A panel of prosecutors from the Department of Justice has dismissed the murder complaint against 17 police officers implicated in the so-called March 7, 2021 “Bloody Sunday” killings.
The panel found out that one gun that allegedly killed the fisherfolk couple from Batangas, who were among the victims of the simultaneous service of a search warrant in 2021, did not match any of the service firearms of the policemen.
In a resolution, the prosecution panel ordered the dismissal of themurder complaint against the members of the Philippine National Police.
Cleared of two counts of murder were Lt. Col. Joseph Tan Nandu Jr., Lt. Arjay Mansalapuz Santos, MSgs. Rafael N. Roque and Mark T. Tolentino, Ssgs. Elvern D. Cacatian, Rodel A. Sillacay, and Edgar B. Brinas, Cpls. Aldrin E. Gabrillo, and Allen S. Lugue and Patrolmans Julio Bautista, Ray Boom Boom D. Dalingay, Grizzly O. Paras, Rogelio M. Ninolla, Ruel M. Tenoso, Rich John Melniel L. Tumacder, Renzo B. Santos and Mark Lester R. Padul.
Activists Ariel and Ana Mariz “Chai” Lemita Evangelista, who led their community in opposing the construction of at least 150 fish cages on the fishing grounds of Nasugbo, Batangas, were among the nine killed in a series of raids in Calabarzon on March 6, 2021.
Following probes conducted by the National Bureau of Investigation, murder complaints were filed in 2022 against 17 members of the PNP-Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (PNP-CIDG) Region 4-A.
Witnesses close to the victims said Ana Mariz was dragged by the authorities from their house to another cottage, while her husband followed without showing signs of any resistance. While inside the cabin, successive gunshots were heard.
In the resolution, the DOJ prosecutors cited an NBI report stating that the couple was killed using only one 5.56 mm firearm. However, “ownership of the firearm… found at the area of the shooting was not even identified.”
The resolution noted that of the 17 police officers, only Santos was carrying a 5.56 mm firearm like the one that killed the couple, while the others had a 9mm caliber gun.
But based on the documents submitted by Santos, his weapon “was not the firearm used to fire the bullets which were recovered from the area where the shooting occurred.”
The resolution also noted that the service firearms of the police officers have no missing bullets or cartridges.
The respondents stressed they were not even able to fire their guns.
Nandu and Santos said after knocking at the door of the Evangelista couple’s house, they heard gunshots, forcing them to duck and retreat to a safe position.
After the gunshots were cleared, they entered the house and found the victims wounded. Nandu ordered that the two be taken to the hospital.
Sillacay, Gabrillo, Dalingay, R. Santos, Padul, Ninolla, and Tumacder said they only acted as perimeter security while Tolentino, Cacatian, and Lugue were assigned to be the “blocking force.” As a result, they stayed on the highway 300 meters from the incident.
Roque, the investigator, and Paras, the designated arresting officer, were 30 meters away from the house when they heard the gunshots, while Bautista and Tenoso, the designated searchers, arrived late.
Briñas was in Laguna when the incident occurred, based on the affidavit of his superiors and the Daily Personnel Accounting Report.
“It would be highly speculative to assume that respondents agreed among themselves to kill spouses Evangelista when there are records which showed that the PNP conducted pre-operation preparations in implementing the search warrants,” read the resolution.
“Taking all these established facts into consideration…the charge of murder necessarily falls,” the resolutions stated.