NBI, DOJ confirm death of ex-CA Justice Normandie Pizarro

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 21 2020 10:00 PM | Updated as of Dec 22 2020 11:05 AM

MANILA (2nd UPDATE) — The Department of Justice (DOJ) on Monday confirmed that the body found with missing left fingers and right hand in Tarlac in October was former Court of Appeals Justice Normandie Pizarro, who had gone missing in the same month.

Justice Undersecretary Adrian Sugay said the confirmation was “based on DNA test results” on a “then-unidentified body” found in Brgy. Cristo Rey, Capas, Tarlac on October 30, a week after the retired justice went missing.

National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) director Eric Distor, in a separate message, said the bureau's forensics team was able to confirm a DNA match of “99.99%.” 

Pizarro was last seen via a CCTV footage on October 23 getting inside a black Honda Accord in a hotel and casino in Clark, Pampanga — later identified as the Midori Hotel and Casino.

That car was next seen parked in Mabanak Road, Barangay San Juan in San Simon, Pampanga in the afternoon of the same day.

In photos provided by police to ABS-CBN News in October, the abandoned car did not have any plate number.

San Simon Police said they saw dried liquid inside the car, which the Pampanga Provincial Police Office later confirmed to be blood.

Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta extended his sympathies to Pizarro's family and urged authorities to bring the perpetrators to justice.

"The killing and murder of any person is never tolerated by our laws. In fact, our courts will always condemn it. I ask our law enforcement agencies to press on with their investigation so that the perpetrators of this barbaric act can be caught and brought to justice," he said in a statement.

The Pizarro family said they would not give any comment for now. 

NBI PROBE

The NBI later started a parallel probe after the Pizzaro family approached them.

NBI spokesperson Ferdinand Lavin said the NBI forensics team was able to confirm the former magistrate's identity when results of the DNA test came out on Saturday.

At the time the cadaver was recovered, Lavin said the fingers were “missing” and the right hand was “cut off” while the corpse itself was deteriorating.

“This is precisely to have difficulty in identifying the cadaver,” he said.

With the retired justice’s fingers missing, the NBI resorted to other means to try to identify the cadaver. 

They tried forensic odontology or using dental science but hit a dead end when they learned his dental records when he was Court of Appeals justice were incomplete.

The NBI then resorted to DNA testing by taking swab samples from the black car Pizarro was using at the time of his disappearance and comparing it with the DNA from the femur (thigh bone) of the cadaver and DNA samples from Pizarro’s 2 sons.

“We wanted to be really sure. Our doctors also earlier told us na ito 'yung measurements ng human body, 'yung height-wise, 'yung size (that these are the measurements of the human body, the height, the size). So we thought of going to the DNA to be very sure about it,” he said.

“And we found a 99.99% match. Very high probability,” he added.

The NBI also reviewed CCTV footage of the hotel as well as cellphone signals and was able to establish a brief timeline of what happened:

  • At 10:30 am, Pizarro left the Midori Hotel
  • He went out of Clark but came back to pick up a man within the vicinity 
  • After a few hours, Pizarro’s cellphone signal was lost, last traced to Bamban, Tarlac, a town away from Capas where his cadaver was later recovered
  • Pizarro’s car was spotted in San Simon, Pampanga that same afternoon; police later said there were blood stains

Lavin said the NBI is now looking at 3 persons of interest. One of them was the last person seen with Pizarro who apparently owed him money. The two met at a casino in August.

He added that one of Pizarro’s children identified the person of interest, who is now cooperating with the NBI, assisted by a lawyer.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, on the other hand, said the NBI is looking at 4 persons of interest including one who is “willing to divulge what he knows.”

“I would say siguro in mga (maybe in a) few more days or weeks, we could crack this case. This is already a good breakthrough for us, iyung identification, kasi you can just imagine kung 'yung na-recover hindi 'yun (the identification, because you can just imagine if the body that was recovered was not him),” Lavin said.

Lavin, however, said the NBI is still building the case and it’s too early to determine the motive. 

Aside from the debt angle, the NBI is not ruling out other possible motives, including high-profile cases Pizarro handled.

CONTROVERSIAL CA JUSTICE

Pizarro, who retired in 2018 a year ahead of his mandatory retirement, is a controversial justice.

He junked the murder case against former Palawan Governor Joel Reyes who was accused of killing Palawan-based environmentalist and radio host Dr. Gerry Ortega.

The Court of Appeals, however, reversed the ruling and reinstated the murder charge in November 2019.

Pizarro also acquitted Janet Lim Napoles of serious illegal detention based on reasonable doubt in May 2017 and rejected a Hawaiian court ruling awarding $2 billion in compensation to Martial Law victims.

In April 2018, the Supreme Court fined him P100,000 for conduct unbecoming of a member of the judiciary over instances of gambling in a casino.

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