings, whom he declined to name, as alleged level one drug peddlers who, like Yawa, could disposed of at least five kilograms of shabu every week, valued at about P59 million.
“They (Secretaria’s brothers) are actually next in line with the top pushers and peddlers in Cebu, Bohol, and the entire Central Visayas. And based on our report, they are still in Banacon,” he said.
He said they were also looking into the possibility that Secretaria’s group has been protected by authorities in the area.
Comendador said they are still verifying the participation of Secretaria’s two brothers during the shootout last Saturday.