Cagayan de Oro City

Cagayan de Oro cops in kidnapping case used drug war as defense

Herbie Gomez

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Cagayan de Oro cops in kidnapping case used drug war as defense

CONVICTED. Jailers bring five Cagayan de Oro policemen to a courtroom in Cagayan de Oro shortly before the verdict is announced on March 20, 2023. The court sentences them to 40 years of imprisonment for kidnapping former overseas Filipino worker Enrique "Eking" Fernandez III in 2016.

courtesy of Menzie Montes

A lawyer says the policemen 'tortured' Enrique Fernandez III who remains missing to this day

CAGAYAN DE ORO, Philippines – The group of policemen, found guilty of kidnapping a former overseas Filipino worker in Cagayan de Oro, took turns in beating him up in a rural village house in the city nearly seven years ago. They then used the Duterte administration’s war on drugs as a defense in court. 

“They tortured him,” said lawyer Armando Kho who prosecuted five members of the Cagayan de Oro City Police Office (Cocpo) and two of their alleged civilian accomplices for the 2016 abduction of Enrique “Eking” Fernandez III.

Fernandez remains missing to this day, but his family has already accepted the likelihood of them not seeing the 33-year-old victim again.

The brazen, broad-daylight abduction outside an online gaming establishment in a busy district in uptown Cagayan de Oro on October 23, 2016, was caught on CCTV footage.

Cagayan de Oro cops in kidnapping case used drug war as defense

It wasn’t the last time Fernandez was seen alive by someone who had nothing to do with the abduction. Kho said a boy testified seeing the heavily armed policemen bring Fernandez to the house of one of the convicts, Police Corporal Alejandro Ubanan, in the village of Canitoan, on the same day of the abduction.

He said the boy was watching a video game in Ubanan’s home-based “Pisonet” establishment – a small іntеrnеt саfé-like business model that offers online gaming in exchange for coins dropped in vending machine-like computers – when the group arrived with the handcuffed Fernandez.

The young witness testified about seeing Fernandez’s feet being tied before the policemen took turns in beating him up inside Ubanan’s house when he peeped through a hole.

The policemen, according to the witness, repeatedly struck Fernandez’s head and back with a car jack.

The boy said Fernandez begged the policemen to stop, and subsequently passed out.

Later, the witness said, he saw two of Ubanan’s companions carrying the bloodied and unconscious Fernandez to the same car used in the abduction and then left.

In a March 20 decision, Judge Ana Candida Casiño of the 17th branch of the Regional Trial Court of Misamis Oriental sentenced the policemen to at least 40 years imprisonment and ordered them to jointly pay the victim’s family P350,000 in damages, excluding litigation costs.

But Casiño acquitted two civilians – Federico Guevarra and Rolando Udasco – who had been accused of being accomplices, due to “reasonable doubt.”

Aside from Ubanan, the court convicted and sentenced the following policemen:

  • Police Captain Ereneo Ramirez
  • Police Senior Master Sergeant Jojo Lim
  • Police Senior Master Sergeant Alaindelon Tacubao
  • Police Corporal Sangkulan Hussien II

Kho said all the policemen denied abducting Fernandez, but told the court that the victim was arrested in line with the drug war launched by the Duterte administration.

The abduction took place more than three months after former president Rodrigo Duterte’s rise to the presidency. It was a time when many suspects on the police’s drug watchlists – mostly impoverished and suspected street-level peddlers – were turning up dead across the country.

Despite the CCTV footage showing Fernandez struggling against his abductors, Kho said the policemen maintained their narrative that the victim “voluntarily” went with them and that it was an arrest.

“The court did not believe them because the video clearly showed that there was vehement resistance coming from the victim,” Kho told Rappler.

He said the policemen had claimed that it was a legitimate law enforcement operation as part of the government’s drug war.

“But the records would show that there was no legitimate drug operation involving Enrique Fernandez III at that time,” Kho said.

He told Rappler in another interview that the policemen operated like a crime syndicate, and he was glad to see them behind bars.

The motive for Fernandez’s abduction has never been established in court, but Kho and the victim’s family had suspected it was a failed case of kidnapping for ransom.

Kho said Fernandez’s girlfriend at that time had just closed a multimillion-peso real estate deal, and they suspected that the victim died while he was being tortured, even before a ransom demand could be made.

He said Fernandez’s family was “happy with the court decision, but sad at the same time because [the victim’s] body was never found.” –

Under Marcos, can Duterte be held accountable for drug war killings?

Under Marcos, can Duterte be held accountable for drug war killings?

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Herbie Gomez

Herbie Salvosa Gomez is coordinator of Rappler’s bureau in Mindanao, where he has practiced journalism for over three decades. He writes a column called “Pastilan,” after a familiar expression in Cagayan de Oro, tackling issues in the Southern Philippines.