DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/25 January) – “In a small and lonely sitio known as Crossing Kilometer 125, Barangay La Esperanza, Municipality of Tulunan, Province of Cotabato, Philippines, on April 11, 1985, the stillness of the place was shattered by a series of unusual closely related incidents which resulted to the filing” of Criminal Case 1881 for murder, Criminal Case 1883 for arson and Criminal Case 1884 for attempted murder.
So started the 45-page decision by Judge Benjamin Estanol who sentenced the accused to the maximum penalty of life imprisonment because the 1987 Constitution, ratified in February that year, had suspended the death penalty.
The victim was Italian priest Tullio Favali of the Pontificial Institute of Foreign Missions (PIME), parish priest of Tulunan in North Cotabato, who just happened to be the first to respond to a distress call.
The killers’ principal target was actually Father Peter Geremia. But Father Geremia was late in returning to town.
The group of paramilitary elements led by Norberto Manero, Jr., aka Kumander Bucay, riddled the priest’s body with 22 bullets, kicked him and spat on him, this, after Bucay set on fire the priest’s motorcycle. Portions of the priest’s brains were even shown to passengers of a jeep that passed, as Edilberto the main triggerman sang “Mutya ka Baleleng” and the rest were laughing.
The Favali killing would be among a few cases under martial law that was successfully prosecuted, initially under the Marcos era then under the Aquino administration, with the killers locked up in jail.
Nearly 23 years later, with practically all of them out of jail, has justice been served?
Below is a summary of significant events following his murder. The chronological listing shows how Norberto Manero, Jr., the leader of the group that killed Fr. Favali had tried to regain freedom either by escape or pardon and how these incidents were even kept from the public.
Favali is gunned down in Crossing La Esperanza, Tulunan, North Cotabato. First radio report issued by military attributes the killing to unidentified rebels.
PC Captain Winston Ebersole, CO, 457th PC, announces the suspects are the Manero brothers – Norberto Manero, Jr., alias Kumander Bucay and Edilberto Manero, alias Edil or Kumander Baleleng, along with ICHDF* team of La Esperanza and some of Bucays’ bodyguards from South Cotabato
*Integrated Civilian Home Defense Force (ICHDF), what is now Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Unit (CHDF)
Fr. Peter Geremia, PIME, the intended target for murder by the Manero group, writes Gen. Cesar Tapia, Regional Unified Command chief, holding him “responsible for what happened to Fr. Tullio and other victims of these notorious killers!”
CBCP Administrative Council and the Public Affairs Committee meet with the Ministry of National Defense. General Fidel Ramos, Acting Chief of Staff and concurrent Philippine Constabulary Chief, assures the Bishops that the search for the Manero group would be intensified and he would continue to look into the matter of responsibility of higher military officers “wishing to remove this one big blackeye for the military.”
(27 Nov 1992: President Ramos told this reporter the investigation in 1985 was “not completed” because he relinquished his post as Acting Chief of Staff in favor of Fabian Ver).
President Ferdinand Marcos issues order to capture the Maneros dead or alive.
Military reports published in the national dailies say Bucay (Norberto) was captured in the hinterlands of Negros on June 15. Details were not available.
Military reports published in the national dailies say Baleleng (Edilberto) was tracked down in Malangas, Zamboanga del Sur on July 16.
Manero brothers, in an interview with this reporter at the Edwin Andrews Air Base (EAAB) in Zamboanga City, tell this reporter they would enter the priesthood once released.
Philippine News Agency reports brothers would be formally turned over on August 21 to the Regional Unified Command XII in Cotabato.
Major Mangakop Limongan of the Judge Advocates General Office in Camp Parang files a petition to have accused transferred to Camp Parang in Maguindanao (already part of Shariff Kabunsuan, a province carved out of Maguindanao, as of late 2006).
Accused are finally arraigned. All of them plead “not guilty.”
People Power at EDSA
Judge Benjamin Estanol, in a 45-page decision dated July 27, 1987 but promulgated on September 4, finds the accused guilty beyond reasonable doubt, of murder with the aggravating circumstances of superior strength and treachery and sentences each of them imprisonment of reclusion perpetua*; to pay the Pontifical Institute of Foreign Mission (PIME) brothers, the congregation to which Favali belonged, a civil indemnity of P12,000; attorney’s fees of P50,000 for each of the eight accused or a total sum of P400,000; court appearance fee of P10,000 for every day the case was set for trial; moral damages in the amount of P100,000 and to pay proportionately the costs.
The accused are also found guilty beyond reasonable doubt, of attempted murder of Rufino Robles and sentenced to an additional maximum of 8 years and 20 days imprisonment.
