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2 'masterminds' in Korean Jee's kidnap-slay face off at DOJ

Korean businessman Jee Ick-joo: his murder shook the PNP to its core.
The online news portal of TV5

MANILA - Two police officers who have been pointing to each other as the masterminds in the kidnap-slaying of Korean businessman Jee Ick-joo faced off for the first time at Thursday's preliminary investigation by the Justice department.

Supt. Rafael Dumlao and Senior Police Officer 3 Ricky Sta. Isabel did not address each other, but Sta. Isabel was seen occasionally glancing at his superior in the anti-illegal drugs group of the Philippine National Police.

It was Dumlao's first time to attend the DOJ investigation.

Sta. Isabel said it was solely Dumlao and his men - and not any NBI men - who pulled off the Oct. 18, 2016 abduction of Jee on a purported anti-drugs operation, and killed him that same night in a room inside Camp Crame, headquarters of the PNP.

No member of the National Bureau of Investigation was involved, asserted Sta. Isabel, who was pointed to by another police officer and co-accused, SPO4 Roy Villegas, as the one who strangled the Korean to death.

According to Sta. Isabel, Dumlao's men carried out the operation in hopes of getting a meritorious promotion for what was to be presented as a successful blow to the illegal drugs trade.

However, the police "raiders" found no drugs when they took Jee from his house in a subdivision in Angeles City.

Also present at Thursday's DOJ hearing were Chionjin Choi, widow of Mr. Jee, and the Korean couple's housemaid Marissa Morquicho, who had identified Sta. Isabel as the one who entered the Korean's house the day he was seized. 

Other suspects in the case - Jerry Omlang, Ramon Yalung and SPO4 Villegas - also attended the hearing.

The respondents were slated to submit their counter-affidavits, but the DOJ's schedule was snagged after the PNP's Anti-kidnapping Group (PNP-AKG), main complainant, and the NBI submitted separate motions to extend the deadline to allow them time to submit more evidence as a joint task force.

Atty. Dennis Wagas, PNP-AKG lawyer, said, "we were informed to file extension to collate and gather the documents." 

The NBI sought a 15 days' extension while the PNP-AKG asked for 20 more days so they can smoothen out their joint investigation. 

This prompted the DOJ panel to wonder aloud if there is truly a so-called joint task force of the NBI and PNP.

Senior assistant state prosecutor Juan Navera said, "if there is really a joint task force, we will be receiving one motion for extension. We received two motions for extension with different periods for extension. Is there really a joint task force to speak of?"

In reply, NBI lawyer Nino Martinez replied, "we don't have a written order about that. We only have the special order directing our teams to investigate; orders were given for the panel to coordinate."

The respondents, meanwhile, complained that until now they have not received a copy of the complaint. 

The DOJ panel reminded the NBI and PNP-AKG teams that they are under pressure as well from the Angeles regional trial court to reinvestigate the case, which has dealt the biggest blow to the Duterte administration's vaunted drugs war because it showed how rogue cops can hijack the anti-drugs agenda for criminal activity.

The case prompted the freezing of Oplan Tokhang after the South Korean government demanded swift and thorough justice for Jee, noting the high casualty count among Koreans, who comprise the biggest tourist market of the Philippines.

Navera said the PNP-AKG "can submit their evidence and respondents can submit their defense. Hopefully in the 60-day period, which seems to me impossible, so we will be waiting three days from today."

The DOJ panel granted the motions of both PNP and NBI, but shortened the extension only until Monday, Feb. 20.

The DOJ panel set the next hearing for March 2.

Pampanga Korean community

Relatedly, PNP chief Director Ronald "Bato" de la Rosa met the Korean community in Pampanga, where Jee's family resided and where he was abducted.

"We gave them the reassurance that by all means the LGU and Angeles City and the PNP will be safe here," said dela Rosa.

He apologized anew to the Koreans.

"I am truly ashamed. If a similar case breaks, I don't know what will happen. Maybe I won't have to resign, and the President will just tell me to get out of here," said dela Rosa, speaking partly in Filipino.

"As for me,  I'll do all my best to prevent a repeat of this. The police city director of Angeles is here, same with the provincial director of Pampanga. I guess before I have to shoot myself in the head over a similar case, they'll have to shoot themselves first," added dela Rosa.

The PNP chief shared with the Koreans the hotline of the counter intelligence task force which they can call for help in dealing with police or criminals.

According to South Korean ambassador Kim Jae Shin said an average of 20 Koreans are killed in the country each year, and half of the murders happen in Angeles City, where there is a big Korean community.

Nonetheless, speaking through a translator, Ambassador Kim thanked President Duterte "for his great concern and interest in this matter, for trying to solve this problem."

 "Thus we, the Korean Embassy, want to cooperate with [PNP] chief dela Rosa and the Philippine government to find the truth to this incident, find justice, and prevent any kind of incident similar to this."