DIPOLOG, Philippines – A Zamboanga del Norte court has convicted a judge of ordering the murder of a fellow judge in 2019.
Judge Reymar Lacaya was shot dead while he was about to get in his car at the parking area of the Bulwagan ng Katarungan in Liloy, 145 kilometers southwest of Dipolog, on May 9, 2019.
In a September 30 promulgation, Liloy, Zamboanga del Norte Regional Trial Court Branch 28 (RTC-28) Acting Presiding Judge Anthony Isaw found Judge Oscar Tomarong guilty of being the “principal by inducement” in the murder of Lacaya, and sentenced him to imprisonment of up to 40 years without parole.
Isaw stressed in his decision that the penalty imposed on Tomarong should be that of an “aggravated crime, the higher of the two indivisible penalty – reclusion perpetua to death – which is death in this case.”
But since the death penalty is prohibited in the Philippines, “the penalty of reclusion perpetua shall be imposed, with no eligibility of parole,” he said.
Tomarong was also ordered to pay the heirs of Lacaya P9.5 million in moral and exemplary damages, civil indemnity, and actual damages or the recovery of the support that the heirs would have received had the judge not been murdered.
Prior to Lacaya’s slay, the Supreme Court ordered a judicial audit on RTC-28 which was then under Tomarong. Lacaya was then transferred to RTC-28, where he revoked orders and resolutions issued by Tomarong on drug cases that did not go through proper bail proceedings.
According to Lacaya’s wife Violeta, her husband had confided to her that “masuko na gyud siya nako (he [Tomarong] will surely get mad at me).”
Juliber Cabating, Tomarong’s aide who turned state witness, confessed that the judge ordered him to look for someone to kill Lacaya and Pia Arances, who Tomarong allegedly blamed for his partner’s alleged indiscretions.
Cabating said Tomarong wanted Lacaya dead because “puno na siya niya (he was fed up with Lacaya).
He said Tomarong offered P500,000, which was later lowered to P250,000, for the killing of Lacaya; and P50,000 for Arances.
Cabating said he contacted Erwel Silandron, who found a hired gun to do the job. After Arances was killed, Silandron backed off on the “second project,” and he contacted a certain Jerry and Ramil to kill Lacaya.
Cabating added in his testimony that it was Tomarong who handed him the P200,000 for the killers of Lacaya and P50,000 for the killing of Arances.
‘Sufficient and competent’ witness testimony
Tomarong denied having paid the killers through Cabating. He also denied that Cabating was his aide, insisted that he did not know the killers, and claimed he had no motive to have Lacaya killed.
However, Isaw found Cabating’s testimony to be “sufficient and competent” to prove that Tomarong masterminded the murder.
“Clearly, his fear of losing his job which he holds for more than six (6) years moves Cabating to submit to the will of Judge Tomarong as a show of loyalty, faith, and gratitude to the latter. This Court reasonably concludes and adopts as a finding that Judge Tomarong’s moral dominance over Cabating is the determining cause of why Cabating performed his role, lawful or unlawful, according to the wishes of his boss, accused Judge Tomarong. This lends credence to the declaration of Cabating that he acted for Judge Tomarong when he looked for hired killers to kill Judge Lacaya,” the decision read in part.
The decision also said: “While a Judge is viewed as a visible personification of law and justice, it does not make him/her superior, untouchable, or invincible. In the eyes of the law, all are equal…. This Court is bound to apply the law to the fullest extent unmindful of Judge Tomarong’s previous attachment with this Court as its former presiding judge. Let Justice be done though the Heavens fall.”
While no one saw the two killers shoot Lacaya, Isaw said there was enough “circumstantial evidence” that the two killed the judge.
The court noted that Ramil, Jerry, and Cabating were seen meeting at a restaurant, and CCTV footage showed the hired killers entering the court premises.
The footage also showed the two running away after gunshots were heard.
A laundry woman nearby claimed to have witnessed the two men running, and one saying, “Dali, dali kay walay gasunod nato (Faster, faster, nobody is following us).”
Ramil, Jerry, and the other intermediary, identified only as Silandron, are still at large.
Meanwhile, Tomarong’s cousin, Roger Saldia – who helped Cabating hide from authorities before he surrendered to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) – was found guilty as an accessory to the crime, and was sentenced from four to eight years of imprisonment.
Saldia was also ordered to pay the heirs of Lacaya P1.06 million in damages.
Tomarong is currently detained at the Dipolog City Correctional and Rehabilitation Center. – Rappler.com