crimes in the Philippines

Army, NBI collaboration hastens police work on Chua-Plaza murder case

Rommel Rebollido, Herbie Gomez

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Army, NBI collaboration hastens police work on Chua-Plaza murder case
The collaboration, with authorities getting a boost because of a P1-million reward offered by concerned citizens, results in the filing of the complaint against Brigadier General Durante and other suspects, less than a month after the murder

GENERAL SANTOS, Philippines – It was an Army board that got several suspects in the shocking murder of Davao City-based businesswoman and model Yvonette Chua Plaza to confess, while the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) extracted much of the electronic evidence to help the police in building a case against former Presidential Security Group (PSG) chief Brigadier General Jesus Durante III and his subordinates. 

The collaboration, with authorities getting a boost because of a P1-million reward given by concerned citizens, resulted in the filing of the complaint against Durante, his deputy commander, several other soldiers, and a civilian, Special Investigation Task Group Yvonette spokesperson Major Eudisan Gultiano told Rappler on Friday, January 27. 

Authorities submitted a complaint against the suspects to Davao prosecutors on Wednesday, January 25, less than a month after Plaza was killed in a gun attack outside her Green Meadows home in Davao City’s Tugbok District. It was the same day they identified Durante as the alleged brains behind the murder.

Gultiano said witnesses, all of them civilians, went to the police to identify the soldiers who allegedly carried out the December 29, 2022 gun attack right after the Davao City Police Office (DCPO) announced a P1-million reward for informers. 

With some of the suspects identified, the special team of police investigators proceeded with their work on the Plaza case, while a military board of inquiry pressed a group of soldiers under the Army’s 1001st Brigade for information.

“They confessed to the military board of inquiry,” said Gultiano. 

The NBI, meanwhile, worked to extract pieces of digital information which helped establish her and Durante’s links. 

On Wednesday, Davao regional police director Brigadier General Benjamin Silo Jr. called it a “tight case,” and added that the “clarity of circumstance” and the extra-judicial confessions “interlocked.”

Damning allegations

The confession of the alleged triggerman offered the most damning revelation so far. Sergeant Delfin Sialsa Jr., who was among the first suspects to surrender and confess to the crime, alleged that it was Durante’s close aide, Colonel Michael Licyayo, who ordered the burning of the victim’s belongings after the murder.

Police have filed a complaint for murder and obstruction of justice against Licyayo who served as deputy commander of the 1001st Infantry Brigade under Durante. The general was facing similar charges. 

Sialsa alleged that it was Licyayo who relayed Durante’s supposed order, and provided information and logistical support so they could stage the fatal gun attack. 

He claimed that he handed over the victim’s personal belongings to Colonel Licyayo, who then allegedly ordered another suspect, Staff Sergeant Gilbert Plaza, to burn them.

Sialsa alleged that the victim’s belongings, which he claimed he took after pulling the trigger, included a handbag containing her smartphone, a credit card, and an identification card.

PSG consultant?

Davao-based broadcaster 91.5 Brigada News FM reported that Sialsa, in his extra-judicial confession, alleged that the ID showed that the victim had been a PSG consultant. 

Durante was appointed as the PSG commander in February 2020, two years before former President Rodrigo Duterte stepped down from Malacanang.

“We have no way of knowing that because the ID was burned. That is not in the complaint we filed,” said Major Gultiano. 

She said it could have been part of unvalidated information that Plaza had worked as a writer for Durante. “It does not have anything to do with the case,” Gultiano said.

Meanwhile, police filed a complaint for murder and theft against Sialsa and Corporal Adrian Cachero, who allegedly served as the driver of the motorcycle used during the gun attack. 

Also accused by the police of murder are Staff Sergeant Plaza, Private 1st class Rolly Cabal, Private 1st class Romart Longakit, civilian Noel H. Japitan, and two John Does. 

Staff Sergeant Plaza, in addition to being accused of murder, was also slapped with an obstruction of justice complaint for allegedly burning the victim’s belongings. 

Longakit and Japitan were also accused of murder, while the two John Does – one referred to as “Junior” and the other as “Master Sergeant” – were facing charges for obstruction of justice.

Sialsa’s group turned over the murder weapon – a military-issued caliber .45 pistol – and the clothing they wore on the night of the killing, which, police said, further strengthened their case against the suspects. 

More pieces of evidence

Brigadier General Silo said other key evidence included CCTV footage and photographs that were consistent with accounts of the incident. 

Plaza’s family had also turned over her laptop to authorities, which provided further useful information. The laptop reportedly contained Plaza’s contacts, intimate photos, and showed her email exchanges with Durante.

Silo said that Durante allegedly had an affair with Plaza, and described the murder as a “crime of passion.” 

It was also alleged that Durante paid the rent for the victim’s home. 

Without providing further details, Silo said investigators had also discovered that Plaza had “sensitive information” that she had used to blackmail the general. 

Silo said the team of investigators, in collaboration with the Army and NBI, had ensured that all the requirements of the prosecutors had been met so that a case could be brought to court.

PNP links ex-PSG chief, 7 others to Chua-Plaza slay

PNP links ex-PSG chief, 7 others to Chua-Plaza slay

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Herbie Gomez

Herbie Salvosa Gomez is coordinator of Rappler’s bureau in Mindanao, where he has practiced journalism for over three decades. He writes a column called “Pastilan,” after a familiar expression in Cagayan de Oro, tackling issues in the Southern Philippines.