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Murder charges vs 10 for Pestaño death

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Ombudsman reverses previous order dismissing the complaint over the death of Navy officer Pestaño

MANILA, Philippines [2nd UPDATE] – At least 10 Navy officers and personnel were charged and ordered sacked on Wednesday, January 11, over the murder of a young Navy officer on board a ship more than 15 years ago.

Charged before the Sandiganbayan for the 1995 murder of Navy Ensign Philip Pestaño were Navy Capt. Ricardo M. Ordoñez; Commanders Reynaldo P. Lopez and Alfrederick A. Alba; Lt. Commanders Luidegar C. Casis, Joselito L. Colico and Ruben B. Roque; Machinery Repairman 2nd Class Sandy P. Miranda; Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Welmenio U. Aquino; Petty Officer 1st Class Carlito B. Amoroso; Petty Officer 2nd Class Mil Leonor Y. Igacasan and a “John Doe”.

Ordoñez retired in 2005, while the rest are said to be still in active service.

Graft investigation and prosecution officer Yvette Marie S. Evaristo recommended that all the defendants be held without bail for the duration of the trial.

Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales approved Evaristo’s recommendation to indict the Navy officials on January 10, 2012, reversing an earlier ruling by Deputy Ombudsman Orlando Casimiro that upheld the suicide theory submitted by the defendants.

Pestaño was found dead inside his cabin in the Navy logistics ship on September 27, 1995. He was the ship’s deck officer and cargo master.

The military then ruled that his death was a suicide, showing a note that was found near his body.

But his family cried foul, saying that he must have been killed because he had discovered anomalies in the Navy. This led to a Senate investigation in 1997, which concluded that indeed the young officer was shot to death.

Despite this, former Overall Deputy Ombudsman Orlando Casimiro dismissed the complaint against Navy personnel filed by the Pestaño family. The dismissal was one of the basis of an impeachment complaint that was filed by Akbayan against Gutierrez, who eventually was forced to quit.

Glaring inconsistency

Based on the 21-page resolution, the Ombudsman held that Pestaño was killed because of his opposition to the use of the Navy vessel, BRP Bacolod City, for the transport of hot lumber supposedly intended for then Vice Admiral Pio Carranza, PN Flag-Officer-in-Command.

The Ombudsman’s case however contained a glaring inconsistency – the second paragraph of the resolution said Pestaño was found “lying on the bed inside his cabin with a single gunshot wound on his right temple…” but on page 3 of the information, the victim was supposedly killed by “two (2) large gunshot wounds in the head….”

Both documents were drafted by Evaristo and reviewed and approved separately by Ombudsman Criminal Investigation, Prosecution and Administrative Adjudication Bureau director Dennis L. Garcia and Ombudsman Morales.

In reversing its earlier ruling dated June 15, 2009 dismissing the murder complaint, the Ombudsman said it has found compelling reason to reconsider its previous pronouncement that the evidence submitted by spouses Felipe and Evelyn Pestaño, parents of the slain navy officer, were insufficient to create a prima facie case.

“The totality of circumstances before, during and after the ‘discovery’ of the death of Philip (Pestaño) prima facie points that respondents conspired to kill him. And the attempt to cover it up solidifies the prima facie conclusion that respondents committed a premeditated act to and did kill him, hence, probable cause for Murder lies against them,” the Ombudsman said in its resolution.

Belying the theory that Pestaño shot himself were the following details:

  • absence of tattooing, smudging or burn mark around the gunshot wound indicative that the firearm was not in contact with the bullet entry point;
  • absence of blood spatters, bone fragments or other tissues on the wall of the victim’s cabin;
  • blood pooling on the pillow and other spots of Pestaño’s bed;
  • the autopsy report noting that the trajectory of the bullet passing through the dead man’s head and the location of the bullet mark on the cabin wall do not tally against each other as the wound was downward while the slug was fired upward;
  • the finding of Western Police District – Central Crime Laboratory that the handwriting on the supposed suicide note and the signature on it were written by different persons; and
  • the use of a gun assigned to respondent Aquino when Pestaño has his own firearm assigned to him.

The Ombudsman also considered newly-discovered evidence embodied by the AFP investigation report, made available to the Pestaño family only in 2006, which questioned the fact that BRP Bacolod City took two hours to reach the Navy headquarters in Manila from Sangley Point, Cavite  – a trip that usually takes only 45 minutes.

“The unexplained delay of about one hour and 15 minutes raises the presumption that the prolonged trip was occasioned by the time it took respondents to create the suicide scenario,” the Ombudsman pointed out.

The same AFP report showed several pages on the gangway logbook on the ship were torn off again without any explanation while the Passenger Manifest that would have shown all crew members and other persons on board was missing. –

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