A month after 11 Cebu City cops were accused of having raped and tortured three women inside a secret torture room in their police station, justice has yet to be served. And with the recent death of the prime suspect, more loose ends are coming out.
The case began in the first weeks of March. Ritchie Nepomuceno was brought into a secret torture room in the Sawang Calero Police Station (Pasil Police Station 6) for alleged ties with illegal drug trafficking.
According to the complaint she filed with the Integrity Monitoring and Enhancement Group Visayas Field Unit (IMEG-VFU), the 35-year-old Nepomuceno from Minglanilla town was arrested without any warrant. She said she was also robbed of her valuables during a search operation in her own home, extorted P170,000, brought to a motel against her will and then raped.
A total of 11 Cebu City cops were identified in her complaint. This was later increased to 13 after two new female complainants stepped forward and told about also being tortured both physically and psychologically inside the same secret room where Nepomuceno was illegally detained.
The victims later filed the separate complaints with the Commission on Human Rights in Central Visayas (CHR-7) and IMEG-VFU.
Later, Nepomuceno was shot dead along N. Bacalso Avenue in Cebu City by unidentified assailants. Just hours after she was killed, her accused rapist, Police Staff Sergeant Celso Colita, was found dead in an apparent suicide inside the comfort room of the Regional Police Drug Enforcement Unit (RPDEU) in Barangay Basak.
Police Major Alejandro Batobalonos, head of IMEG-VFU and the officer in charge of the entire investigation, reported receiving death threats soon after.
Batabalanos recounted the events to Rappler in a telephone interview. Here is a timeline of the case:
He says at least 11 Cebu City cops from the Sawang Calero Police Station, led by Colita, barge into Nepomuceno’s home in Minglanilla town on the night of March 9, claiming that they were conducting a search operation for firearms.
The cops had no search warrant but still proceed to enter the home. They tell her that she is suspected of being involved in “illegal drug trafficking.”
Unable to find firearms, the cops instead, take valuables, including pieces of jewelry, a bag, and an ATM card.
They bring Nepomuceno to the police station past midnight. She is illegally detained in a secret room in the police station. She claims Colita extorted P170,000 from her.
Hours later, Colita takes her and brings her to a motel and allegedly rapes her.
Nepomuceno asks the help of IMEG-VFU, headed by Batobalonos. She files robbery, extortion, and grave coercion complaints before the Cebu Provincial Prosecutor’s Office.
She names the following cops in her complaint:
Nepomuceno also files two rape complaints against Colita.
On the same day, Central Visayas police chief Brigadier General Ronnie Montejo announces in a livestreamed press briefing that the cops, who are also part of the station’s drug enforcement unit, are relieved from their posts.
In the same press briefing, Cebu City Police Office (CCPO) director Colonel Josefino Ligan says that they relieved Pasil Police Station 6 chief Major Eduard Sanchez for failing to supervise his personnel.
Major Eraño Regidor is designated as the officer-in-charge of Pasil Police Station 6.
Batobalonos tells Rappler in a phone interview that there are now two women who accuse the cops of robbery, rape, and extortion. He adds that the two women also claim they were tortured inside a secret room at the Sawang Calero Police Station (Pasil Police Station 6).
The second complainant, a 50-year-old businesswoman, says 6 cops from the same station arrest her on suspicion of being involved in illegal drug-related activities. The second complainant’s case is filed with the prosecutor's office on April 5.
Batobalanos says the second victim narrated that 4 of the 11 relieved cops in the first case also searched her home in Barangay Guadalupe, Cebu City on the evening of March 26.
Based on initial police reports of that raid, no illegal drugs were found that day. However, she says the police operatives forced her to open the vault in her home because they claimed she was keeping “drug money.”
Because she did not have the cash, she says they take her jewelry and other belongings. The cops also detain her in the same secret torture room in the Pasil Police Station 6.
Batobalanos tells Rappler that the while first victim suffered psychological torture, the second victim says she was tortured physically.
The second victim says the police attempted to submerge her head, which was wrapped in plastic, in a pail of water. She says the cops tied her hands. Then they choked her, forcing her to confess where she was keeping the drug money.
Batobalanos says that this all happened in the secret room which they believe is at the back part of the station, right next to the office kitchen.
On Tuesday morning, CHR-7's investigation team, led by chief investigator Leo Villarino, conducts a surprise inspection of the Sawang Calero Police Station to verify accounts of the secret torture room.
