DOJ ordered the filing of murder charges against a former Davao del Sur Governor, Municipality of Matanao Mayor, and two (2) others; charges against three others to be withdrawn

28 August 2014

In a Resolution promulgated on 26 August 2014, Justice Secretary Leila M. De I.ima reversed the 10 October 2013 Resolution of the Prosecutor General as well as the 16 January 2012 and 18 April 2012 Resolutions of the Investigating Prosecutor concerning the complaint filed by complainant Marxlen A. Bedolido (BEDOLIDO) against Respondents Artemio Timosan, Jr., a.k.a. "Dokdok" (TIMOSAN, JR.), Governor Douglas Cagas (CAGAS), Mayor Vicente Fernandez, a.k.a. "Butch Fernandez" (FERNANDEZ), Ali Ordaneza (ORDANEZA), Bado Sanchez, a.k.a. "BadoBaritua" (SANCHEZ), Voltaire Mirafuentes, a.k.a. "Ritchie 'Boyet' Mirafuentes" (MIRAFUENTES), and Hemy Mirafuentes, Jr. (MIRAFUENTES, JR.) for the murder of NESTOR G. BEDOLIDO, SR. (BEDOLIDO, SR.).

It may be recalled that in a Resolution dated 10 October 2013, the Prosecutor General dismissed the Petition for  Review of the Resolution of Assistant State Prosecutor Rassendell Rex F. Guingoyon (GUINGOYON), as Acting City Prosecutor of Digos City per Department Order No. 617, which dismissed the complaint for murder against the respondents, except for Respondents MIRAFUENTES, MIRAFUENTES, JR., and TIMOSAN.

The records of the case reveal that on 19 June 2010, at around eight o'clock in the evening, BEDOLIDO, SR., a reporter, was shot to death at Quezon Avenue corner Rizal Avenue, Davao, Digos City. Ritchie L. Manapol (MANAPOL), one of the witnesses, identified the gunman as Respondent MIRAFUENTES. He also narrated that prior to the incident, he saw Respondent MIRAFUENTES, together with another person, aboard a Honda red motorcycle with black design, talking to Respondent TIMOSAN; and that after the shooting, Respondent  MIRAFUENTES fled from the area riding in the same motorcycle driven by the other person he earlier saw; and that he saw Respondent TIMOSAN, who was aboard another motorcycle, leave towards the same direction of Respondent MIRAFUENTES.

Respondent MlRAFUENTES surrendered to the police and executed a sworn statement dated 08 October 2010 admitting to the shooting of BEDOLIDO, SR., and pointed to the Respondents – then Governor CAGAS and Mayor FERNANDEZ as the masterminds, as well as ORDANEZA and SANCHEZ as among those who participated in planning and carrying out the killing of BEDOLIDO, SR.  Respondent  MIRAFUENTES, JR. also surrendered and identified himself as the driver of the motorcycle which his brother, Respondent MIRAFUENTES, rode. He likewise executed a sworn statement corroborating some points in the sworn statement of Respondent MIRAFUENTES, particularly regarding their first meeting with Respondent CAGAS and the pre-execution and execution stage of the killing of BEDOLIDO, SR.

Respondents CAGAS, FERNANDEZ, ORDANEZA, and TIMOSAN submitted their respective counter-affidavits and interposed the defense of alibi. In addition, Respondent CAGAS raised the defense of inadmissibility of the statement of Respondent MIRAFUENTES under the res inter aliosacta rule.

As stated above, the Investigating Prosecutor dismissed the complaint for murder against the respondents, except for the MIRAFUENTES brothers and TIMOSAN.  In his Resolution dated 16 January 2012, the Investigating Prosecutor found that "conspiracy existed between the Mirafuentes brothers and Timosan in killing the victim"; and that "the extra-judicial confession of Voltaire Mirafuentes is not admissible as evidence against the other respondents in view of the res inter aliosacta rule".

Complainant BEDOLIDO and Respondents MIRAFUENTES brothers and TIMOSAN moved for the reconsideration of the Resolution of the  Investigating Prosecutor, which, however, was denied by the latter. The Investigating Prosecutor added that "the admission of Voltaire Mirafuentes in the Witness Protection Program does not necessarily mean that this office should admit all his allegations "hook, line, and sinker".

