The Sawang Calero case, more than being a scene-stealer of sorts while public eye locks in on the franchise activism that the community pantry initiatives have become, has the makings of a saga unfolding.
Here is the throwback: In the morning of March 9, 2021, Sawang Calero Police Station’s drug enforcement unit, lef by Staff Sgt. Celso Colita, reportedly implemented a search warrant on one Ritchie Nepomuceno supposedly for involvement in illegal drug activities and unlicensed firearm. Nepomuceno was arrested in her house in Tungkil, Minglanilla, and was reportedly brought to the Sawang Calero station. Nepomuceno later said she was placed in a room inside the precinct. At around 1 p.m. of March 10, Colita’s group allegedly brought her to an automated teller machine and she was forced to withdraw P170,000. She was then taken to a motel in Barangay Mambaling where Colita allegedly raped her before bringing her back to the station later in the afternoon.
In the afternoon of the following day, March 11, Colita sent his subordinates to release Nepomuceno back to her house in Minglanilla. The arrest, reports say, never appeared in the station’s blotter.
Nepomuceno disclosed her ordeal in the hands of Colita and his men to the Integrity Monitoring and Enhancement Group (IMEG) Visayas Field Unit, a task force that monitors police abuse. IMEG’s Maj. Alejandro Batobalonos tried to verify Nepomuceno’s claims and found there was sufficient ground to file complaints against 11 police officers of Sawang Calero. They were, including Colita himself, Chief Master Sergeant Eric Edgar Emia; Staff Sergeants Joseph Alcoseba and Michael Rhey Cabizares; and Corporals Rochelito Mabulay, Emmanuel Martinez, Carlo Irizari, Junel Pedroza, John Carl Aceron and Georny Abrasado. The station chief, Maj. Eduard Sanchez, was relieved, and his 11 DEU men were placed in the holding unit of the Police Regional Office (PRO) 7 headquarters pending the investigation.
The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) 7, led by Chief Investigator Leo Villarino, went to the Sawang Calero Police Station on April 6 with Nepomuceno and two other women complainants to verify the alleged “secret room” inside the precinct.
On April 19, 2021, after a delayed medical examination, which was supposed to verify accusations of rape, Nepomuceno was shot dead in Barangay Basak Pardo, Cebu City, by riding-in-tandem assailants. Her husband Danilo said they were still communicating via mobile phone moments before the shooting.
In a matter of hours, Colita, in the middle of an interview about Nepomuceno’s “ambush” and while being questioned about “raw information” that linked him to illegal drugs, asked to be excused and went to the comfort room where he allegedly shot himself dead. Regional Drug Enforcement Unit 7 Chief Glenn Hife, who was then interviewing Colita, said he heard the gunshots and found Colita lying dead at the comfort room.
The Cebu City Police Office said it is looking at a crime of passion having gathered information of Nepomuceno’s alleged relationship struggles and into the possible involvement in illegal drugs. The facts will be discovered later.
However, not to be waylaid by the consequent tragedies that Nepomuceno’s case had come to are the cases against the other men involved in Nepomuceno’s allegations. There are still 10 of them who participated in Colita’s alleged party. Colita was charged with rape, but the others were also among those answerable to charges of grave coercion, grave threats and robbery. If these young officers, sergeants and corporals, get away unscathed by this case, we’d be in for a dangerous future of having cops who’d be emboldened by lack of accountability.
By all means, let the investigation continue against the 10 other men. If Nepomuceno’s accusations shall be proven true, these bad eggs ought to be cracked as early as now before they taint the police organization, a good sector of which is working hard to keep its good name.