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Murder in Crame: Senate probes Korean kidnap-slay case

MANILA, Philippines – They shot dead a mayor in jail. Now they face yet another probe for killing a Korean businessman right inside their main headquarters in Camp Crame.

In both instances, members of the Philippine National Police (PNP) used the war on drugs as justification for what happened.

On Thursday, January 26, the Senate opens its probe into the killing of businessman Jee Ick Joo by policemen who abducted him in Angeles City in October 2016 on suspicion he was peddling illegal drugs. (WATCH: LIVE: Senate hearing on Korean slay)

For over 4 months since October, Kyunjing Choi, the wife of Jee, hoped that she would soon find her husband, especially after paying her alleged kidnappers P5 million in ransom.

Little did she know he was killed – strangled to death inside Camp Crame, according to accounts – and cremated at a funeral home in Caloocan City on the day he was abducted. 

2 versions

The PNP leadership itself was blindsided by this operation, saying it uncovered the murder and the circumstances surrounding it only last week. (READ: Dela Rosa: Abducted Korean killed in Crame)

If the controversial case of slain Albuera Mayor Rolando Espinosa Sr involved local policemen based in Leyte, this scandal on the Korean's murder involved the PNP headquarters itself, in particular members of the PNP's Anti-Illegal Drugs Group headed by a police officer close to PNP chief Ronald dela Rosa, Senior Superintendent Bert Ferro.

Senators will be given 2 contradicting versions of what happened – one from the PNP and another from the National Bureau of Investigation.

Anti-drug operation

The abduction and killing of Jee happened within a span of hours.

On October 18, a group of policemen allegedly led by Senior Police Office 3 (SPO3) Ricky Sta Isabel, waited for Jee in Clark and followed him home to the Friendship Plaza subdivision, where a sizable community of South Koreans live.

At around 2 pm, two cops tagged “Pulis” and “Jerry” grabbed Jee from inside his house and forced him into a black Ford Expedition. Sta. Isabel and SPO4 Roy Villegas both helped “Pulis” and “Jerry” to load Jee into the vehicle. (Villegas has since turned into a key witness.)

The cops also brought with them Marisa Morquicho, Jee’s house help. The convoy of vehicles first passed by the Quezon City circle before eventually ending up in Camp Crame upon the instructions of another person to Sta. Isabel, allegedly his superior, Superintendent Rafael Dumlao, according to accounts.

In Crame, the AIDG cops initially stayed at the PNP Training Service compound before heading to the PNP stadium. Then they went back to the PNP Training Service again, and back to the Oval again.

During that time, AKG chief Senior Superintendent Glenn Dumlao said in a previous interview, Sta. Isabel was in constant communication with someone.

Eventually, Sta. Isabel and company were asked to leave the PNP stadium since it was already past 10 pm. They eventually ended up in the Police Community Relations Group (PCRG) compound, located right outside the AIDG headquarters.

It was there where they killed Jee, supposedly using either a wire or a rope. Villegas told probers it was Sta. Isabel himself who strangled the businessman, a claim Sta. Isabel denied.

“They were asking someone, they were talking to people,” explained AKG boss Senior Supt Dumlao, when asked why the AIDG cops stayed in Crame for so long.

After killing Jee, the cops went to a Caloocan City funeral parlor owned by a retired policeman. He was supposedly cremated the same day.

But it would take months – almost 4 – before investigators would even find out that Jee was already dead. When the news first broke on January 8, Jee’s whereabouts were uncertain.

While his wife had already paid P5 million in ransom, she had yet to receive proof of life.

In interviews leading up to the discovery that Jee was killed inside no less than Camp Crame, top police officials including PNP chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa admitted the likelihood of finding Jee alive was already slim.

But what took so long for investigators to find out what really happened?

The AKG had been on the case weeks after Jee’s abducted but it was only on January 16 that Villegas and Baldovino came forward to execute affidavits.

Still, this smacked of failure of intelligence and, some assert, leadership.

Who is Rafael Dumlao, Ricky Sta. Isabel?

On October 4, 2016, several cops assigned to AIDG conducted a “surveillance operation” at Jee’s residence in Friendship Plaza Subdivision.

Sta. Isabel, Villegas, and Police Officer 2 (PO2) Christopher Baldovino were among those who conducted the operations, according to both Villegas and Baldovino’s sworn statements executed before the Anti-Kidnapping Group (AKG).

“[Baldovino] joined the operation as he believed then that the operation is a legitimate police operation against the victim who, according to respondent Sta. Isabel, is involved in illegal drugs,” reads part of the justice department’s resolution on the case against the erring cops.

Villegas claimed the same thing, saying though that the operation was legitimate.

The AIDG team conducted several other surveillance operations against Jee, each time with Sta. Isabel using an ID bearing the name “Rudolf Reyes Go” to enter the village.

