Philippine economy

Murdered Korean cremated as ‘Jose Ruamar Salvador, Filipino’

Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism
The crematorium staff say they learned that 'Ruamar Salvador' was actually Korean Jee Ick Joo only last January 18, when agents from the NBI paid a visit to St Nathaniel

CREMATION CHAMBER. Korean Jee Ick Joo is cremated inside St Nathaniel Crematorium. PCIJ photo

MANILA, Philippines – He had been living in the Philippines for the last 8 years, but South Korean national Jee Ick Joo did not seem to have any intentions of changing his citizenship – at least not yet.

But when the 53-year-old businessman’s body was brought to a Caloocan City crematorium last October 19, his death certificate not only identified him as Filipino, it also said his name was Jose Ruamar Salvador, of Champaca Street, Sta Quiteria, Caloocan City.

Jee, who had a wife and teenage daughter, was abducted from his home in Angeles City, Pampanga on October 18, along with the family helper. He was apparently killed just hours later.

According to a staff member of the St Nathaniel Crematory in La Loma, Caloocan City, however, the remains of the man who would turn out to be Jee was brought there the next day and cremated at 11:00 in the morning.

An employee of Gream Funeral Services in Bagbaguin, Caloocan City had identified herself as the representative of the dead man’s family and made the reservation for the cremation two hours earlier, said the St Nathaniel staff. It was also the same Gream employee who signed all the papers required for the cremation, the staff said.

Death certificate forged?

“We had no idea they were not related,” said the crematorium personnel, referring to the Gream employee and Jee. “The assistant even looked distraught when they arrived at our office to submit the documents for the cremation of the body.”

The crematorium staff said they learned that “Ruamar Salvador” was actually Jee only last January 18, when agents from the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) paid a visit to St Nathaniel.

According to the St Nathaniel personnel, two people from Gream had gone to their office to submit the man’s death certificate, a health permit from city hall, and authorization to cremate the remains. For the required identification card of a family member, the Gream employee whom the crematorium staff kept referring to as “the assistant” submitted her own ID. False information had been enrolled about the identity of the remains in the evidently fake death certificate.

CREMATORY. St Nathaniel Crematory in La Loma is where Jee Ick Joo was brought for cremation. PCIJ photo

Cause of death?

The St Nathaniel personnel said that the death certificate contained the time and cause of death, but declined to disclose the details. The staff also said it was only the second time that St Nathaniel had dealt with Gream, which is some 30 minutes away by car from the crematorium. 

The urn containing the ashes of the deceased was released to the assistant, the crematorium personnel said. PNP chief Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa would later tell the media that a Gream employee had supposedly panicked and flushed the ashes down the toilet.

The crematorium staff said they have provided the NBI all the documents submitted to them for Jee’s cremation. They also told PCIJ that a close-circuit television camera captures all the activities in the crematorium chamber and in St Nathaniel’s offices.

Who is ‘Penny’?

The St Nathaniel’s staff said she saw the Gream assistant again at the NBI, where they had gone on January 18 (after the NBI’s visit to the crematorium) to give their judicial affidavit on the events surrounding the cremation of Jee.

By then, the Gream assistant was answering to the name “Penny.” According to the crematorium employee, she asked Penny, “Bakit ninyo naman kami dinamay dito (Why did you get us into this)?”

Penny is apparently an assistant to Gream’s owner, Gerardo Santiago, a former policeman who was assigned to the Northern Police District. Senior Police Officer 3 Ricky Sta Isabel, one of the prime suspects in the Jee kidnap-slay, was once deployed to the same police district.

Penny and 4 other employees of the funeral parlor are now under the custody of the NBI. An NBI insider said that the 5 Gream personnel “could identify the people who brought the victim’s body to them and ordered a cremation.” The NBI insider added that apparently, policemen brought Jee’s body to Gream at around 10:00 to 11:00 in the evening of October 18.

The insider also said that the Anti-Illegal Drugs Group members who were on duty when Jee was supposedly brought to the compound of the anti-narcotics group have been summoned by the NBI as part of its ongoing investigation. Penny and the 4 other Gream personnel may be put under the Witness Protection Program, said the NBI source. PCIJ, January 2017/

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