BACOLOD CITY, Negros Occidental, Philippines – Justices of the Supreme Court’s Third Division have denied the appeal filed by two principal suspects in the 2003 arbitrary detention and murder of former village chief Eleuterio Salabas, Ricardo Suganob and Maximo Lomoljo Jr. and ordered them to be imprisoned for at least 120 years each.
Then policemen Clarence Dongail and Jimmy Fortaleza were also ordered to pay at least P8 million in damages and indemnities to the families of the victims.
The division also dismissed the case against a third suspect, former police master sergeant Freddie Natividad, who was already dead when the decision was made.
The decision, promulgated 17 February 2020, was signed by Associate Justice Rosmari D. Carandang.
Division chairperson Marvic Mario Victor F. Leonen, and members Alexander G. Gesmundo, Rodil V. Salameda, and Samuel H. Gaerlan concurred with the decision.
The justices said the appeal filed by Dongail, Fortaleza, and Natividad were dismissed, as they also adopted the findings of a regional trial court on 13 April 2011 as affirmed by the Court of Appeals on 31 July 2014.
The Apellate Court, in its decision number CR-HC 05411, found Dongail and Fortaleza “… guilty beyond reasonable doubt of three (3) counts of murder…and three counts of arbitrary detention…”
The decision pointed out murder is punishable under Article 248 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended while arbitrary detention is punishable under Article 124 of the same Philippine law.
Court records cited by the Third Division show the case stemmed from an incident 18 years ago, on 31 August 2003 when Dongail, Fortaleza, and several other policemen, abducted and eventually murdered the victims.
In dismissing the appeal of the policemen, the Division said the following circumstances were proven by the courts:
- Salabas was the subject of surveillance operations by the accused-appellants;
- The three victims were all blindfolded, hogtied, and gagged inside a red Revo van with the accused on 31 August 2003;
- The accused moved the three victims from Moonlight Lodge to Taculing Court and finally to Hacienda Motel where they decided to order the killing of Suganob and Lomoljo;
- The accused left Hacienda Motel with Salabas;
- Salabas was seen inside the red Revo van gagged and hogtied at the house of Dongail where a party was held on 1 September 2003;
- Dongail and Fortaleza warned Cecil “Giant” Brillantes, a police asset who turned prime witness, and other witnesses not to disclose to anyone about the operation against Salabas;
- Eyewitnesses saw the accused with Salabas at the Palau Beach Resort;
- Eyewitnesses saw the accused with Salabas, who was then very weak, boarding the pump boat to Pili, village Ajuy town in Iloilo province; and
- A cadaver was found floating in the waters of Ajuy, Iloilo.
The copy of the Division’s decision was obtained by DNX from the Supreme Court website.