When the news first broke, police refused to name the cops allegedly involved, insisting that they did not want to compromise the ongoing operations. But it was Sta. Isabel himself who came forward to the media, a day after Dela Rosa called for “manhunt operations” against the supposedly missing cop.

But Sta. Isabel was far from missing – he was right inside Camp Crame.

Dela Rosa and other top police officials have claimed that Sta. Isabel’s patron is a supposed “narco general,” or a police general whom Duterte had earlier accused of having links to illegal drugs.

They have yet to substantiate these claims, however.

Sta. Isabel, Dela Rosa claimed, tried to enter the AKG but failed. He settled for the AIDG instead.

Track record

Sta. Isabel apparently was charged with kidnapping when he was assigned in Caloocan but this case was dismissed. He also passed the Directorate of Intelligence’s screening when he first applied to the AIDG.

In an interview with the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), AIDG chief Senior Superintendent Albert Ferro said it was one of his deputies, Superintendent Rafael Dumlao, who endorsed Sta. Isabel to him. It is not clear, however, when Dumlao joined the AIDG.

Pointing to his previous case in Caloocan, Dela Rosa has said that kidnapping and extortion has long been a modus of Sta. Isabel. Senior Superintendent Glenn Dumlao has made the same assumption, pointing to the same dismissed kidnapping charge.

If that’s so, how and why did Sta. Isabel – and Superintendent Rafael Dumlao – pass through the supposed scrutiny of the AIDG and the Directorate for Intelligence, the highest intelligence office in Camp Crame?

Tales of extortion?

Jee’s abductors waited for close to two weeks before finally contacting his wife and asking for random. By then, Jee had already been cremated under the name “Jose
Ruamar Salvador.”

On October 20, Jee’s wife filed a report before the AKG. Police from the anti-kidnapping group waited for the Korean’s abductors to make contact, but the call didn’t come.

It was only 10 days later, on October 30, that the abductors asked for the ransom. But at that point, however, Jee’s wife decided to keep the AKG out of the loop. The money was given but Jee was nowhere to be found.

His abductors asked for another P4.5 million, which Jee’s wife did not give anymore.

But there's a twist to this story.

Fall guy?

Sta. Isabel eventually “surrendered” to the NBI and, upon the request of the PNP, was transferred to the AKG in Camp Crame.

HIs wife Jinky said her husband was a mere fall guy.

She claimed she had a recording of Rafael Dumlao convincing her husband to take the fall for Jee’s murder. He also allegedly assured him that he would eventually be released anyway.

She also spoke of a meeting with AKG’s Dumlao.

Speaking to media, AKG’s Dumlao said Sta. Isabel’s wife, through his lawyers, asked for his help after the cop was “cornered.” Dumlao said he invited the wife to his office but she turned this down because she was afraid media would spot her.

“I spoke to his attorney and I asked where Ricky [Sta. Isabel] was but he wasn’t there. Right there and then I gave them my parameters. I wanted proof of life of the husband… second, I wanted to know who was behind the kidnapping and third, where the vehicle [of Sta. Isabel] was. If he would be able to give then, then we’ll help him and that depends on the appreciation of the fiscal… but the lawyer said we need to clear Sta. Isabel before the media first. I got angry [and told them] we have nothing to discuss here,” recalled Dumlao.

In this murder case, it’s a story of Dumlao versus Dumlao and cop vs cop.

‘Damage’ to the PNP

As more details of the crime became public, calls for Dela Rosa to resign grew louder. Duterte ally Speaker Panteleon Alvarez even joined these calls, only to take it back a few days after. Both Duterte and Alvarez were guests when Dela Rosa celebrated his birthday in Camp Crame last week.

Duterte has also thumbed down Dela Rosa’s offer to step down.

Dela Rosa and Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre III, meanwhile, have hinted at a “conspiracy” to damage Duterte through the PNP and its chief, Dela Rosa.

The PNP has been the lead government agency in Duterte’s war against drugs. The case of Jee Ick Joo is only the latest controversy to hit the police amid its campaign.

Since the campaign was launched, over 7,000 people have been killed in police operations and apparent vigilante-style killings with suspected links to illegal drugs. Police have been accused of resorting to extrajudicial means in the name of the campaign, a claim Dela Rosa has vehemently denied.

The Senate earlier probed allegations of extrajudicial killings by police, but after a switch of leadership, the committee that conducted the probe concluded that the killings were neither sponsored by the state nor Duterte.

The Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs, which is chaired by Senator Panfilo Lacson, earlier investigated the death of Albuera Mayor Rolando Espinosa in jail at the hands of Criminal Investigation and Detection Group Region 8 operatives.

The National Bureau of Investigation concluded it was a rubout– Rappler.com