TACLOBAN, Philippines – The family of Police Master Sergeant Rodeo Sario, who died with Calbayog City mayor Ronaldo Aquino in an ambush on March 8, 2021, cannot avail of his government insurance benefits until the court resolves the murder charges filed against other police officers.
“Hindi pa po namin natatanggap ang death claims mula sa kanyang insurances, hanggang dyan sa office ng PNP (Philippine National Police), dahil ang iba ay inaantay pa kung ano ang kalalabasan ng kaso,” Sario’s wife, Ann, told Rappler on Friday, September 30.
(We can’t avail of his insurance death claims, and even there in the PNP, because they want to wait for the conclusion of the case.)
Sario, who has two children, said the family’s lone source of income today comes from her wages as a teacher.
“All I want is justice. My husband should not die in vain,” said Sario.
Regional Director Maximo Lasaca of the National Police Commission in Eastern Visayas told Rappler that the agency has already approved the release of Sario’s benefits, including pension, funeral, and burial benefits, as well as scholarship for the children.
“Napirmahan ko na, at ang inaantay na lang ang funds, at ‘pag dumating, diretso na ‘yun (I’ve already approved it, and we’re just waiting for the funds, and once the funds come in, it will be released),” said Lasaca.
Sario revealed the family’s predicament after lawyer Alma Uy, counsel for the slain mayor’s widow Lina, asked Criminal Investigation and Detection Group chief Major General Ronald Lee on Monday, September 26, to demand the transfer of the detention of nine police officers from Camp Crame in Metro Manila to a jail facility in Samar province, where the crimes were committed.
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, Sario, the mayor’s driver Dennis Abayon, and Clint John Paul Yauder.
They also face a frustrated murder charge involving another security aid, Mansfield Labonite.
The accused were arraigned through videoconference.
The initial presentation of evidence during bail hearings scheduled for October 5, 11, 13, and November 9 and 10 will be the first time the court has required their personal attendance.
Judge Reynaldo Clemens of the Regional Trial Court Branch 31 in Calbayog City on September 19 denied the motion of two of the accused, Goles and Garcia, to participate in the bail hearings through videoconference.
Personal attendance during the bail hearing is “imperative” for identification purposes, the judge said.
Goles and Garcia have previously denied being present during the ambush. The other co-accused have admitted their presence at the ambush site, the bridge in Barangay Lonoy.
The case has had several twists and turns.
After cops initially reported that Aquino was killed in an ambush, then-PNP chief general Debold Sinas claimed it was “a shootout,” claiming the mayor’s men shot at patrolling policemen.
But the National Bureau of Investigation dismissed Sinas claim and filed murder and frustrated murder complaints before the Department of Justice on June 10, 2021.
Sinas’ successor, General Guillermo Eleazar, also vowed that the PNP 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.