By Nancy C. Carvajal and Davinci S. Maru
Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism
HE had been living in the Philippines for the last eight years, but South Korean national Jee Ick Joo did not seem to have any intentions of changing his citizenship – at least not yet.
But when the 53-year-old businessman’s body was brought to a Caloocan City crematorium last Oct. 19, his death certificate not only identified him as Filipino, it also said his name was Jose Ruamar Salvador, of Champaca St., Sta. Quiteria, Caloocan City.
Jee, who had a wife and teenage daughter, was abducted from his home in Angeles City, Pampanga on Oct. 18, along with the family helper. He was apparently killed just hours later.
According to a staff member of the St. Nathaniel Crematory in La Loma, Caloocan City, however, the remains of the man who would turn out to be Jee was brought there the next day and cremated at 11:00 in the morning.
An employee of Gream Funeral Services in Bagbaguin, Caloocan City had identified herself as the representative of the dead man’s family and made the reservation for the cremation two hours earlier, said the St. Nathaniel staff. It was also the same Gream employee who signed all the papers required for the cremation, the staff said.
Death cert forged?
“We had no idea they were not related,” said the crematorium personnel, referring to the Gream employee and Jee. “The assistant even looked distraught when they arrived at our office to submit the documents for the cremation of the body.”
The crematorium staff said they learned that “Ruamar Salvador” was actually Jee only last Jan. 18, when agents from the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) paid a visit to St. Nathaniel.
According to the St. Nathaniel personnel, two people from Gream had gone to their office to submit the man’s death certificate, a health permit from city hall, and authorization to cremate the remains. For the required identification card of a family member, the Gream employee whom the crematorium staff kept referring to as “the assistant” submitted her own ID. False information had been enrolled about the identity of the remains in the evidently fake death certificate.
Cause of death?
The St. Nathaniel personnel said that the death certificate contained the time and cause of death, but declined to disclose the details. The staff also said it was only the second time that St. Nathaniel had dealt with Gream, which is some 30 minutes away by car from the crematorium.
The urn containing the ashes of the deceased was released to the assistant, the crematorium personnel said. PNP chief Ronald ‘Bato’ de la Rosa would later tell the media that a Gream employee had supposedly panicked and flushed the ashes down the toilet.
The crematorium staff said they have provided the NBI all the documents submitted to them for Jee’s cremation. They also told PCIJ that a close-circuit television camera captures all the activities in the crematorium chamber and in St. Nathaniel’s offices.
Who is ‘Penny’?
The St. Nathaniel’s staff said she saw the Gream assistant again at the NBI, where they had gone on Jan. 18 (after the NBI’s visit to the crematorium) to give their judicial affidavit on the events surrounding the cremation of Jee. By then, the Gream assistant was answering to the name “Penny.” According to the crematorium employee, she asked Penny, “Bakit ninyo naman kami dinamay dito (Why did you get us into this)?”
Penny is apparently an assistant to Gream’s owner, Gerardo Santiago, a former policeman who was assigned to the Northern Police District. Senior Police Officer 3 Ricky Sta. Isabel, one of the prime suspects in the Jee kidnap-slay, was once deployed to the same police district.
Penny and four other employees of the funeral parlor are now under the custody of the NBI. An NBI insider said that the five Gream personnel “could identify the people who brought the victim’s body to them and ordered a cremation.” The NBI insider added that apparently, policemen brought Jee’s body to Gream at around 10:00 to 11:00 in the evening of Oct. 18.
The insider also said that the Anti-Illegal Drugs Group members who were on duty when Jee was supposedly brought to the compound of the anti-narcotics group have been summoned by the NBI as part of its ongoing investigation. Penny and the four other Gream personnel may be put under the Witness Protection Program, said the NBI source. — PCIJ, January 2017