Pangasinan Governor, Congressman Linked to Murder – NBI

MANILA, Philippines - The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) filed on Monday a murder complaint against Pangasinan Governor Amado T. Espino Jr. and Pangasinan 1st District Rep. Jesus Celeste over the killing of Mayor Ruperto Martinez of Infanta, Pangasinan last December 15.

In a five-page complaint-transmittal, the NBI found sufficient physical and documentary evidence that will allegedly tie the two Pangasinan officials and the supposed right-hand man of the governor, Jaime Aquino, to the murder.

The NBI said the key witness in the case is the 16-year-old son of Aquino, who issued a 16-page sworn statement on the supposed plot of Espino and Celeste to kill Martinez more than a year before the mayor was shot by motorcycle-riding gunmen.

Records submitted by the NBI showed that Martinez was shot in the head and neck by his assassins in front of his house in Barangay Cato in Infanta, hours after a rally mounted by residents against a local infrastructure project.

Five days later, local policemen arrested the two suspects identified as Richard Manuel, the alleged triggerman, and Ricardo Legarda, who drove their getaway motorcycle.

Police, however, failed to establish a motive and the persons possibly behind the killing.

NBI Director Nonnatus Caesar Rojas said they received a request from a certain Rev. Ruel Garcia, executive director of Akap sa Bata Philippines, for them to ascertain the allegations of a teenager, who claimed to have knowledge about crimes involving "high-profile personalities."

The boy, who was a victim of repeated beating by his father, was taken in by the foundation on Dec. 26, 2012 and the NBI was able to interview him last January 8.

Rojas said the teenager gave a detailed account of the meetings supposedly attended by his father, Espino, Celeste and several other personalities in Pangasinan and Zambales.

The boy said he saw Celeste with "Kardo" - whom he later positively identified as arrested suspect Ricardo Legarda - twice in Bolinao, including the day before Martinez was shot dead, said Rojas.

The boy's statement in Ilocano said: "I heard Congressman Celeste telling Kardo to 'go to Mayor Martinez in Infanta to check if he is already dead or still alive."'

The boy also identified the other suspect, Richard Manuel, as a bodyguard of Celeste.

The witness has already been placed under the Department of Justice's (DOJ's) Witness Protection Program.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said the DOJ will conduct a preliminary investigation into the murder complaint.

At the Capitol in Lingayen, Pangasinan, the governor could not be reached for comment but Provincial Administrator Rafy Baraan said they were unaware of any charges.

"We have not received a copy of the complaint," Baraan said. "We have no basis for making any statement at this point." (With a report from Liezle Basa Iñigo)

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