MANILA — A Department of Justice (DOJ) panel of prosecutors has junked the murder complaint against 17 policemen involved in the Bloody Sunday killings of Batangas fisherfolk leaders Ariel and Ana Mariz "Chai" Lemita-Evangelista in 2021.
In a resolution dated December 5, 2022 but received by respondents’ counsel only on Thursday, the panel cited “insufficiency of evidence” in dismissing the case since the slugs recovered from the crime scene did not match the guns issued to the cops.
The Evangelista couple was killed on March 7, 2021 in a service of search warrant in Nasugbu, Batangas.
Police said they resisted arrest but the couple's 10-year-old son and some witnesses claimed they saw armed men dragging them to a nearby house where successive gunshots were later heard.
The two were later declared dead on arrival at a hospital.
Ariel sustained 4 gunshot wounds while Chai had 5 gunshot wounds, 2 grazed gunshot wounds and abrasions.
The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) found there was a "deliberate intent to kill” and filed a murder complaint against the cops in January 2022.
DOJ PANEL RESOLUTION
But DOJ prosecutors found no probable cause to file murder charges in court against the 17 cops.
Prosecutors found more credible the police’s version that there was a shootout based on slugs recovered from the bedroom that matched with the two .45 caliber pistols which cops said they retrieved from the couple.
According to the evidence submitted by the police, Ariel Evangelista's two hands tested positive for gunpowder nitrates indicating he fired a gun while Chai tested negative.
Neighbors and the Evangelista family, however, claimed the two did not possess any firearm and they were dragged inside a nearby house just before gunshots were heard.
“The dragging narrative could not have happened since this version would disregard the fact that Ariel fired a gun or guns. Also, the bullets and cartridges recovered at the areas did not match with the firearms issued to respondents,” the resolution said.
“Similarly, complainants did not even produce any evidence which shows that respondents used their firearms (e.g., paraffin test),” it added.
Meanwhile, the prosecutors said that the bullets found in the body of the Evangelista couple “came from a single 5.56mm firearm” which did not match the firearms issued to the cops.
Of the 17 cops, 15 claimed they were not near the house when the shooting incident happened. Two cops who were nearby said they did not fire their guns.
The resolution did not settle who among the cops shot the couple.
It said there was no conspiracy among the cops to kill the Evangelistas.
“[C]ircumstantial evidence presented by complainants is not reliable as there are apparent broken chains to the version of the complainants. The panel cannot arrive at a reasonable conclusion based on the evidence of complainants as to who really killed the spouses,” the resolution said.
On ANC Rundown Friday, Atty. Rod Moreno, lawyer for the cops, said the burden is on the complainants to establish who actually shot the Evangelista couple.
“So if the question is who actually did the shooting, that is up to complainants to ascertain. It’s not my clients’ burden,” he said.
“There were no eyewitnesses as to the supposed killing of the victims. So no one saw who actually shot the supposed victims. So therefore, there is no basis to indict my clients,” he added.
He explained, even the 10-year-old son did not identify his clients during the preliminary investigation.
In a statement, group DEFEND Southern Tagalog condemned the dismissal of charges against the 17 police officers.
"[The] decision is a step back from justice and reeks of the now-disputed presumption of regularity," the group said.
The dismissal of the murder complaint over the Evangelista couple's death follows the junking in January of another murder complaint involving labor leader Manny Asuncion who was killed also on Bloody Sunday in 2021.
Both cases were handled by the NBI and the AO 35 task force.
The AO 35 is the special task force led by the DOJ under which prosecutors are supposed to work hand in hand with law enforcers to build a strong case against those accused of extrajudicial killings against activists.
In all, 9 activists were killed on Bloody Sunday, March 7, 2021 during simultaneous pre-dawn operations in Batangas, Cavite and Rizal. Police ops were also conducted in Laguna where some activists were arrested.
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