In his 10 October 2013 Resolution, the Prosecutor General refused to believe the statement of Respondent MIRAFUENTES in relation to the alleged instruction of Respondents CAGAS and FERNANDEZ to kill the victim; and declared that "the Witness Protection Program must have to review then the qualifications of the Mirafuentes brothers if they are still entitled to the benefits granted under the program". Accordingly, the Petition for Review which the MlRAFUENTES brothers filed with the Department of Justice was denied by the Prosecutor General, hence, the subject Motion for  Reconsideration.

The Justice Secretary differed with the findings of the Investigating Prosecutor and the Prosecutor General that the extra-judicial confession of Respondent MIRAFUENTES cannot be admitted as evidence against the other respondents, and reasoned as follows:

The rule res inter aliosactaalterinoceri no debet means that a transaction between two parties ought not to operate to the prejudice of a third person. Based on the  pronouncements of the Supreme Court in People vs. Buntag and People vs. Palijon, it is apparent that the res inter aliosacta rule is a protection against hearsay evidence. Thus, if the person against whom the testimony is given has the opportunity to cross-examine the witness, the rule should not apply. From the Buntag and Palijon cases, it would appear that the res inter aliosacta doctrlne should be a rule of judicial proceeding, and not of  preliminary investigation. For it is a fundamental principle that the accused, in a preliminary investigation has no right to cross-examine the witness which the complainant may present.

The Justice Secretary held that the  Investigating Prosecutor and the Prosecutor General "erred in applying the res inter aliosacta rule during the preliminary investigation of this case. Applying the res inter aliosacta rule during the preliminary investigation will prevent witnesses to repeat in court during the trial their extrajudicial confessions and result in the loss of opportunity to transpose such confessions into judicial admissions to render them admissible in evidence. Applying the principle at this point will stifle the prosecution. This will be inconsistent with the nature or purpose of a preliminary investigation which is to  determine probable cause only."

The Justice Secretary also resolved that the Investigating Prosecutor and the Prosecutor General "erred in failing to consider that Section 30, Rule 130 of the Rules of Court, 'refers to an extrajudicial declaration of a conspirator - not to his testimony by way of direct evidence.” In this case, the statement of Respondent  MlRAFUENTES is "a testimony 'by way of direct evidence' against Respondents CAGAS, FERNANDEZ, ORDANEZA, and SANCHEZ. True, Respondents CAGAS, FERNANDEZ, ORDANEZA, and SANCHEZ have not cross-examined [Respondent MIRAFUENTES]. Understandably so, because this case is still at its preliminary investigation stage where such right is not   available. However, they will have the opportunity to cross-examine [Respondent MIRAFUENTES] when he testifies during the trial and where the parties can have a 'full and exhaustive display of their evidence'.

In any event, "the rule that an extra-judicial statement is evidence only against the person making it, also recognizes various exceptions". Examining the testimony of  Respondents MIRAFUENTES brothers, the Justice Secretary found the same sufficient to establish probable cause against Respondents CAGAS, FERNANDEZ,  ORDANEZA, and SANCHEZ for the murder of BEDOLIDO, SR.

