Makati murder suspects did not provoke victim – witness

Carlos Santamaria
Questioned by the defense, the security guard who witnessed the crime admits the victim landed the first punch

SOLE EYEWITNESS. Rockwell security guard Jose Rommel Saavedra saw the whole stabbing incident in Makati. Photo by Carlos Santamaria

MANILA, Philippines – The 4 suspects in the high-profile murder of a US citizen in Makati did not provoke the American before the latter attacked them, the security guard who witnessed the incident said on Thursday, January 17.

During cross-examination by the defense, Jose Rommel Saavedra explained that the victim, George Anikow, landed the first punch of the fistfight that ended with him stabbed to death.

“Anikow was brusco. After tapping the car, he followed it shouting ‘Respect the guard! Respect and the guard!’ and foul language, parang ‘fuck you’ until the passengers alighted and confronted him,” Saaavedra told the court.

The guard also testified that he was only able to identify one of the accused, the driver Juan Alfonso Abastillas, and did not see who stabbed the American.

Saavedra tried but failed to restrain the US citizen and “pacify” the Filipinos. He said he asked them to ignore the visibly drunk foreigner.

Abastillas, Osric Cabrera, Crispin de la Paz and Galicano Datu III were charged in late November with the murder of Anikow, a former US Marine married to an American diplomat assigned to the embassy in Manila.

CAUGHT ON TAPE. This CCTV video shows the brawl that ended with the victim stabbed to death just outside of the upscale Rockwell residential area. Screenshot from video courtesy of Makati police

Defense elated

Saavedra’s testimony got a unanimous positive reaction from the defense.

After the hearing, defense lawyer Jay de Castro told Rappler that the guard’s account proves that “this crime would not have happened if not for the unlawful aggression as well as sufficient provocation which started from Anikow.”

“The accused merely defended themselves from this aggression,” added the counsel for Datu.

Cabrera’s lawyer Redemberto Villanueva stressed that Saavedra himself referred to the incident as a “rumble” or “brawl” initiated by Anikow, who punched one of the defendants, knocking him down, before the rest responded.

All 4 defense attorneys objected when the prosecution requested the guard to identify the suspects in the CCTV footage provided by the security office of Rockwell, the upscale residential area which the accused wanted to enter when they encountered the victim on Nov 24, 2012.

“He should not be made to testify on something he had no personal knowledge of,” said Abastillas’ counsel Miguel Damaso, referring to the tape.

They finally agreed to show the video when Makati City Regional Trial Court branch 59 Judge Winlove Dumayas ruled Saavedra would only identify himself, the victim and Abastillas.

MEDIA SHY. The 4 defendants wear masks to hide their faces from the cameras when entering the courtroom and the defense wants a gag order on the press. Photo by Carlos Santamaria

Prosecution still confident

In spite of Thursday’s apparent setback, Makati City assistant prosecutor Hannah Arriola remains confident of keeping the defendants behind bars.

Regarding the guard’s testimony, she told reporters, “there is really nothing more we can do, but the video will speak for itself.”

“If the car had not stopped and the passengers had not alighted, this would not have happened. They can point fingers (…) but at the end of the day, if [the accused] had not ganged up on [the victim] and stabbed him, he wouldn’t be dead,” Arriola stressed.

The prosecution is scheduled to present its last two witnesses before the end of January.

One of them will be Noel Cuestas, a digital imaging expert assigned to the PNP Anti-Transnational Cybercrime Division who she hopes will be able to enlarge the CCTV footage to identify who stabbed Anikow.

The other is the medical legal officer who examined the remains of the victim and determined the cause of death.

FATAL WOUND. Anikow was stabbed in the neck and kept bleeding until he pronounced dead a few hours later at Makati Medical Center. Photo from case file courtesy of the court clerk

Could the victim have survived?

Thursday’s hearing also raised the possibility that Anikow could have survived the stabbing if he had received medical attention immediately and not 30-40 minutes after the incident, when the ambulance arrived to take him to nearby Makati Medical Center.

Saavedra told the court that the victim’s wife appeared on the scene a few minutes after the brawl and told the security guard: “This is my husband, he’s still alive. Take him to a hospital.”

The video shows an ambulance showing up but then leaving without Anikow, who was bleeding to death on Kalayaan Avenue beside Bel-air subdivision Gate No. 4.

Damaso asked Saavedra if the victim was still breathing when the guard approached him while still manning the Rockwell checkpoint and asked him if Anikow could have survived if he had been immediately to the hospital.

“No comment,” replied Saavedra.

So far the guard is the only eyewitness of the incident, as the other person in the CCTV footage, a taxi driver who saw the fistfight from start to finish — has yet to be identified by the police.

Arriola hopes her PNP digital imaging expert will be able to enlarge the fragments in enough detail to read the license plate of the taxi and thus lead to its driver on the night in question. –

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