THE recent death of Felipe “Don Pepe” Pestaño may bring closure to the murder case that implicated 10 Navy personnel — whose innocence this columnist has been defending all these years — in his son’s death.
Before he died, Don Pepe told prosecutors handling the murder case that he had dreamed of his son telling him that he was in a good place.
Don Pepe said his family was no longer interested in pursuing the case.
But then, the case is no longer in the hands of the Pestaños as the government, or the People of the Philippines, is the complainant.
However, with the principal complainants — the Pestaños — losing interest in pursuing the case, the court might eventually drop it.
What made Don Pepe lose interest in pursuing the case?
Most probably he was enlightened. A person who is dying is said not to care anymore for material things and is able to see things in their proper perspective.
But even if the murder case is dropped by the court, the names of the 10 Navy officers and enlisted men — retired Capt. Ricardo Ordoñez, Cmdr. Reynaldo Lopez, Lt. Cmdr. Luidegar Casis, Lt. Cmdr. Alfrederick Alba, Lt. Cmdr. Joselito Calico, Lt. Cmdr. Ruben Roque, Hospital Man 2 Welmenio Aquino, Machinery Repairman 2 Sandy Miranda, Petty Officer First Class Carlito Amoroso and Petty Officer Second Class Leonor Igcasan — have been tainted.
They have gone through untold suffering — being detained for five years before their request for bail was granted — and emotional trauma.
One of them was left by his wife for another man.
The children of some of them had to stop their schooling because their salaries were withheld.
Except for Ordoñez, their promotion to the next higher rank has been put on hold because of the case.
Their salaries having been withheld pending the resolution of the murder charges in court, they had to dig into their shallow pockets to pay for their bail, set at P200,000 each.
This columnist paid for the bail of one of the officers while my friend, businessman Kim Wong, upon my request, paid for the bail of two enlisted men.
My dear readers, if you read on, you will understand why I believe that the men were wrongly charged and why I — a jaded journalist who should not be attached to people I write about — personally got involved in the case.
The murder case arose from the death of 24-year-old Navy Ensign Philip Pestaño aboard the BRP Bacolod City on Sept. 27, 1995.
Beside the young Pestaño’s body a note was found which read:
“To my parents, brothers & sisters,
“I am very sorry. Hindi ko na kaya (I can’t bear it any longer). Don’t pity me. I am sorry for everything. I do not know what to do anymore. It’s a very big burden for me to handle all of this. I love you very much. I am sorry sorry.
Three weeks before his death, Philip Pestaño had slashed his own wrist because he was despondent.
He was taken to the Southern Command Hospital, where he was diagnosed to be emotionally and psychologically unstable.
Pestaño was also alleged to be taking drugs by a fellow officer, Ensign Alvin Perrone, but Perrone’s claim was not investigated by the Navy’s top brass.
Philip’s very wealthy parents — Don Pepe was a big-time contractor of the Philippine Navy — didn’t want him to marry his girlfriend Joanna Yasay, a woman of poor means.
Yasay complained to the Armed Forces Provost Marshal of Pestaño’s alleged breach of promise to marry her.
Don Pepe, who apparently held many Navy top brass by the neck because of his business dealings with the organization, claimed that his son was murdered by his comrades.
The elder Pestaño claimed that his son had known about the allegedly illegal activities of the men aboard the BRP Bacolod — transporting illegal drugs, arms and ammunition.
But he couldn’t back up his allegation with proof.
It was found that the arms that the BRP Bacolod had been carrying belonged to the Philippine Army, and the lumber — not logs — on board were given as a gift by the then Tawi Tawi governor Rashibin Matba to the Navy’s flag-officer-in-command (FOIC).
Don Pepe was apparently so influential with the Navy that the case officer in Philip’s death, who told the media and politicians that the 10 officers and men were innocent, later retracted his statement when he became the Navy’s FOIC.
Vice Adm. Alex Pama was a lieutenant commander at the height of the furor over Philip Pestaño’s death and was assigned to defend the beleaguered 10 officers and men.
In 2009, the then Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez dismissed the case against the accused for lack of evidence.
But her replacement, Conchita Carpio-Morales, revived the murder case and filed it in the Manila Regional Trial Court.
This was done despite the fact that the forensics expert that the Pestaño family had hired, Dr. Raquel Fortun, said that it was a suicide.
An American, Wayne Hill, whom the Pestaños hired as Fortun’s replacement, contradicted her findings of suicide.
Hill was later discovered to be an ambulance driver and stand-up comedian.
(Talk about Filipinos having such a colonial mentality that even the word of an uneducated American is believed just because he speaks English in werz-werz fashion!)
It was Hill who testified before the Senate that Philip Pestaño was murdered by his colleagues.
The sponsor of the Senate report on the Pestaño case, then Sen. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, did not sign it, most probably because she believed the young officer killed himself.
And here’s another interesting tidbit on the murder case, my dear readers.
It was claimed that Don Pepe called Commanders Lopez and Casis to a meeting and told them he believed they were innocent of the crime, but that they should testify against their fellow accused.
The date of the meeting was Aug. 12, 2012, while Lopez and Casis, along with the other accused, were already in detention at the Navy camp in Fort Bonifacio.
Lopez, a deeply religious man, said no and so did Casis.
Lopez told me while he was in detention that if they had murdered Pestaño, they would have done it in a more sophisticated way than shooting him in his cabin.
They could have stabbed Pestaño while the BRP Bacolod was in transit in the middle of the sea and thrown his body overboard where the sharks would have feasted on it, Lopez said.
You see, sharks smell blood for miles around and would have rushed to the bloodied body.
“Sir, they (the Pestaños) could have given us credit for our high IQ as most of us are graduates of the Philippine Military Academy, where their son also graduated,” said Lopez, who graduated at the top of his PMA class of 1992.
Lopez is right: Why would highly intelligent men conspire to commit murder in such a crude way?