By ALFRED GABOT, Editor in Chief
MANILA – Four of the 10 former soldiers charged in the killing of Negros Oriental Gov. Roel Degamo and nine others in the family compound in Pamplona town have recanted their testimonies in what appeared to a setback to the prosecution even as suspected mastermind Rep. Arnolfo Teves Jr. continued hiding abroad.
Justice Secretary Crispin Remulla and the Department of Justice prosecutors shrugged off the recantation, saying they expected their action, adding they are ready to ensure the conviction of those involved in the massacre.
Jhudiel Rivero (a.k.a. Osmundo Rivero) was first to recant claiming the police coerced him into admit his involvement in the March 4 massacre in Pamplona town and that he does not know fugitive Negros Oriental 3rd District Rep. Arnolfo Teves Jr., according to a counter-affidavit confirmed by his lawyer, Harold Montalbo.
Teves, who was suspended by the House of Representatives, continues to deny part in the massacre which triggered Senate hearings led by Sen. Ronald dela Rosa, a former chief of the Philippine National Police.
Rivero claimed he was merely reporting his missing motorcycle the day after the slay but was arrested instead by the Bayawan City police.
Later, three more suspects also recanted their statements on their involvement in the Degma massacre, their legal counsel disclosed.
The Department of Justice earlier maintained that the testimonies of suspect-witnesses in the murder of Degamo were not coerced.
According to lawyer Danny Villanueva, Rogelio Antipolo, Rommel Pattaguan and Dahniel Lora joined their co-accused Osmundo Rivero in withdrawing their testimonies.
“Our 4 clients had already executed an affidavit of recantation,” Villanueva said in a television interview.
“We have submitted already not only the affidavit of recantation of Mr. Rivero but as well as those by 3 other clients.”
DOJ senior deputy state prosecutor Richard Anthony Fadullon said the recantation of an accused in the murder of Degamo and nine others was an anticipated development.
“As far as the DOJ is concerned, we expect that recantations will be made by suspects. It is their right to do so especially now that they lawyered up at this time. To say that they recanted, assuming that we received the copies already, doesn’t mean that the recantations will prove that the earlier statements they gave are actually untrue,” Fadullon said.
Meanwhile, lawyer Ferdinand Topacio, Teves’ legal counsel, said the lawmaker may be feeling “guarded optimism” after the recantations.
“But of course, alam niyo naman, notwithstanding these recantations, ang kalaban po natin dito ay buong makinarya ng gobyerno so mahirap po magsalita,” Topacio said.
In a five-page counter-affidavit, Rivero claimed he was coerced into saying that Teves was behind the killing.
Rivero also alleged he was tortured into linking Teves to the crime while under police custody, adding that officers allegedly threatened to hurt his family if he did not cooperate.
Philippine National Police chief Gen. Benjamin Acorda Jr. denied Rivero’s allegation, sayingd he has not received any information on the alleged torture.
Acorda also declined to comment on the Degamo killing probe.
Degamo’s widow, Pamplona Mayor Janice Degamo said “someone” may be manipulating the suspects in the killing of her husband following the recantation.
“Sa paniniwala namin, the recant[ation] of this suspect is brought about by some people at the agency na talagang ‘yun ‘yung gumawa ng paraan,” Mayor Janice Degamo said.
“It could be someone who used to work with the agency or it could be someone who used to work with the agency and is trying to manipulate some people who are currently working at the agency,” she added.
Villanueva has not yet released copies of the affidavits of the 4 other suspects.
In a DOJ panel of prosecutors’ resolution dated April 4, 2023, suspect Antipolo identified Marvin Miranda as one of the people who “planned the assassination” of Degamo.
He also identified Miranda as Teves’ former bagman.
Antipolo also divulged details about prior attempts to assassinate Degamo and the recruitment of alleged members of the assault team.
“As to the source of this information, Mr. Antipolo denies having any knowledge about it. We can only surmise this information comes from the police officers of Negros Oriental,” Villanueva said.
With the recantations, Villanueva believes there is no solid case against Teves and his clients.
“From the very start, I don’t think there is a solid case, not only against Congressman Teves, but against my clients as well,” he said.
Villanueva claimed his clients’ previous statements were allegedly made in violation of their constitutional rights and are inadmissible as evidence.
“I think only the statements of these alleged perpetrators is the basis of the Department of Justice in linking Congressman Teves to the alleged incident in Pamplona,” he added.
Justice Secretary Remulla earlier said he expected recantations after some of the suspects allegedly lawyered up and stopped cooperating.
On May 17, some two months after the killings, authorities filed murder complaints against Teves.
Eleven suspects, including Miranda, are also facing murder charges in court.