Finding Gisela: Too close, too far

By Ador Vincent Mayol, Benjie Talisic, Norman V. Mendoza |June 10,2017 - 11:21 PM


SEARCH FOR GISELA, DAY 3. Philippine Navy and police personnel check on Saturday, June 10, 2017, the area along the Olango Channel where the body of Bien Unido Mayor Gisela Boniel was dumped as pinpointed by suspect-turned-witness Riolito “Etad” Boniel (second from right), the cousin of Bohol Provincial Board Member Niño Rey Boniel, the mayor’s husband and alleged killer.
CDN PHOTO/TONEE DESPOJO

The culprits made sure that Bien Unido Mayor Gisela Boniel would be thrown into a place where it would be near impossible to find her body.

Thus, even if expert divers already zeroed in on the section of the sea where the body of the mayor was dumped, it is not humanly possible to reach her without the aid of sophisticated dive and sonar equipment, given that her body could be at a depth of about 700 feet from the surface.

Capt. Mark Colina, commanding officer of the special operation unit of the Naval Forces Central based in Lapu-Lapu City, said they suspended attempts to locate the mayor’s body past 10 a.m. yesterday because “no individual diver can reach that depth.”

“We based our search on the account of the person who threw the body of the victim to the sea. But right now, we can’t say that the body is really there. We need underwater devices to penetrate that area of the sea,” he told Cebu Daily News.

It was suspect-turned-witness Riolito “Etad” Boniel who led police and divers to the Olango Channel yesterday where he said he and two others threw the body of the mayor, while it was allegedly being personally supervised by his cousin, Bohol Provincial Board (PB) Member Niño Rey Boniel, the mayor’s husband and alleged killer.

According to Etad, there were four of them on board the motorized banca that brought the then still alive but unconscious mayor to the middle of the sea – himself, PB Member Boniel, and a certain “JR” and a certain “Randy.”

Etad, in his affidavit, had claimed that the mayor was rendered unconscious by a stun gun when they were still at a resort in Bien Unido.

She was then loaded in the motorboat. It was while they were traveling at sea that she regained consciousness and started talking with her husband, he said.

Later, Etad said, he heard a gun being fired and saw PB Member Boniel holding the gun while the mayor fell bleeding and later died.

Etad, a Bantay Dagat (sea patrol) member of Bien Unido and a motorboat operator, revealed that the PB Member initially wanted her body thrown somewhere in Leyte but decided to have it dumped along the Olango Channel when he (Etad) said he was familiar with the Olango area.

Etad, speaking to reporters who also joined yesterday’s third day of search in the exact site where he threw her body overboard, said he knew that this part of Olango Channel was deep so it was where they threw the lifeless Mayor Boniel.

To make sure that the body would sink, Etad said they tied a rock weighing about 30 kilos around the mayor’s body and wrapped it with fish net before they tipped her into the sea.

“Ang unang plano niya (PB Member Boniel) nga adto dad-on sa Leyte area pero kay mangutana man siya og duna ba’y lawom kaayo dinhi mao nga ako siyang nga diring dapita,” said Riolito Boniel.

He said he could remember the area where they dropped Mayor Boniel’s body because he had marked its location by using the still visible northern tip of Olango Island, which was silhouetted by with the western part of Mactan Island where the two high rise buildings of the Amisa Private Residences on Barangay Punta Engaño, Lapu-Lapu City were also clearly visible.

The site was flanked by Olango Island in the south and Caubian Island in the northeast.

State witness

Etad, a first term village councilman of Barangay Busali-an in Talibon town, was no longer handcuffed but was still in police custody as he could turned as the main witness against PB Member Boniel and the other suspects.

“Kinahanglan gyud ko nga mosulti sa tinuod karon kaysa mag-antos sa butang nga wala nako buhata, puslan man nga ako man diay iyang gitudlo nga nipusil sa mayor, nga siya man gyud (I have to tell the truth now considering that he had pointed me as the one who shot the mayor, when in fact, it was him who did it),” said Etad.

“Wala ko mahadlok. Andam ko mo-witness. (I am no longer afraid. I am ready to be a witness),” he told reporters.

Plotting the site

Senior Supt. Rommel Cabagnot, chief of the Lapu-Lapu City Police Office (LLCPO), said they have asked the Philippine Navy to provide the needed equipment after the technical divers volunteered to take part said they could not get to the area where the body was believed to have sunk.

Cabagnot said he also alerted the policemen on Camotes Island to help locate Gisela’s body.

“I was informed that if the body gets bloated, there is a possibility that it will float. And based on the monitoring, the sea current is heading to the area of Camotes Island,” he said.

A Philippine Navy team led by Lt. Mark Colina, the commanding officer of the Naval Special Operations Unit 5, was on the site yesterday to plot the area where the mayor’s body, and marked and recorded its coordinates and depth to determine the equipment they need to use for the search and retrieval operations.

Colina said, they have the Sonar Site Scanner that can produce an image of the possible target object and an ROV (Remote Operated Vehicle) mounted with lights and a camera that can travel the depths of the sea and monitored on the water surface by an operator.

He said the equipment are currently at the Cavite Naval Base in Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon provinces) and expected to arrive in Cebu this afternoon, a Sunday.

Colina said the area pointed to by Etad is part of the Olango Channel and about 216 meters or 708 feet deep from the surface.

The area, including the Hilutongan Channel in between Mactan Island and Olango Island, is second deepest trench in the country, or second only to the 10,497-meter Philippine Deep, he said.

Due to the lack of equipment, the search was halted at 10 a.m. and would be suspended until the deep sea search equipment and their operators have become available, said Senior Supt. Jonathan Cabal, the chief of the Regional Intelligence Division in Central Visayas (RID-7), which is handling the investigation into the mayor’s disappearance and death.

Gisela, who won as mayor of Bien Unido town in the May 2016 elections, was believed to have been killed by her husband, former mayor and now Bohol Provincial Board Member Niño Rey Boniel on Wednesday dawn.

Niño, who was also mayor of Bien Unido before Gisela replaced him in 2016, was arrested on Thursday at his residence in the town after Gisela’s best friend Angela Leyson, who was also allegedly held captive by the board member in a resort in the municipality, reported the incident to the Cebu police.

A cry for justice

Heritage tour guide Balbino “Ka Bino” Guerrero, a friend of Gisela, appealed to authorities to locate the victim’s body and to make sure justice will be delivered.

“She is a dear friend — a person who you easily get along with because she is very likable and with sunshine personality. Actually, I am still in a denial that she is gone. It is just so hard to fathom. She doesn’t deserve it,” he told CDN.

Guerrero, who now works at the Cebu City Cultural and Historical Affairs Office, said he met Gisela during the Philippine AirAsia launch in 2014. Gisela was the first female pilot of AirAsia.

“She loves flying. One time I asked her if she will get another term (as mayor), she said no. After one term, she wants to fly again,” he said.

Last Friday, Leyson and her 17-year-old son filed two counts of kidnapping, illegal detention and serious physical injuries charges against Niño and his cohorts at the Tagbilaran City Prosecutor’s Office.

Police are also set to file a parricide case against Niño, and murder complaints against the other suspects at the Lapu-Lapu City Prosecutor’s Office, which has jurisdiction over the part of the sea where Gisela’s body was reportedly thrown.

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