Court starts bail hearings for 9 cops accused in Calbayog mayor’s slay

Jazmin Bonifacio
Court starts bail hearings for 9 cops accused in Calbayog mayor’s slay

BAIL HEARINGS. Cops accused of murder and frustrated murder in the March 2021 ambush-slay of Calbayog City mayor Ronaldo Aquino, his two aides, and a bystander, await the start of marathon bail hearings at Regional Trial Court Branch 31 in Calbayog City, Samar, on October 5, 2022.

Jazmin Bonifacio

Security is tight outside the Calbayog City Hall of Justice as marathon hearings begin

SAMAR, Philippines – The Regional Trial Court Branch 31 in Calbayog City on Wednesday morning, October 5, began marathon hearings on the bail petitions of nine cops in relation to the March 8, 2021 slay of Calbayog mayor Ronaldo Aquino and three others.

The accured – Lieutenant Colonel Harry Sucayre, Major Shyrille Tan, Captain Dino Goles, Lieutenant Julio Armeza Jr., Staff Sergeant Neil Cebu, Staff Sergeant Edsel Omega, Staff Sergeant Randy Merelos, Corporal Julius Garcia, and Patrolman Niño Salem – are accused of murdering Aquino, his police security aide Master Sergeant Rodeo Sario, his driver Dennis Abayon, and bystander Clint John Paul Yauder.

They also face frustrated murder charges involving another security aide, Mansfield Labonite.

Security was tight outside the Hall of Justice as Aquino’s assassination is considered a high-profile political killing in a city infamous for the moniker “Killbayog.”

Aquino is the second Calbayog mayor to be killed while in office in a span of a decade, after Reynaldo Uy who was murdered in 2011.

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Reporters were initially told that Judge Reynaldo Clemens had banned media coverage in the court room. They were later allowed in for a few minutes, but only to take photos.

Two of the accused, Goles and Garcia, had petitioned to participate in the bail hearings through videoconference but Clemens, on September 19, denied their motion, saying personal attendance during the bail hearing is “imperative” for identification purposes.

The judge scheduled the initial presentation of evidence during bail hearings on October 5, 11, and 13; and om November 9 and 10.

This is the first time that the court required the defendants’ personal attendance as they were arraigned via videoconference.

TIGHT SECURITY. Cops guard the Calbayog Hall of Justice on October 5, 2022, as marathon bail hearings start for nine cops accused in the March 8, 2021 slay of Calbayog mayor Ronaldo Aquino, two security aides, and a bystander. (Jazmin Bonifacio)
Transfer sought

On September 26, Alma Uy, counsel for Aquino’s widow Lina, asked Criminal Investigation and Detection Group chief Major General Ronald Lee to transfer the accused from Camp Crame in Metro Manila to a jail facility in Samar, where the crimes were committed. 

Police officers in Samar, who asked not to be identified because they are not authorized to speak on the issue, said the decision would hinge on Judge Clemens’ ruling on the bail petitions.

The case has had several twists and turns.

Cops initially reported that Aquino was killed in an ambush on Labuyao Bridge in Barangay Lonoy. But a day after the incident, on March 9, then-Philippine National Police chief Debold Sinas claimed it was “a shootout.”

On March 14, then-PNP officer-in-charge Guillermo Eleazar sacked Calbayog city police chief Lieutenant Colonel Neil Montaño.

The National Bureau of Investigation later dismissed Sinas’ claim and filed murder and frustrated murder complaints before the Department of Justice on June 10, 2021. The agency said phone data gathered through a warrant “revealed that Mayor Aquino had been subjected to monitoring as early as October 2020.”

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“Text messages also disclosed that Mayor Aquino had been falsely implicated [in the] illegal drug trade,” NBI Eastern Visayas chief Jerry Abiera had said.

Eleazar, who succeeded Sinas as PNP chief, vowed that the institution would not shield the suspects. 

In August 2021, the PNP Internal Affairs Service recommended the dismissal of five cops suspected in the ambush: Sucayre, Tan, Armeza, Cebu, and Omega.

The nine suspects surrendered to the PNP in Camp Crame on February 15, 2022, a day after Judge Cicero Lampasa of Regional Trial Court Branch 32 in Calbayog City issued arrest warrants. –

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