Pampanga court defers arraignment of cop tagged in S. Korean kidnap-slay case

MANILA-- The Angeles City Regional Trial Court (RTC) in Pampanga on Monday granted the several motions filed by SPO3 Ricky Sta. Isabel, the policeman tagged as one of the suspects in the kidnap-slay of South Korean businessman Jee Ick Joo, including the shelving of his arraignment and the transfer of his custody from Philippine National Police (PNP) to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).

"Filed on Jan. 25, 2017 by accused Senior Police Officer 3 Ricky Sta. Isabel is very urgent omnibus motions for reinvestigation; to defer the arraignment and to return the custody of the NBI from the PNP headquarters in Camp Crame is hereby granted," Judge Irineo Pangilinan Jr., of Branch 58 said in his two-page order.

Pangilinan directed the Department of Justice (DOJ) to conduct a reinvestigation on charges of kidnapping for ransom with homicide against Sta. Isabel and submit the resolution within 60 days or until March 3.

The court also reset the arraignment of the accused to April 19.

Sta. Isabel claimed that he was deprived of his constitutional right to due process after the DOJ filed the non-bailable case before the court without informing him of his right to disprove the allegations during preliminary investigation.

He lamented that the DOJ hurriedly issued a resolution on the charges last Jan. 17 and subsequently filed the case in court when he was notified that the hearing for his submission of answer was set on Feb. 6 and 13.

"Accused SPO3 Sta. Isabel, in the interest of justice and fair play, prays and begs for the kind indulgence of this Honorable Court to order the reinvestigation of the instant case against him. The Information was hastily filed without giving him the chance to file his counter affidavit together with the documents to refute the baseless complaint filed against him," the motion stated.

Apart from reinvestigation, the court also granted the plea of Sta. Isabel to be returned to the custody of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) from the Philippine National Police custodial center in Camp Crame.

"The PNP custodial center is hereby directed to turn over the custody of SPO3 Rickey Sta. Isabel to the National Bureau of Investigation, Manila immediately upon receipt hereof," read the order.

In seeking to return to NBI custody, Sta. Isabel is argued that he does not feel safe inside Camp Crame after he implicated several senior officials in the case, including his superiors PNP Anti-Illegal Drugs Group - Pampanga (AIDG) head Superintendent Rafael Dumlao and Senior Supt. Allan Macapagal of the PNP Anti-Kidnapping Group.

"Since accused herein is a member of the Philippine National Police, detained at the institution's detention facility, he fears for his life's security as the same is in imminent danger as he continuously receives death threats. Accused will be safer in the custody of the NBI than with the PNP considering that this case not only involves him but also several high ranking and powerful officials who are still connected with the PNP Organization," the motion stated.

Aside from Sta. Isabel also facing the charges were SPO4 Roy Villegas, Ramon Yalung, and four other individuals identified only as "Pulis," "Jerry," "Sir Dumlao," and "Ding."

Present during Monday's hearing , present were State Prosecutor Juan Pedro Navera and Prosecutor Junnie T. Esplana; Atty. Mario Dionisio of the Pubic Attorney's Office (PAO), counsel for Sta. Isabel; Atty. Hernani Barrios cousel for Villegas; and Atty. Venancio Rivera counsel of Yalung.

Villegas adopted the motion of Sta. Isabel but his custody will remain at PNP Custodial Center while Yalung also adopted the motion but his custody should remain at the Angeles City District Jail.

The state prosecutor did not interrupt any objection.

DOJ Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II bared that the alias "Ding" has been identified as Gerardo Santiago, the retired police officer who owns the Gream funeral parlor where Jee's body was cremated, while the alias "Jerry" is Jerry Omlang, an NBI asset who was allegedly among those who forcibly took the Korean from his home in a supposed anti-narcotics operation.

Both suspects have already surrendered to the NBI.

Aguirre also cited the possibility that higher PNP officials were involved in the kidnap-slay case after Sta. Isabel and wife Jinky submitted pieces of evidence pointing to involvement of his superiors.

Last Jan. 16, Sta. Isabel surrendered with the NBI to ask for protective custody after being tagged as one of the suspects in the kidnapping and killing of Korean businessman.

The warrant for the arrest was served on Jan. 20 by the member of the PNP-AKG at the NBI. After the service of the warrant, SPO3 Sta. Isabel's custody was transferred and presently detained at PNP Headquarters at Camp Crame, Quezon City.

Jee's wife, Choi Kyunghin, 53, said his husband was forcibly taken by eight armed men on Oct. 18 from his residence and had not been located until now.

His family paid Php 5 million ransom money on Oct. 30 but he was never released.

The abductors asked for an additional PHP4 million but failed to produce proof that the victim was still alive, prompting Choi to seek police's assistance.

Last Jan. 17, the NBI, together with the Caloocan police went to the funeral parlor after receiving information that Jee's body was taken there on the same day he was abducted on Oct. 18, 2016. No body was recovered as Jee's body had been cremated last year. (PNA)

Source: Philippines News Agency