In his sworn statement, before State Prosecutor Lamberto C. Fabros,  Respondent MIRAFUENTES stated that in late 2009, Respondent CAGAS, through Respondent ORDANEZA, summoned him and his brother Respondent MlRAFUENTES, JR.  Accordingly, they proceeded to   Respondent CAGAS' house at Estrada St, Digos City, where they talked about the killing of the parents of Respondents MIRAFUENTES brothers and the grenade-throwing incident in their house; that  Respondent CAGAS explainedthat the suspects, whom they knew to be  bodyguards of Respondent FERNANDEZ, a political ally of Respondent CAGAS, were discovered to have worked as spies for Respondent FERNANDEZ's political opponent; that after Respondent CAGAS wonthe elections, he, through Respondent ORDANEZA, again summoned Respondents MIRAFUENTES brothers for a meeting at his house; that only Respondent MlRAFUENTES went to Respondent CAGAS' house where he  saw Respondent FERNANDEZ; that  Respondent FERNANDEZ stated that he knew the parents of the Respondents MIRAFUENTES brothers and added that he wants to help; that Respondent CAGAS wrote the name "Nestor Bedolido" on a piece of paper referring as the person responsible for the killing of the parents of Respondents MlRAFUENTES brothers; that  Respondent CAGAS reminded Respondent MlRAFUENTES of his promise to help get justice for his parents once the former elected governor; that Respondent CAGAS instructed Respondent ORDANEZA to discuss the matter among themselves; that Respondent ORDANEZA then told Respondent MIRAFUENTES that the latter will be the triggerman while Respondent SANCHEZ will point and identify BEDOLIDO, SR.; that they agreed to regroup at the house of Respondent FERNANDEZ at five o'clock in the afternoon on the same day to execute the plan; that upon reaching home, Respondent MIRAFUENTES informed his brother of what transpired during the meeting; that at about five o'clock in the afternoon of 19 June 2010, Respondents MIRAFUENTES brothers went to the house of Respondent FERNANDEZ; that Respondents ORDANEZA and SANCHEZ informed them that BEDOLIDO, SR. will be at the Torecs Video-K Bar along Quezon Avenue, and provided the Respondents MIRAFUENTES brothers " with a motorcycle and two handguns; and that as planned, after  Respondent SANCHEZ confirmed the presence of BEDOLIDO, SR.,  Respondent MIRAFUENTES shot the victim "several times. The statement of Respondent MIRAFUENTES was corroborated by his brother, Respondent MIRAFUENTES, JR. in his sworn statement dated 18 March2011.

The Justice Secretary observed that "the statements of [Respondent MIRAFUENTES brothers] are positive and categorical and sufficient to form a reasonable belief that murder has been committed and that [Respondents CAGAS, FERNANDEZ, ORDANEZA, and SANCHEZ] are probably guilty thereof. The statements of [Respondent MIRAFUENTES brothers] corroborate each other in material points to  establish  conspiracy among [Respondents CAGAS, FERNANDEZ, ORDANEZA, and SANCHEZ] in the murder of BEDOLIDO, SR. xxx xxxxxx There appears to be no collusion when their respective statements were executed. They qualify as interlocking confessions. Hence, we find them admissible against those whom they implicated, namely, Respondents CAGAS, FERNANDEZ, ORDANEZA, and SANCHEZ.” 

As for the issue regarding the credibility of the statements of Respondents MIRAFUENTES brothers, the Justice Secretary found that "the same can be best addressed by the trial court which shall have the opportunity to observe their demeanor when testifying in open court and can be the best judge if they are telling the truth. In like manner, the defenses raised by Respondents CAGAS, FERNANDEZ ORDANEZA. and  SANCHEZ are better threshed out in a full-blown trial of this case."

With respect to Respondent TIMOSAN, the Justice Secretary resolved that "there is no sufficient evidence to establish probable cause against him. The only evidence against [Respondent TIMOSAN] is the statement of witness MANAPOL talking to [Respondent MIRAFUENTES] before the shooting incident and leave thereafter towards the direction where [the latter] went." The finding of conspiracy against Respondent TIMOSAN is clearly based on mere conjecture.

On the liability of Respondents MIRAFUEN'I'ES brothers, the Justice Secretary noted that "they have been admitted to the Witness Protection  and Security Benefit Program (WPP) for which reason they should be granted immunity from prosecution in this case. While the Certification they submitted to [the Investigating Prosecutor] during the preliminary Investigation speaks of "provisional admission",  this does not mean that they are entitled to lesser benefits under the WPP Law. Provisional admission granted by the WPP does not affect the entitlement of a witness to immunity or his right not to be included in the complaint or information, unless the Certification says so. Here, the Certification does not say so."

The Investigating Prosecutor and the Prosecutor General were reminded by the Justice Secretary that regardless of the nature of the admission, for as long as the witness is admitted or covered under the WPP, it is the duty of the prosecutor to give full faith and credit to such admission and not to include the witness in the complaint or information as expressly provided for under Section12 of Republic Act No. 6981.   

In light of the foregoing, the Justice Secretary ordered the Office of the City Prosecutor of Digos City, as follows:

1. To FILE the Information for Murder against Respondents CAGAS, FERNANDEZ, ORDANEZA and SANCHEZ, for the killing of BEDOLIDO, SR.;

2. To WITHDRAW the Information for murder against Respondents MIRAFUENTES brothers and TIMOSAN; and

3. To report the action taken thereon within ten days from receipt of the Resolution.

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