MANILA, Philippines (5th UPDATE) - A suspect in last month's Bar exam blast has surrendered to Vice-President Jejomar Binay, a radio dzMM report said Wednesday.
In an interview, Binay identified the suspect as Anthony Leal Nepomuceno (not Concepcion as earlier reported by dzMM), a former computer science student at Manuel L. Quezon University, call center agent and member of the Alpha Phi Omega fraternity. Binay is the highest ranking member of the APO fraternity in government.
"Our brod is being suspected. After what happened, it is always the tendency to blame our fraternity. No group is holding him. The APO leadership is sad about this incident but I believe he is innocent of the crime," he told radio dzMM after bringing the suspect to the National Bureau of Investigation.
He added: "There is no warrant for his arrest. He surrendered to me but I believe he is not guilty."
Binay said Nepomuceno hails from Mogpog, Marinduque. A separate radio dzMM report said the suspect is described as coming from a lower income family.
The Vice-President said he cooperated in the investigation upon the request of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima. He said de Lima promised that the suspect's rights will be respected during the course of the investigation.
De Lima said Nepomuceno will undergo questioning, after which he will be free to go. She said that charges have yet to be filed against Nepomuceno but that evidence against the suspect is strong.
"Loosely speaking, that was a surrender but not legally speaking because there is no warrant of arrest and manhunt on the basis of warrant of arrest He is a suspect. Of course he is entitled to the constitutional presumption of innocence. I told Binay and the other APO council of elders (that) we will respect the suspect's rights and therefore he will be treated properly within the bounds of law...meaning, correct process," she told reporters.
De Lima said Nepomuceno cannot be detained but that the APO Council of Elders promised that he will be made available for future questioning. She said the NBI already has the suspect's transcript of records, Comelec documents and Social Security number.
The justice chief said the NBI is also investigating 2 other suspects who helped Nepomuceno during the blast.
Suspect matched description
De Lima said Nepomuceno matched the artist's sketch and the descriptions provided by eyewitnesses in the blast last September 26.
According to eyewitnesses' accounts, the suspect was wearing a mask and shades when he threw the grenade at a crowd of people gathered outside the De La Salle University on Taft Avenue on the last day of the Bar exams.
Four men then tried to subdue the suspect whose mask fell off. "He was seen up close by 2 of the 4 men who tried to subdue him," she said.
She said 2 men who had a gun then came to the suspect's rescue. The NBI has at least 17 witnesses in the blast, she added.
De Lima said a fraternity war remains the strongest angle in the September 26 blast but added that other angles have not been ruled out. She added that there will be no whitewash in the investigation.
Asked if she felt pressured by Vice-President Binay's pronouncement that Nepomuceno was innocent, she said: "Wala kaming sasantohin. Managot ang dapat managot. It doesn't matter to us kung sino ang members ng frat na yan."
She also said Nepomuceno could face charges of frustrated murder or multiple physical injuries.
APO Council of Elders
De Lima said she asked the Vice-President for help after the NBI identified the suspect as a member of the APO fraternity.
"Instead of prolonging this case I thought of contacting the Vice-President because I know he’s part of the elders of APO," she said.
She said NBI agents also contacted Nepomuceno's mother in Mogpog who promised to surrender their son to authorities. The mother later changed her mind and refused to cooperate, she added.
The justice chief said she talked to Binay Tuesday night and was surprised that the suspect was already surrendering Wednesday morning.
"Nagulat ako sa bilis ng pangyayari. Kaninang umaga tumawag si VP sa akin while I was dressing up. I saw his missed calls," she said.
She said a local TV station called her up and asked her if she heard the news about Nepomuceno's surrender.
APO fraternity member Ferdie Ramos was the first to confirm that the Bar blast suspect is a member of the fraternity. He added the suspect is no longer a student and is already working.
Around 50 people, mostly students, were injured in the explosion outside De la Salle University on the last day of the Bar exams last September 26.
Several were seriously injured, including law student Raissa Laurel, who lost both legs after the grenade blew up near her.
On Tuesday, de Lima said authorities were giving the suspect until this week to voluntarily surrender or face arrest.
Asked whether the DOJ and NBI will be constrained to file the appropriate criminal charges against the suspect if, by the end of the week, he still remains at-large, de Lima said, "Yes, in fact we are now preparing the charges."
In one of the press conferences of the Supreme Court post-bar exams blast, Court spokesman and administrator Justice Midas Marquez said charges against the perpetrator could range from frustrated murder to physical injuries. with reports from Ina Reformina, ABS-CBN News, and radio dzMM