Norberto Manero is also found guilty beyond reasonable doubt, of arson** and sentenced to an additional imprisonment of maximum of six years.
* the death penalty.had been abolished by then
** he set on fire Fr. Favali’s motorcycle
Manero group arrives in Bilibid prisons, Muntinlupa.
Bucay adopts Islam as his religion. Facilitated by UP Muslim Students and Alumni Association. Manero, dreaded anti-Moro fighter, becomes Abdullah Manero, Jr.
Manero writes Chief Overseer of Muntinlupa requesting he be included in the master list of prisoners who would be shipped to Davao Penal Colony (now Davao Penal and Prison Farm or DPPF) “for the seek (sic) of humanitarian consideration.”
Col. Warlito Sayam of the office of the commanding general of the NCRDC in Quezon City sends Manero the following message: “Congratulations! I’m looking forward for your transfer to Davao. This time at last you can relax a bit. Hoping to see you soon. Regards.”
Allowed to be transferred to DPPF on instruction of Director of Prisons (then Meliton Goyena) through the Senior Executive Assistant II with notation of the Assistant Chief Penal Superintendent Vicente B. Aforong.
Arrival in DPPF, Panabo Central Colony
Prisons Director Meliton Goyena sends a radiogram ordering the immediate return of Manero to Muntinlupa allegedly because he was “erroneously and prematurely assigned thereat (Davao).”
Manero arrives in Muntinlupa
Rep. Narciso D. Monfort (Iloilo) writes Justice Secretary Franklin Drilon a letter requesting Manero’s transfer to DPPF or San Ramon Penal Colony in Zamboanga City.
Drilon writes on Monfort’s letter a marginal note to Undersecetary Liwag “for appropriate action and reply.”
Antonio Dujua, on behalf of Drilon, writes a first indorsement to the Director of Corrections “for appropriate action” on Monfort’s letter.
Manero is transferred from dorm 1-C top cellhouse RC-1 on instructions of Director of Correction.
Special order allows Manero’s transfer to DPPF
Manero is back in DPPF. Escorted from Muntinlupa by uniformed prison guards
21 Dec to Jan. 8, 1992
Manero is in Davao City, purportedly for confinement in a government hospital. He is confined for a few days in Ricardo Limso Medical Center, a private hospital.
Prisons Superintendent Leon Casanova grants Manero’s request to transfer to Juan Acenas sub-colony, some eight kilometers away.
Manero “escapes” but this escape is kept from the public.
General Santos City-based entrepreneur Julie Yee and the wife of retired Col. Alfonso Lumibao wait with Manero outside the residence of Fr. Ronilo Villamor in Kidapawan Parish. Yee, a generous benefactor of church projects, informs Villamor she is working for a presidential pardon for Manero. Yee tells Villamor several priests had signed the petition. Her signature campaign reached Manila where some priests also signed because they were made to believe the priests in North Cotabato signed. Yee also asks Villamor to facilitate Manero’s surrender in Kidapawan two days later.
Yee returns to Villamor’s residence at the parish with Manero thumbcuffed (not handcuffed; just the thumb). He had reportedly surrendered to authorities in Isulan, Sultan Kudarat and was going to return to Muntinlupa.
Congressman Gregorio Andolana of North Cotabato, chief lawyer of the Kidapawan Diocese in the case against the Maneros, sees Manero “in the company of Major Ramon Cunanan and some military officials” outside the Notre Dame University Library Building in Cotabato City after a luncheon meeting with President Fidel Ramos .
A shocked Andolana asks Manero why he was there and was told: “naghulat mi ug tawag sa among amigo nga amigo ni President” (we are waiting for a call from our friend who is a friend of the President). Manero also told Andolana about possibilities of his being granted amnesty by the President.
Andolana asked if he escaped but Manero denied he did. In fact, he did, on 13 May 1992. But this was kept from the public until Andolana exposed Manero’s presence in Cotabato City.
Manero is back in Muntinlupa.
Norberto Manero’s sentence commuted to 24 years definite. Again, this was kept from the public. Among the Favali killers, he had the most number of years to serve in prison (life imprisonment for murder; up to eight years for attempted murder; up to six years for arson; plus additional years for evasion of service of sentence in 1992).
20 July 1999
Board of Pardons and Parole issues Resolution 7452 to consider for review and recommendation to the President of the Philippines, the grant of Conditional Pardon with parole conditions to prisoners who have served at least 75% of the minimum period of their commuted prison sentences or the period for review fixed for the commuted straight sentences; or have only one to two years remaining of the unserved portion of the minimum period of their commuted indeterminate prison sentences.
