Kin of slain Asin band leader hit release of convicted killer

Elizabeth Bañares, a sister of the Asin band leader, said they cannot understand why suspect Gualberto Cataluña was able to gain freedom despite only spending 14 years in prison for the life imprisonment earlier meted on him and his two aides in connection with the celebrated murder case.

"This is unfair. I thought we already gained justice when his killers were finally sentenced to three life terms but now it doesn't mean anything to us. Where's justice now?" she said in an interview over radio station Bombo Radyo here this morning.

Cataluña, who had a promising law career here before the March 1993 killing, confirmed in a telephone interview with the same radio station this morning that he was released from the national penitentiary around noon Friday allegedly on orders from the Court of
Appeals (CA).

He claimed his release came after the CA ruled in his favor on an earlier appeal to downgrade the case from murder to homicide.

Cataluña, who is now back in his hometown in Iloilo, said the court also considered the 14 years he spent at the provincial jail here and the NBP as enough sentence for the homicide case.

But Bañares, who expressed surprise over the supposed CA ruling, said they were not aware about the appeal earlier filed by the suspects and that she could not recall any instance when they were summoned to a hearing at the CA over the case.

"I don't know anything (about that appeal). We don't have any information about it until we received the report that he was released from prison," she said.

Bañares said she will confer with their lawyers soon to check on the reported CA decision and look into other legal remedies.

Cataluña and brothers Joelito and Joel Castracion were found "guilty beyond reasonable doubt" and were each meted with life imprisonment by Regional Court Branch 24 Judge Jose Majaducon on May 26, 2000 for "conspiring in the killing" of Bañares inside the Vision KTV bar here on March 18, 1993.

According to court records, Cataluña and the Castracion brothers "mauled, boxed and kicked" Bañares over a certain misunderstanding.

Cataluña, then 33 years-old, allegedly started the attack by throwing a beer bottle that hit Bañares on the forehead. While the fight was going on, Cataluña moved back and reportedly passed a handgun, which turned out to be unlicensed, to Joelito Castracion who approached and shot Bañares.

The three accused immediately fled after the incident. Several days later, they separately surrendered to authorities and were subsequently charged with murder.

Cataluña, who had maintained his innocence during the seven-year trial of the case, described the appellate court's decision as a big relief for him and his family.

But Cataluña, now 47, said he has held no grudge against Bañares' family for what happened to him during the last 14 years, which he earlier described as the best years of his life.

Cataluña, who reportedly became a lay preacher while in prison, said he initially plans to meet with Bañares' family in the coming days to reconcile with them and settle the civil damages ordered by the court as part of his sentence.

"I will make the first step (to reconcile with the Bañares' family). I consider them as old friends and I even previously acted as their consultant for cases involving their properties. It was very unfortunate that it happened and I consider it as one of the most unwanted moments of my life," he added.

Elizabeth admitted that their family had already forgiven Cataluña many years ago but stressed that it does not mean that the latter was already absolved of the crime.

"We had erased any feeling of hate against him in our hearts because that's what we should do as Christians but he did a crime and there's a punishment for that," she said.

She pointed out that Cataluña also sent a number of similar feelers in the past while he was still at the provincial jail here but that none of them materialized.

Bañares, considered one of the best songwriters in the Philippine music scene, gained prominence as the lead vocalist and composer of folk-rock band Asin in the 80's. He composed most of the group's hit songs, among them "Ang Bayan Kong Sinilangan," "Masdan Ang Kapaligiran," "Itanong Mo Sa Mga Bata," and "Sayang Ka."