DOJ indicts Jovie Espenido for homicide over bloody Ozamiz raid

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Justice (DOJ) has indicted Ozamiz City Police Chief Jovie Espenido for 6 counts of homicide over the killing of 6 people during a police operation in 2017.

Espenido had admitted that he and his men killed the 6 whom they had hunted down for “recent robberies and killings” but that they only shot the victims in self-defense.

In a resolution dated July 30 but only released to media on Thursday, September 20, the DOJ dismissed the complaints for murder and arbitrary detention, only proceeding to indict Espenido and the others for homicide.

Homicide, unlike murder, is a bailable offense.

The indictment, however, can still be appealed. Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said on Thursday that after a motion for reconsideration is resolved by the prosecution panel, Espenido could still file a petition for review before the justice secretary. (PROFILE: Jovie Espenido sans the uniform)

The subject operation was done two months before a similar bloody raid that killed Ozamiz City Mayor Reynaldo Parojinog and 14 others on July 30, 2017, for which Espenido was rewarded. Espenido was also the police chief in Albuera, Leyte, when former mayor Rolando Espinosa was arrested and then later killed inside his jail cell. 

‘Hot pursuit’

Espenido led a hot pursuit operation on June 1, 2017, that resulted in the deaths of an entire family – Fancracio Manzano and son Jerry, son-in-law Victorino Mira Jr,  nephew Lito Manisan, nephew-in-law Romeo Libaton, and Alvin Lapeña.

“Espenido claims that the first gunfire came from the suspects who died during the encounter…[that] their deaths were the product of a legitimate encounter which was triggered by initial gunfire coming from the victims,” the DOJ resolution quoted Espenido’s defense.

Espenido submitted to the DOJ warrants of arrest and police blotter entries against the suspects.

However, the matriarch of the family, complainant Carmelita Manzano, said the warrants of arrest “do not mention the names of the victims in this case.” (READ: Why Jovie Espenido can't be Iloilo's chief of police)

“Complainant noted that the cases being referred to by respondents as recent robberies and killings cannot be characterized as recent,” said the resolution.

Assistant State Prosecutor Loverhette Jeffrey Villordon said that the qualifying circumstances needed to establish a case of murder were not present. Such circumstances include use of means involving great waste and ruin, treachery, and cruelty,

Villordon noted that neither the complainant nor the witnesses saw the actual killing.

The complainant claimed she and other relatives were herded into a neighbor’s home and made to turn their back to their house where the encounter was happening. 

A witness named Renaldo Alforque said he hid at the side of the house after hearing Jerry Manzano tell a cop, “Sir, wala po akong kasalanan. May 3 anak po ako (Sir, I’m innocent. I have 3 children).” Alforque claimed that before he hid himself, he saw Manzano put his hands up.

“It must be noted that neither the complainant, nor any of her witnesses, actually saw the killing. As such there is no basis to qualify the charge of murder,” said Villordon in the resolution approved by Acting Prosecutor General Richard Fadullon.

The complainant also filed a complaint for arbitrary detention for being held up for 6 days at the Ozamiz City Police Station. The complainant said she was only released after signing an affidavit that she was not allowed to read.

But Villordon said the policemen had proven that there was a case of illegal possession of firearms filed against her, “and there was indeed a legal ground for complainant’s detention.”

The complainant was held from June 1 to 7, while the affidavit of arrest for illegal possession of firearms was dated June 9.

Indicted along with Espenido for homicide are Senior Police Officer 4 Renato Martir Jr and Police Officer 1 Sandra Nadayag. –

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email or tweet @lianbuan.