The Resolution was “consistent with the demands of public interest and safety” and “recognizing the need to reduce congestion in national, provincial, city, district and municipal jails.”
Manero is granted conditional pardon by President Joseph Estrada. (This was kept from the public)
Discharged from New Bilibid, Muntinlupa. (This was kept from the public).
Tulunan residents see Norberto Manero roaming around.
Kidapawan Bishop Romulo Valles writes President Estrada to reconsider the grant of pardon to Norberto Manero and to deny the application for pardon being considered for the release of Edilberto Manero and Elpidio Manero.
News of Manero’s pardon is headline of Philippine Daily Inquirer.
Kidapawan Diocese represented by Bishop Romulo Valles and Fr. Peter Geremia file petition with the Office of the President to recall conditional pardon of Manero. Petition granted.
Justice Secretary Serafin Cuevas replaced by Court of Appeals Justice Artemio Toquero.
The Department of Justice had earlier recommended the grant of conditional pardon to Manero.
Executive Secretary Ronaldo Zamora, whose office sends documents to the President for signing, assumed “full command responsibility” for the inclusion of Manero in the list of those to be pardoned. President Estrada rejects Zamora’s offer to resign.
Manero surrenders to PNP Chief Panfilo Lacson, accompanied by his lawyer and by retired Col. Rafael Galvez, a member of the former Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM).
Manero arrives in General Santos City to face charges of murder of brothers Ali and Mambawatan Mamalumpong* in 1977, the case archived earlier because Manero escaped.
*** see “Chronology of Elusiveness”
Pres. Estrada revokes the pardon granted to Manero and commutation (to 24 years) by predecessor, Fidel Ramos on the recommendation of the Department of Justice which learned that Manero was facing a separate criminal case for the killing of Ali and Mambawatan Mamalumpong in 1977.
The cancellation of revocation means Manero had to serve his original life sentence plus the additional prison years for escaping in 1992 and 2001.
Manero escapes from Sarangani provincial jail.
Manero fetched by helicopter by Presidential Assistant for Mindanao Jesus Dureza from his hiding place in Polomolok, South Cotabato and presented to Pres. Arroyo in Zamboanga City.
Manero acquitted by the Sarangani Regional Trial Court on the murder of Mamalumpong brothers. He was sent back to the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa to serve the remaining years of his sentence in the Favali murder case and additional years for evasion of service of sentence in 1992 and 2001.
Edilberto Manero, 52, and Elpidio Manero, 50, released from Muntinlupa after serving 15 years and 8 months there.
Norberto Manero writes Bishop Romulo Valles of the Diocese of Kidapawan (Archbishop of Zamboanga City since January 2007) and the Diocese’s lawyer, Gregorio Andolana and Father Peter Geremia, seeking forgiveness and help for his earlier release from jail.
Calling himself one of the “lost sheep” who has returned to the flock, Manero, committed to be, among others, “an instrument for the attainment of peace and conciliation,” as he vowed never to allow himself to be used by “dirty traditional politicians or military elements, or any influential people, particularly by vigilantes and fanatical groups.”
After this series of meetings with the murder witnesses and the Diocesan clergy, the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME) to which Favali belonged, the Diocese decided to send a team to Manero to clarify issues and concerns.
Fr. Peter Geremia, the intended target for murder of the Manero group, and former North Cotabato Rep. Gregorio Andolana, the lawyer of the Diocese of Kidapawan, visit Manero at Muntinlupa to present to him the concerns expressed by the Diocese and the witnesses to the murder.
Manero told them he wants to “go back to a quiet life” and vowed, among other promises, not to harm or cause any harm to any of the witnesses, the lawyers of Favali, the priests and lay leaders of the Diocese and members of the Basic Christian Communities.
Manero signs Agreement with Diocese of Kidapawan where he promised, among others, “not to allow himself to be used by dirty traditional politicians or military elements, or any influential people, particularly by vigilantes and fanatical groups,” not to harm any of the witnesses, lawyers, priests, etc..
Encouraged by the visit of Father Geremia and Andolana, Manero writes President Arroyo, through Bureau of Correction director Vicente Vinarao, requesting the “reinstatement of the grant of commutation of service of sentence” and a grant of executive clemency “to enable me to lead a new life and make amends for all my commissions and omissions while there is still time left.”
Manero’s name is mentioned as among those who would be freed soon.
First reported date of release. But Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez said he’d have to check on the records. Manero expects to be released; is frustrated.
Second rumored date of release
Justice Sec. Gonzalez signs order freeing Manero. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)