By Nancy C. Carvajal
Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism
THE KIDNAP-SLAY of former Hanjin executive and South Korean national Jee Ick Joo remains far from being resolved even three months after his kidnapping and apparent death, and the recent arrest of one of the prime suspects in the case.
In fact, the case seems to be getting even murkier by the minute, with members of the Philippine National Police (PNP) pointing fingers at each other, prompting calls for the PNP chief to resign.
A commotion even ensued last Friday at the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) headquarters in Manila, when the wife of Senior Police Officer 3 Ricky Sta. Isabel, who is being accused as a key figure in Jee’s kidnap-slay, saw that one of the police officers taking him into police custody was someone he had mentioned in his affidavit.
Jinky Sta. Isabel had also told ABS-CBN recently that a “Colonel Macapagal,” along with Senior Supt. Rafael Dumlao, had gone to their house in Caloocan City on Jan. 13 to secure her husband’s acquiescence to a “scenario” in which some Pampanga policemen would end up as the supposed perpetrators in the Jee case.
According to Jinky, Macapagal and Dumlao – team leader of the PNP’s Anti-Illegal Drugs Group (AIDG) and Ricky Sta. Isabel’s superior – had with them supposedly manufactured evidence that would implicate her husband in the Jee case, which they would hand over in exchange for his nod.
The arresting team from the PNP-Anti-Kidnapping Group (AKG) that took custody of Ricky Sta. Isabel last Friday from the NBI was led by Senior Supt. Alan Macapagal and AKG counsel Dennis Wagas.
Senior Supt. Macapagal and the “Colonel Macapagal” mentioned by Jinky Sta. Isabel have since been confirmed as being one and the same, based on photographs submitted by Jinky to the Department of Justice (DOJ). An NBI official privy to the case also told PCIJ that last Friday at the NBI, Jinky had become concerned after seeing Macapagal.
“Nagsigawan sa loob, umabot sa murahan (There was shouting inside, and it came to swears and curses),” said the NBI insider. “Nagwawala ‘yung asawa na baka may mangyari kay Sta. Isabel (The wife was agitated and worried that something might happen to Sta. Isabel).”
Angeles City, Pampanga Regional Trial Court Judge Irineo Pangilinan Jr. had issued the warrant of arrest for Sta. Isabel for Jee’s kidnapping for ransom with homicide. Also ordered arrested were SPO4 Roy Villegas, Ramon Yalung, and four other individuals identified only as “Pulis,” “Jerry,” “Sir Dumlao,” and “Ding.”
Asked whether it was unusual that it was not Angeles City police who enforced the arrest warrant, a seasoned lawyer said that the warrant “may be addressed to any law officer.” But while the lawyer also saw no legal obstacles regarding Sta. Isabel’s arrest by people whom he has accused, he said that it was nevertheless morally questionable.
Jee had been abducted from his Angeles City home in Friendship Plaza on Oct. 18, along with his family’s domestic helper, a Filipina. The helper was later freed; Jee was allegedly killed inside Camp Crame itself.
In civilian clothes
Sta. Isabel had voluntarily surrendered to the NBI last Jan. 16 and had been at its main headquarters since. On Friday, the PNP-AKG, armed with the warrant for his arrest, arrived at the NBI at around 5:00 p.m. with a contingent of the group’s Special Operations Unit (SOU) carrying long firearms. While the SOU members were in full battle gear with vests marked “PULIS,” the rest of the arresting team were in civilian clothes.
Tension grew between lawyers of both parties after the legal counsel from the PNP-AKG tried to stop Sta. Isabel from completing his affidavit while under NBI protection; instead, he was told to finish his statement at Camp Crame.
Assorted materials turned over by Jinky to the DOJ earlier, however, had apparently prompted Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II to send three lawyers from the Public Attorney’s Office to assist Sta. Isabel with his judicial affidavit before he was turned over to Macapagal and company. The materials from Jinky Sta. Isabel, which included video files, audio recordings, photographs, and documents, could supposedly expose the scale of criminality allegedly perpetrated by some members of the police force.
