BOHOL’s tourism industry heaved a figurative sigh of relief when the last of the 11 Abu Sayyaf members who landed in Inabanga last April was killed last May 15. The presence of the Abu Sayyaf in Bohol, the subsequent military operations, and the travel warnings issued by a number of foreign embassies had resulted in hotel and tour cancellations.
Crime, especially violent crime, in general is bad for the tourism business.
Recently, former volunteers of Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) and Netherland Development Organization (SNV), their friends and relatives, wrote an impassioned letter to the Bohol provincial board. The letter is an expression of solidarity with Stuart Green, a British former VSO volunteer, whose wife, lawyer Mia Mascariñas-Green, was brutally murdered in Tagbilaran City last February 15 (see my Manila Times column of March 27, “Murder in paradise,” for details about the murder).
The 73 individuals who signed the letter said they felt “compelled to ask tourists to think twice about visiting Bohol until this crime has been solved and to inform the Bohol resort they were planning to visit as to the reason.” They described the murder as a barbaric act and were “appalled to know that the alleged perpetrators were arrested in Bohol only months ago for possession of both “shabu” (…) and the illegal possession of firearms only to be immediately released (…) upon the recommendation of the local prosecutor.” They were referring to the raid conducted on the resort then controlled by the murder suspects, a raid that yielded high-powered firearms, silencers, ammunition and shabu.
Yes, the suspects are still at large. The principal suspects, Lloyd Lancer Gonzaga and Romarico Benigi-an, were positively identified by the nanny of Mia Green’s three children and one bystander who happened to be standing nearby when the crime took place. Both identified the suspects from the police rogues’ gallery before the day was over, according to a lawyer who was at the morgue that evening.
Local media reports on the killing carried the names of the suspects. According to Ted Ayeng of the Tagbilaran City-based radio dyTR, the information went from unofficial to official when the Tagbilaran police chief, Supt. Nicomedes Olaivar Jr., announced on radio the morning after the killing that the crime had been solved.
However, said Ayeng, the judge waited the whole day for the police to apply for a search warrant. The warrant was only issued at about 6 p. m. By the time the police finally served the search warrant, the suspects were gone.
Warrants of arrest for illegal possession of firearms were issued on April 7, with no bail recommended. On April 25, the court issued warrants covering three counts of attempted murder with a P120,000 bail per count. The murder case is still pending.
The suspects, in their joint counter-affidavit issued in Davao City on March 15, 2017, claimed that they were far from the crime scene. Gonzaga submitted CCTV recordings from his parents’ house at Ladislawa Garden Village, Barangay Buhangin, Davao City, from February 15, boat tickets, gasoline receipts and other proof that he was not in Bohol at the time of the crime. Benigi-an claimed that he was in Panglao island, at the resort over whose ownership and control Gonzaga was fighting with his mother-in-law (Green’s client).
Three months after the murder—even with the identities of the suspects ascertained by the police shortly after the crime and warrants of arrest having been issued last month— Gonzaga, Benigi-an and several John Does remain at large.
The witnesses who identified the two as the alleged killers of Mia Green are instead accused of having committed perjury. Even the victim’s husband has not been spared and has been accused of giving false testimony.
To hopefully speed up the arrest of the suspects, friends, relatives, and the governments of Tagbilaran City and Bohol province have put up a reward of P1 million “that will be available for informants that provide information that leads to the successful capture and detainment in Bohol of Lloyd (Gonzaga) and Romarico (Benigi-an). Information on the 10 accomplices’ identities and locations will also be very well rewarded.” Contact email@example.com or Facebook account James Green, Dampas, Tagbilaran City for more information.
In addition, Senator Risa Hontiveros on May 8 filed Senate Resolution 364 urging the committee on public order and dangerous drugs to conduct an investigation in aid of legislation into the murder of Mia Green and similar killings. A hearing is yet to be scheduled.
This is not about politics but about violent crime and how we, as a society, respond to it. The Philippine National Police must exert more effort to arrest the accused who as of today each face three counts of attempted murder and one count of illegal possession of high-powered firearms.