No change of trial venue for cops charged in Calbayog mayor’s ambush 

Jazmin Bonifacio

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No change of trial venue for cops charged in Calbayog mayor’s ambush 

PROTECTION. The tight security for the nine cops standing trial for the 2021 ambush that killed Calbayog Mayor Ronaldo Aquino contrasts sharply with the unprotected status of the lpaintiffs, witnesses and their counsel.

Jazmin Bonifacio/Rappler

RTC Judge Reynaldo Clemens says: 'The accused had filed for a change of trial venue and we were asked to comment, the prosecution, and myself... the Supreme Court rejected the petition for change of venue'

SAMAR, Philippines – The nine cops accused of killing Calbayog City Mayor Ronaldo Aquino, two aides and a bystander in a March 2021 ambush tried to get a change of trial venue but were denied by the Supreme Court, Judge Reynaldo Clemens of the Calbayog Regional Trial Court Branch 31 told Rappler on Wednesday, October 5.

In an interview after the end of the first day of marathon bail hearings, Clemens also said defense and prosecution counsels agreed to have the local Criminal Investigation and Detection Office (CIDG) in Tacloban City in Leyte province to house the defendants.

“The accused had filed for a change of trial venue and we were asked to comment, the prosecution, and myself,” the judge said in a mix of Filipino and English.

“Based on our comments, the Supreme Court rejected the petition for change of venue. That means the Supreme Court has trust in my work, and that I won’t be partial,” Clemens added.

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. Police Special Action Forces stand guard outside the Hall of Justice in Calbayog City, Samar where marathon bail hearings are ongoing for nine cops accused in the 2021 ambush-slay of then mayor Ronaldo Aquino. (Jazmin Bonifacio)

The Philippine National Police flew in the nine cops from Metro Manila where they have been detained in Camp Crame since their surrender in February 2022. 

The judge ordered them to stay at the CIDG detention facility in Tacloban City, a five-hour drive from Calbayog City via the San Juanico Bridge for the duration of bail hearings on October 11, and November 9 and 10.

Clemens said the counsels reached an agreement after Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) officials said conditions of the local detention facility presented a security nightmare.

“The CIDG Tacloban director said that they have a jail facility and made a commitment that the accused will not be granted special treatment,” the judge added.

In the afternoon, the prosecution presented its first witness, Police Lieutenant Colonel Gloux Angel Cortado. 

Alma Uy, counsel for Aquino’s widow, Lina, said they made sure witnesses would be able to identify the defendants.

“They have a motion to be allowed bail so even if murder is a no-bail crime, we need a sampling of witnesses to show strong evidence against them,” Uy told Rappler in an interview after the first hearing day.

INTERVIEWS. Calbayog Regional Trial Court Judge Reynaldo Clemens and Alma Uy, counsel for the family of slain Calbayog mayor Ronaldo Aquino in separate interviews give updates on the trial. (Jazmin Bonifacio)

Levito Baligod, counsel for nine cops, also spoke to Rappler and said he had cross-examined the  prosecution’s witness.

Uy slammed the lopsided security arrangements during the bail hearings.

“Full force, the defendants wore protective vests and had many cops around them,” Uy said. “But no one thought of protecting the private complainants, the witnesses, and their  attorney. So we questioned that in court.”

The Aquino ambush is an emblem of the city’s long-standing problem of political killings, earning it the moniker, “Killbayog”.

Before Aquino, mayor Reynaldo Uy was murdered in 2011. –

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