MANILA, Philippines—They were once members of a communist death squad. But when they were killed, they were simply known as extortionists in a public market.
In establishing the possible motive for the killings of Romeo “Ka Joey” Dacles and George “Ka George” Acero in Muntinlupa City on Tuesday evening, police are looking more at their recent activities than at their history as former members of the communist death squad Alex Boncayao Brigade (ABB).
In a phone interview, the South Metro Police District (SPD) head, Chief Supt. Jose Erwin Villacorte, said Dacles and Acero were better known in Muntinlupa as “collectors,” or people who extort money from illegal vendors, at the Alabang public market.
“The investigators feel they were most likely killed by enemies they made,” Villacorte said.
Villacorte confirmed that the two were known as members of the ABB, but he said “it seems they were no longer active.”
“Over the years, they’ve transformed into mere extortionists,” he said.
Villacorte, however, said the motive remained under investigation, with probers looking into the criminal records of Dacles and Acero “to determine all of their possible enemies.”
For one, Dacles, 48, had admitted he was one of the ABB gunmen in the 1996 killing of retired Philippine Constabulary Col. Rolando Abadilla, a feared rights abuser during the Marcos dictatorship.
Dacles made the admission when he was interviewed by the Inquirer for its 2002 special report on the Abadilla killing. The ABB gunman then spoke on condition of anonymity.
Before the interview, however, the ABB had already claimed responsibility for the killing of Abadilla.
Yet five men—who were not ABB members—were convicted of murder for the killing of Abadilla.
One of the so-called Abadilla 5 convicts, Lenido Lumanog, who is confined at the National Kidney and Transplant Institute (NKTI) in Quezon City, said on Wednesday that he believed Dacles had been silenced.
“Whoever wanted him dead clearly did it to exact revenge and silence him because he knew the truth about the killing of Abadilla,” Lumanog told the Inquirer in a telephone interview.
“It seems like those who had knowledge of the Abadilla assassination are getting killed. He’s actually the second person to be murdered after admitting involvement in the killing,” Lumanog said.
He did not say who the first person was.
Villacorte acknowledged the possibility that the past involvement of Dacles and Acero with the ABB had something to do with the attack on them.
But the two men also worked for politicians before ending up as extortionists in the public market, he said.
“They’ve supposedly killed many people as former [members of the ABB]. Then they were used by politicians. Then eventually they were forgotten. They ended up on their own,” Villacorte said.
The two men had no other known jobs, he added.
Acero, 54, was identified as a resident of West Service Road in Cupang village, Muntinlupa City.
According to a spot report from the Muntinlupa police, Dacles and Acero were standing in front of Evelina’s Flower Shop on Montillano Street at the Alabang market on Tuesday, at around 6:35 p.m., when two men on a a black motorcycle stopped in front of them.
The back rider then whipped out a pistol and opened fire on Dacles and Acero. Then the driver sped away.
Dacles was hit thrice and Acero twice.
Acero died at Ospital ng Muntinlupa around 7:28 p.m.
Dacles lived long enough to be transferred to Asian Hospital and Medical Center in Alabang, but died around 1 a.m. Wednesday, Villacorte said.
Witnesses at the marketplace could not identify the killers, as it was dark and the gunman’s face was covered with what they described as something that most likely was a bandanna, while the motorcycle driver wore a full-face helmet.
Lumanog said the murder of Dacles was proof that he and the four other men who were convicted of the murder of Abadilla were not guilty.
The other four convicts were Cesar Fortuna, Joel de Jesus, Rameses de Jesus and Augusto Santos.
They maintain that they have nothing to do with the murder, although the Supreme Court upheld their conviction in February 2011.
They have since applied for pardon and their application has been approved and endorsed by Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, but it has been sitting in President Aquino’s office since 2011.
Lumanog, who has been confined at the NKTI for two years now, has also asked President Aquino for executive clemency.
“I really don’t understand why the government has been refusing to give us back our freedom when the people who had confessed to planning and carrying out the crime were not arrested and are now dead,” Lumanog said.
Persida Acosta, chief of the Public Attorney’s Office, shared Lumanog’s suspicion that Dacles was murdered over the Abadilla case.
“It’s probable. There’s a great possibility, but I’m not ascertaining it. As we have seen, there are tons of evidence supporting the innocence [of the Abadilla 5],” Acosta said.
With the killing of the confessed gunman, Acosta said the Public Attorney’s Office might consider asking the Supreme Court to reopen the Abadilla case.
For activist priest Fr. Robert Reyes, the killing of Dacles was a “Divine Intervention” for the families of the Abadilla 5.
A supporter of the five convicts, Reyes said the press appeared to have lost interest in the case after these many years.
He said the murder of Dacles should remind President Aquino and the public of the plight of the Abadilla 5 and the injustice that they and their families had been suffering since their arrest 18 years ago.
“God is speaking to us in a strange way. The death of Dacles is God’s way of telling us that life is short and we must do everything that we can do now … to release the ‘Innocent 5’ before more harm is done to others,” he said.
Reyes said the government must conduct a thorough investigation into the real motive for the murder of Dacles.
“Dacles may incriminate certain people and the easiest way to eliminate a possible witness who will lead us to the truth is to silence him,” Reyes said.
“That’s why the government should protect the sources of information about the Abadilla case. If those who have knowledge of this are getting murdered, how will the five get their vindication?” he said.
Reyes urged President Aquino to act immediately on Lumanog’s application for executive clemency and De Lima’s recommendation for the conditional pardon of the four other convicts.
“The pardon has long been delayed. We have written several letters to President Aquino. We don’t understand the delay. All he has to do is sign the release papers and these men will walk out free,” he said.
Lumanog said he and the four other convicts would “never confess to something we never did.”
“We have suffered long enough for a crime we did not commit. I beg President Aquino to allow us to spend the remaining time in our lives with our loved ones,” he said.