Military won’t yield Cafgu with pending arrest warrants from Bukidnon court

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/16 April) – The military has refused to turn over to police custody a New People’s Army rebel turned government militiaman who is one of the subjects of warrants of arrest issued by the Regional Trial Court Branch 8 in Malaybalay City for a string of criminal cases.

Benjamin “Nonong” Salusad, who became a member of the Civilian Armed Force Geographical Unit (Cafgu) after his surrender late last year in Maramag, Bukidnon was named in at least six warrants issued between 2003 and 2009, court records showed.

The lawyer who gave MindaNews and provincial officials copies of the warrants did not want to be cited, as one of the suspects became one of his clients.

Some groups have earlier urged the police to arrest Salusad.

Provincial police director Senior Supt. Rustom Duran said they are just awaiting the military to turn over to them Salusad.

However, 403rd Infantry Brigade Col. Romeo Gapuz declared they won’t do it citing the suspect had fallen into their custody when he surrendered.

He said it might change the mindset of Salusad, who surrendered with 79 alleged rebels in October last year.

But Gapuz said this doesn’t mean Salusad will evade criminal liability. He said he has asked a lawyer to see how they can help Salusad “process” his case.

He said the government’s social integration program has a mechanism for former rebels who have cases that were filed while they were still with the armed movement.

According to the warrants, Salusad and 16 other suspects are being accused of robbery in band with double homicide and double frustrated homicide that allegedly happened in Bunacao, San Fernando town.

The earliest warrant was issued by Judge Agustin Q. Javellana on May 26, 2003, for Criminal Case No. 12127-02.

The latest warrant in the lawyer’s documents was issued by Judge Benjamin Estrada on January 5, 2009 for frustrated murder. The case was docketed as Criminal Case No. 19261-08.

The other warrants, issued on different dates between June 2003 and January 2009, were for  murder, robbery in band, double murder, and frustrated murder.

Salusad’s pending arrest warrants figured in the dialogue on March 21 organized by Vice Gov. Jose Ma. R. Zubiri Jr. in Malaybalay where the main issue was the March 5 killing of Barangay Dao, San Fernando chair Jimmy Liguyon allegedly by Aldy “Butsoy” Salusad, son of the militiaman.

The younger Salusad is the leader of a paramilitary group called the New Indigenous People’s Army Reform.

During the dialogue Liguyon’s family and supporters called on the police to arrest the two Salusads based on the pending warrants. They complained why the police and military did not move against the younger Salusad when he was allegedly seen moving freely in San Fernando.

The elder Salusad attended the dialogue.

Duran told MindaNews he is in talks with the military for the turnover of the elder Salusad to the police so he could face the charges.

Duran initially denied they already had taken hold of the warrants against the elder Salusad even if Insp. Allan Abalde, then San Fernando police chief, told the dialogue that they issued a clearance to Salusad with the note that “he had pending warrants of arrest”.

Abalde, who Duran said has finished his tour of duty, was replaced last week by Insp. Gregorio Agrigado, a police investigator from Valencia City.

Duran also said the police still have to find out if an arrest warrant has been issued against the younger Salusad before they would launch a manhunt operation. But the human rights group Karapatan said there is no need for that because there are pending warrants for both Salusads.

In the documents given by the lawyer, father and son were named as among the suspects in a murder case filed as Criminal Case No. 16822-06 cited in an order on July 29, 2010 issued by RTC Judge Pelagio Estopia.

Estopia directed the Quezon town police chief to explain why the11 suspects were not apprehended. One of the suspects was a client of the lawyer who obtained the documents. (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)