MANILA (UPDATED) — The Special Investigation Task Group probing the death of Davao model and businesswoman Yvonne Chua Plaza on Wednesday tagged B/Gen. Jesus Durante of the Philippine Army as the mastermind behind the crime.
The suspects in Plaza's killing are members of the Army's 1001st Infantry Brigade, which Durante used to head, and have already surrendered to police, according to Region XI police chief B/Gen. Benjamin Silo.
Plaza was shot dead by two assailants in front of her rented house at the Green Meadows subdivision in Barangay Tugbok, Davao City last Dec. 30.
"Based on the extrajudicial confession of the respondents, there was an admission there na si General Durante appreciated the killing when the gunman reported to him directly," Silo said.
"Doon na niya sinabi na in-acknowledge niya yung pagpatay at may mga things pa siya na sinabi confirming that he knew the incident and he has the go signal. May mga kasama sa statement ng witness na may kasamang selos," he added.
After Plaza's killing, several posts on social media dragged Durante's name, saying he allegedly physically abused her. A post of a now inactive account has pictures of Plaza, with bruises and wounds on her face.
Early this month, Durante denied his involvement and said in a statement that he "demands justice" for Plaza's death.
"Yvonne was a friend. My name is being dragged based on an FB post made last April 2022 wherein I allegedly hurt her. She later retracted the post and issued a statement that I did not in any way harmed her," Durante had said.
Authorities recovered Plaza's laptop containing contacts, photos, and email messages directed to Durante.
In a link analysis released by the investigating group, Durante allegedly ordered his deputy brigade commander Michael Licyayo to kill Plaza.
Licyayo then allegedly ordered his six subordinates to spy on Plaza's whereabouts and gun her down.
According to authorities, the weapon used in the crime was an Armed Forces of the Philippines-issued firearm.
The suspects burned the personal belongings — bag, cellphone, ID, and credit card — taken by the gunman and rider after shooting the victim.
Silo said the pieces of evidence gathered by the investigators "established" a supposed relationship between Durante and Plaza.
Durante has been relieved of his post and is now under the Philippine Army's custody.
Among the seven suspects, four are in the division headquarters while the rest are still at large.
The National Bureau of Investigation XI assured that the suspects who surrendered are secured by the authorities.
Durante will be charged with murder and violation of PD 1829 or obstruction of justice after allegedly giving orders to burn the personal belongings of the victim which contains evidence.
The Philippine Army said Wednesday it will not condone any criminal act committed by its personnel.
"As such, BGen Jesus Durante has been relieved as Commander of the 1001st Brigade, after being named as a person of interest in the murder of Yvonnette Chua Plaza, to give way to an impartial and thorough investigation," Philippine Army chief Lt. Gen. Romeo Brawner, Jr. said in a statement.
"The Army ensures the public that this incident is not service related," he added.
Durante headed the Presidential Security Group under the term of former President Rodrigo Duterte.
— report from Chrislen Bulosan; with Bianca Dava, ABS-CBN News