DOJ to consolidate Vhong, Deniece raps

By Edu Punay, The Philippine Star

Posted at Feb 03 2014 09:07 AM | Updated as of Feb 03 2014 05:07 PM

MANILA - Actor and television host Vhong Navarro and model Deniece Cornejo will have to face each other in the Department of Justice (DOJ) when they answer their respective charges and counter-charges.

The DOJ is set to consolidate the criminal complaints filed by Navarro and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) against Cornejo and seven others in the DOJ and the rape charge filed by Cornejo against the actor before the Taguig City prosecutor’s office.

The consolidation means Navarro’s complaint and Cornejo’s counter-charge will be resolved by the all-female preliminary investigation panel composed of Assistant State Prosecutors Olivia Torrevillas, Hazel Decena-Valdez and Marie Elvira Herrera in the DOJ.

The criminal cases emanated from the beating of Navarro last Jan. 22.

“We will consolidate the cases to expedite the (preliminary investigation) and also to avoid conflicting findings,” Prosecutor General Claro Arellano said yesterday.

Arellano, head of DOJ’s prosecutorial arm, said he would issue today an office order for this purpose.

Navarro filed last week against Cornejo, businessman Cedric Lee and six others charges of serious illegal detention, a non-bailable offense; serious physical injuries; grave threats; grave coercion; unlawful arrest and blackmail.

Apart from Lee and Cornejo, the other respondents in the case are Lee’s sister Bernice, a certain Ferdinand Guerrero and Zimmer Rance, an alias Mike and two other unidentified men. They will be summoned to appear before the panel and answer the charges.

After Navarro filed charges, Cornejo – through lawyer Howard Calleja – then filed a counter-charge of rape against Navarro before the Taguig City prosecutor’s office.

The NBI had said evidence – most notably, the closed-circuit television (CCTV) footage from the condominium where the incident took place – would support the version of Navarro, making Cornejo’s rape claim “highly improbable.”

The DOJ had placed Lee, Cornejo and their companions under the lookout bulletin order of the Bureau of Immigration.

A lookout bulletin order would not prevent Lee and Cornejo from leaving the country. Only a hold departure order (HDO) or watch list order issued by a trial court could prevent the accused in criminal cases from boarding international flights.

The DOJ used to have the power to issue HDO but this was suspended by a temporary restraining order issued by the Supreme Court in connection with a case that remained pending since 2011.

NBI probers earlier found Navarro’s statement to be consistent with the CCTV footage submitted by security office of the Forbeswood Heights Condominium Tower 2 where the incident took place.

The footage showed Navarro, wearing a bull cap, leaving the building with his hands tied behind his back, along with eight people, including Lee and Cornejo, at around 11 p.m. last Jan. 22.

Navarro claimed that the respondents beat him and tried to extort up to P2 million from him while he was in Cornejo’s condominium unit.

Condo guards to appear before PNP

Meanwhile, security personnel of the condominium are set to appear today at the Philippine National Police (PNP) headquarters in Camp Crame, Quezon City.

Chief Superintendent Tomas Rentoy III, director of the PNP Supervisory Office for Security and Investigation Agency (SOSIA) said members of Megaforce Security who were on duty at the condominium on Jan. 22 were summoned to explain what happened.

He explained that SOSIA deferred summoning the guards to allow them to appear before the NBI last week.

Rentoy said the security personnel would be made to explain their apparent inaction upon seeing a person beaten black and blue with several companions.

The SOSIA chief said security personnel are force multipliers and should have asked the group of men what happened and taken immediate action.

There were reports that the security guards claimed that their superiors directed them to bar the police from entering the premises of Forbeswood, which led to the filing of cases against them and the building’s administration.

Officials of the security agency claimed to have submitted all the documents and copies of the CCTV of the Navarro-Cornejo incident to the NBI and the police. – With Cecille Suerte Felipe