When the CHR team arrives at the station, the area which was alleged as the secret room was already a storage room.
The two victims who joined CHR-7’s inspection say that they recognize the items in the storage room that were there during the time of their captivity. The victims point to a bench which they remember taking turns sleeping on.
Villarino tells Rappler that the allegations were validated based on what they saw from the room. He also says that the 11 relieved cops are confined the holding area of the Police Regional Office Central Visayas (PRO-7), in Osmeña Boulevard, Cebu City
Cebu City suspends the local government-funded allowances of the cops of the Pasil Police Station 6 accused in the torture and extortion of the two women.
Mayor Edgar Labella says in a livestreamed press conference that he instructed City Attorney Rey Galeon to coordinate with the police in conducting an investigation.
He calls the issue “an unacceptable thing” for police officers to do.
The Commission on Human Rights releases a statement expressing "grave concern" over reports of a secret detention facility in a Cebu City police station where two women were allegedly tortured.
The CHR urges the government to publicly acknowledge and condemn reports of torture by the police.
CHR Spokesperson Jacqueline Ann de Guia says in the statement that it is high time for the government to enact a legislation that will mandate the creation of a National Preventive Mechanism as part of the country's commitment to the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
Another businesswoman comes out and claims that she too was tortured in a secret detention facility inside a Cebu City police station.
Villarino tells Rappler on the phone that the third complainant says she was illegally arrested while she was tending her stall near the Carbon Public Market.
Villarino confirms that third complainant is under the custody of CHR Central Visayas.
Colita, the cop accused of raping Nepomuceno, leaves Camp Sergio Osmeña for a "medical check-up." Police Corporal Christopher Lorete escorts him and they return to the camp at around 6 pm.
At about 5:30 pm, Nepomuceno is shot and killed along N. Bacalso Avenue in Cebu City by unknown assailants while she is on her way home.
In a livestreamed media briefing the following day, Central Visayas Regional Police Drug Enforcement Unit (RPDEU-7) chief Major Glenn Hife recounted what happened that night at the RPDEU-7 office in Barangay Basak.
Hife says he interrogated Colita, asking him if he knows anything about the ambush that killed Nepomuceno. Hife says Colita did not reply and just bowed his head. Colita then asked permission to go to the toilet, which Hife allowed.
By 9 pm, Colita is found dead inside the RPDEU-7 toilet, a .45 caliber pistol was found by his side.
The entire investigation now shifts focus to where Colita got his gun. He was disarmed when he was relieved. Investigators are also looking into his whereabouts during the day. Together with that, the cops are also investigating the killing of Nepomuceno.
Labella condemns the killing of Nepomuceno and orders a "no-nonsense investigation" into the incident.
He instructs city legal officer Rey Gealon to provide legal assistance to the Nepomuceno family. The mayor also urges the husband of the victim to seek help from his office.
CHR says it has also started its own probe into the killing of Nepomuceno and the death of Colita.
Meanwhile, activist groups call for accountability on this issue from the national government and the PNP.
Batobalanos tells Rappler that he fears for his life after hearing rumblings from the local cops involved. According to him, the relieved cops believe that Batobalonos is taking the issue personally.
Prior to this, the Cebu City government withdraws the aid given to Nepomuceno's family, citing her possible links to illegal drugs. It also mentions of a possible "love" angle to her killing.
CCPO chief Ligan says Nepomuceno had an affair with a drug suspect in the past. He says they are considering this angle.
The Cebu City government hands the case over to the police to lead the investigation.
Batobalonos says he was told that there were death threats against him. In a phone conversation with Rappler, he says his staff from the IMEG-VFU spotted the threats under the comments section of an article posted by the local daily The Freeman.
The cops trace the account which posted the death threats to jailed drug lord Regie Labajo.
Batobalanos said Labajo used to be the live-in partner of Nepomuceno, the first complainant of this case.
Brigadier General Ronnie Montejo, chief of the PRO-7 says they will coordinate with the Cebu City Jail to investigate how Labajo managed to post the said threat while in detention.
Batobalonos says he plans to file a case against Labajo.
A month after the cops were relieved, the victims’ complaints are still being deliberated at the city prosecutor’s office. Meanwhile the accused cops are restricted within the barracks of Camp Sergio Osmeña.
As of May 27, the investigation behind the death of Ritchie Nepomuceno and her alleged rapist is still on-going. – Rappler.com