The Justice department said Thursday its prosecutors had recommended the indictment of Ozamiz City police chief Jovie Espenido for six counts of homicide in connection with the June 2017 police raid that resulted in the death of several people.
The police claimed that the slain men were members of the Martilyo [Hammer] robbery gang operating in Ozamiz.
In a resolution dated July 30 but was only released to reporters on Thursday, the prosecutors said they had found probable cause to hold Espenido, SPO4 Renato Martir Jr. and PO1 Sandra Nayag criminally liable for the death of the six suspects.
The department made its statement even as the Philippine National Police said Espenido had all the legal recourse to defend himself in court on the homicide charges filed against him.
Police spokesman Benigno Durana said they will be extending legal assistance to Espenido and two of his subordinates to defend themselves.
The case arose from the complaint filed by Carmelita Manzano, wife of Francasio Manzano who was one of those killed in the police operation. Also killed in the operation are Manzano’s son Jerry, son-in-law Victorino Mirs Jr., nephew Lito Manisan, nephew-in-law Romeo Libaton and Alvin Lapeña.
Espenido and his co-accused earlier denied the charges and asked the Justice department to dismiss the complaint against them on the ground that what happened was a legitimate police operation. They said those killed were alleged members of the Martilyo robbery group involved in a series of robbery and shooting incidents in Ozamiz.
But the prosecutors led by Assistant State Prosecutor Loverhette Jeffrey Villordon said their admission that they killed the victims were adequate to warrant the filing of homicide charges against them.
“Unfortunately for the respondents, their admission of killing the herein victims is, on its own, sufficient to establish probable cause for the crime of homicide,” the prosecutors said.
They also cited a Supreme Court ruling that claims of lawful performance of duty were “not compelling enough to overcome a finding of probable cause.”
In the same resolution, the prosecutors dismissed the complaints for murder and arbitrary detention filed against Espenido and the other respondents for “lack of probable cause.”
Villordon said the qualifying circumstances needed to establish a case for murder, such treachery, and cruelty, were not present in the crime.
Besides, neither the complainant nor the witnesses actually saw the killing of the victims, the prosecutors said.
“It must be noted that neither the complainant nor any of her witnesses actually saw the killing. As such, there is no basis to qualify the charge of murder,” the prosecutors said.
They also said they found no probable cause for the arbitrary detention case filed by the complainant who said she was held for up to six days from June 1 to June 7 inside the Ozamiz City Police Station and that she was only released after she signed an affidavit.
However, the department said Espenido and the other respondents were able to prove that there was ground for the complainant’s detention as she was the subject of a case for illegal possession of firearms. With Francisco Tuyay