MANILA – Nine police officers are set to face criminal charges over the killing of Calbayog City, Samar Mayor Ronaldo Aquino and some of his staff members in March last year.

In a statement Thursday, DOJ spokesperson Undersecretary Emmeline Aglipay-VIllar said the panel of prosecutors conducting the preliminary investigation resolved to file criminal charges in court against Lt. Col. Harry Sucayre, Maj. Shyrile Tan, Capt. Dino Goles, Lt. Julio Armeza Jr., Staff Sgt. Neil Cebu, Staff Sgt. Edsel Omega, Staff Sgt. Randy Merelos, Cpl. Julius Garcia, Pat. Niño Salem and several John Does.

They were charged for the murder of Aquino, his security aide Staff Sgt. Rodeo Sario, driver Dennis Abayon and passerby Clint John Paul Yauder, and for the frustrated murder of another security aide, Mansfield Labonite.

In a Dec. 15, 2021 joint resolution released on January 19, the panel said Aquino and his aides were ambushed by the accused personnel in Labuyao Bridge, Calbayog City on March 8, 2021.

The counter-charges for murder, frustrated murder, and attempted murder filed against the mayor’s son Ronald Mark F. Aquino and Cpl. Ramil A. Rosales were dismissed, as well as the complaint against Ronald Mark for grave threats.

Meanwhile, the supplemental complaint of Ronald Mark against Raymund C. Uy and Stephen James T. Tan was also dismissed “for there is a strong indication that it is merely an afterthought”.

The prosecution also said the affidavit of the lone witness in the case, Master Sgt. Jose Jay Senario, was unreliable as the "allegations appear to be farfetched which puts his own credibility in question”.

Senario had been presented before a Senate inquiry last June as a witness by the Aquino family, where he claimed that he colluded with some police officers and the Aquino's political rivals to concoct reports of the slain mayor's involvement in illegal drugs.

Senario claimed that he had been tapped by Capt. Joselito Tabada, to come up with statements to be used for a search warrant on Aquino's house, a plan that was eventually shelved.

He added that he was also asked to find an asset who would issue false statements that Aquino had been a protector of a police escort included in the PNP drug watch list.

Tabada was among those killed on the side of the attackers during the ambush on the mayor.

Full cooperation

Meanwhile, the Philippine National Police said it respects the decision of the DOJ.

“The PNP will extend full cooperation to the DOJ in the prosecution of this case even as we assure that the rights of the respondent police officers will be protected,” PNP spokesperson Col. Roderick Alba said in a statement.

Alba said prior to the DOJ’s decision, the PNP has already dismissed four out of the nine respondents upon the recommendation of the Internal Affairs Service that found “overwhelming evidence of administrative culpability".

“The PNP can no longer exercise administrative control over these dismissed personnel. As to the other police respondents, the PNP assures their availability to face further investigation,” he added. (with a report from Lloyd Caliwan/PNA)