‘Back up story’
Among the video files and photographs are allegedly those of the AKG official at the time of his visit to the Sta. Isabel household on Jan. 13. Jinky Sta. Isabel had also turned in a recording of an alleged phone conversation between her and Dumlao, who was asking her to convince her husband to back up their “story.”
Sta. Isabel had earlier failed to submit a counter affidavit for lack of legal counsel after his first set of lawyers withdrew from his case, citing security reasons.
In a chance interview with reporters, Macapagal said that Justice Secretary Aguirre, NBI Director Dante Gierran, and PNP Chief Rolando de la Rosa had agreed to detain Sta. Isabel at Camp Crame. Specifically, Macapagal said that Sta. Isabel would be held inside a solitary cell at Camp Crame’s AKG office.
A DOJ resolution issued on Jan. 19 had charged Sta. Isabel with kidnapping with homicide based on the affidavits issued by his AIDG colleague, SPO4 Roy Villegas, and Jee’s helper Marisa Morquicho.
Who killed Jee?
In his affidavit, Villegas had pointed to Sta. Isabel as the one who had strangled Jee just hours after the South Korean’s abduction. Sta. Isabel, however, denied this in his own affidavit, although he admitted to helping dispose the victim’s body at a funeral parlor in Caloocan City, allegedly under the orders of Dumlao.
According to Sta. Isabel, Dumlao had summoned him to AIDG’s Special Interdiction Office on Oct. 18 to ask him to help get rid of the body of Jee, who he said was killed inside the anti-narcotics building. Sta. Isabel said Jee was already dead when he arrived at his superior’s office.
He said Dumlao also ordered him to get rid of Morquicho. But Sta. Isabel said that his son, who was with him when he went to the AIDG office, stopped him from following Dumlao’s orders regarding Jee’s helper. Instead, Sta. Isabel said, he brought Morquicho to Balete Drive in Quezon City, gave her P1,000 for fare money, and told her not to go back to Pampanga.
Sta. Isabel in his affidavit denied he was among those who abducted the South Korean and his helper, saying that he was in Manila at the time of the incident and had solid proof to back up his claim of his whereabouts. He admitted, however, that he had conducted surveillance on the victim on the order of his team leader, Dumlao.
Rogue cops review
AIDG head Albert Ferro, meanwhile, said that Jee had no derogatory record in his office and was not on the list of the group’s high-value targets. In an interview with PCIJ, he also said that at the time of Jee’s abduction, he was in Abu Dhabi for the arrest of alleged druglord Kerwin Espinosa and had not sanctioned any operation against any foreign national.
Ferro expressed sadness that the fight against illegal drugs is being affected by the actuations of rogue police officers who he said are derailing the PNP’s gains in the campaign against illegal drugs.
He said, though, that Sta. Isabel had been cleared by the Directorate for Intelligence, which had conducted a background check on him, before he was accepted as an anti-narcotics operative. It was Dumlao who endorsed Sta. Isabel to him, Ferro added.
He said that his office is now reviewing the records of Sta. Isabel. According to Ferro, Sta. Isabel had been accused of involvement in a previous kidnapping case while he was assigned in Caloocan City, but the case against him was dismissed.
Ferro also said that their initial investigation shows Sta. Isabel as owning several international money courier franchises among other businesses, as well as expensive vehicles. Sta. Isabel’s wife Jinky is said to be the one managing the family’s businesses.
A PNP payroll staff told PCIJ that an SPO3 like Sta. Isabel would have a total take-home pay of P45,000. This includes the basic salary of P25,000 and additional allowances.
Sta. Isabel’s personal data sheet or PDS has no details about any business he owns. It does say, among other things, that he had finished a criminology course at Manuel L. Quezon University, has a son and daughter, and had been assigned at different times to the anti-illegal drugs units of the Northern, Southern, and Quezon City police districts. He has also undergone special training on basic anti-bomb procedures. Moreover, he is a recipient of at least 25 awards and commendations, among them one from PNP Director General Ronald ‘Bato’ de la Rosa, given on Aug. 10, 2016: a Medalyang Papuri.
Sta. Isabel’s PDS, however, shows as well that he had been briefly suspended for two days in May 2006, although no reason for the suspension was indicated in the documents. — With reporting by Davinci S. Maru, PCIJ, January 2017