SAF officer arrested for 2011 Makati bus explosion acquitted

MANILA, Philippines – A member of the Philippine National Police-Special Action Force (PNP-SAF) who was arrested for his alleged involvement in a bus bombing in Makati City in 2011 has been acquitted of murder charges.

In a decision promulgated on Thursday, August 6, the Makati City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 145 cleared Police Officer 2 Arnold Mayo of multiple murder and multiple frustrated murder raps “on the ground of reasonable doubt.”

Mayo was allegedly one of two men behind the bombing of a Newman Gold Liner passenger utility bus along the northbound loading bay at EDSA corner Buendia Avenue, Makati City, on January 25, 2011.

The explosion, caused by an 81-mm mortar round, left 5 people dead and 15 others injured.

According to presiding judge Carlito Calpatura, the Makati RTC is “not convinced with moral certainty” that Mayo was guilty of the charges filed against him by Newman Gold Liner Incorporated.

“With a cloud of doubt continuously bothering the mind of this court, its conscience cannot rest easy on a conviction,” said the decision.

According to The Philippine Star, Mayo was linked to the Makati bus bombing after he and other PNP-SAF officers brought an 81-mm mortar round to a junk shop in Lower Bicutan, Taguig City, on January 25, 2012, exactly a year after the bus explosion.

The mortar round exploded in the Taguig junk shop when a personnel used a welding machine to dismantle it.

The explosion injured Mayo and killed 4 people, including Police Officer 3 Jose Torralba, who also allegedly boarded the Newman Gold Liner bus with Mayo in 2011.

Mayo was under the restrictive custody at the PNP-SAF headquarters in Taguig before he was arrested for the Makati bus bombing in February 2013.

Eight months later, the court allowed him to post bail.

The testimony

According to the Makati RTC's 22-page decision, the murder charges against Mayo rested mostly on the testimony of bus conductor Michael Jaralve.

Investigators obtained a surveillance video from one of the fastfood restaurants along the route the bus took showing that two men, one of whom they believed was Mayo, boarded the bus.

The plastic bag one of them was carrying supposedly contained the improvised explosive device used in the bombing. The other had a backpack on him.

In his first sworn statement on January 27, 2011, Jaralve said that two men in dark-colored clothing entered the bus somewhere along Tramo Street, Pasay City, and asked him twice if the bus would pass through “Ayala Ibabaw.”

After confirming the bus’ route with the men both times, Jaralve said he was puzzled when they alighted at Evangelista Street in Pasay. He also remembered seeing the men leave with the backpack but was unsure if they also brought out the plastic bag.

On March 5, 2012, Jaralve’s second sworn statement said that the interviewing policeman showed him a photo of a man who could be one of the two passengers who left the bus before the explosion.

The bus conductor also said he recognized the passenger who had a backpack when the investigators asked him to visit a house in Silang, Cavite, to identify a certain person.

It was only in his last sworn statement on August 29, 2012, that Jaralve was able to name Mayo as the person who appeared in the fastfood restaurant’s surveillance video.

Just ‘circumstantial’ evidence

However, the Makati RTC decision said Jaralve’s first statement did not contain a facial description of the men.

The court also said that the bus conductor’s identification is of “doubtful value,” as the means the investigators used “corrupted the identification procedure with impermissible suggestion.”

Jaralve also admitted he could not have realistically remembered the faces of all the passengers who boarded the bus on January 25, 2011.

According to the Makati RTC, these were all “circumstantial” evidence only as no eyewitness was able to pinpoint Mayo as the exact person who placed the bomb in the bus.

Moreover, the court said that Mayo was able to present enough evidence proving that he was in Barangay Menzi, Isabela City, in Basilan for an assignment in the PNP-SAF’s 54th Special Action company on the day the bus exploded along EDSA.

The court also called it a “vain attempt” on the part of the prosecution to link Mayo to the Makati bus explosion because of the blast in the junk shop in Taguig. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

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