PNP Chief: 'Overwhelming evidence' vs. cop in Korean kidnap-slay

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — Evidence is strong against the police officer tagged in the abduction and killing of South Korean businessman Jee Ick-joo, Philippine National Police Chief (PNP) Ronald Dela Rosa says.

"Very overwhelming po ang evidence sa kanya (The evidence against him is overwhelming)," Dela Rosa said on Thursday, during the Senate probe on kidnap-for-ransom incidents allegedly committed by the police.

The PNP Chief, who has repeatedly expressed shame because a Korean national was killed right inside Camp Crame, detailed the preponderance of evidence against SPO3 Ricky Sta. Isabel.

Vehicles belong to Sta. Isabel, cohort

Jee, 53, was abducted on October 18 from his home in Friendship Plaza subdivision in Angeles, Pampanga at around 5:30 p.m., the PNP's Anti-Kidnapping Group said.

One of the residents saw Sta. Isabel alight from a Toyota Hilux, police said. Sta. Isabel then helped two other men in dragging Jee inside another vehicle, a black Ford Explorer.

Land Transportation Office records show the Hilux is registered under the name of Sta. Isabel's wife, Jinky Sta. Isabel.

Sta. Isabel himself admitted to using the Hilux when roaming inside Friendship Plaza. He said he went there five to six times, but only to rent a house for a police operation supposedly upon the orders of his team leader, Supt. Rafael Dumlao.

The AKG's investigation also led to the identification of another suspicious vehicle, a Toyota Innova which records show belongs to Maria Teresa Vitug, mother of a certain Ramon Yalung, one of Sta. Isabel's cohorts who went inside Jee's house.

House help, CCTV implicates Sta. Isabel

Marissa Morquicho, Jee's house help, told the Senate it was indeed Sta. Isabel who abducted her and her late employer.

"Kasi po yung pumasok dun sa loob ng bahay si SPO3 Ricky Sta. Isabel po (It was SPO3 Ricky Sta. Isabel who entered the house)," said Morquicho, who was wearing a veil, shades, and a cap.

Morquicho was forced to board a Ford Explorer where she saw Jee handcuffed between two men. She recalled the policemen even beat Jee up when he tried to escape while on their way to the PNP's headquarters in Camp Crame.

But her last encounter with her boss did not last long, because she was transferred to Sta. Isabel's car upon arriving at Camp Crame, police said. She was later released.  

Morquicho said Sta. Isabel, together with other policemen, accused Jee of selling illegal drugs. But PNP Chief Ronald Dela Rosa said Jee was not in the police's list of drug users and pushers.

Morquicho also positively identified Sta. Isabel as the man caught in the CCTV video withdrawing from Jee's ATM account, late night on October 18, in a bank in Greenhills, San Juan. She said Sta. Isabel was in the same blue and white striped polo shirt that he was wearing earlier during the kidnapping.

More eye witnesses

The PNP-AKG said Morquicho's claims corroborate with those of SPO4 Roy Villegas, another police officer allegedly involved in the kidnap-slay.

Villegas, who was not invited to the Senate hearing, earlier said he also saw Sta. Isabel strangling and killing the Korean national.

Villegas and PO2 Christopher Baldovino - part of the "arresting team" against Jee - claimed they both believed they were conducting a legitimate drug operation.

Dela Rosa also said two guards at Friendship Plaza confirmed that Sta. Isabel went in and out of the exclusive subdivision days before the abduction, using a fictitious name and ID.

"Ibang pangalan yung pinapakita niya dun sa gwardya pero yung mukha niya yung nakikita at sasakyan niya nakikitang pumapasok sa loob ng subdivision (He was using a different name but his face and car was seen going inside the subdivision)," Dela Rosa said.

Sta. Isabel: Dumlao is mastermind

Despite eye witness accounts against him, Sta. Isabel denied being the one who kidnapped Jee or withdrew money from the latter's account.

"Wala po ako nun (I was not there)," Sta. Isabel said.

He also claimed he just followed orders from Dumlao, team leader of Special Investigation Unit 2, to which he belongs.

"Si Col. Dumlao, siya po talaga ang nagmamaneobra ng lahat ng storya po para po madiin po ako diyan sa kasong kidnapping na yan (It was Col. Dumlao who made up stories to pin me down in this kidnapping case)."

Dumlao, however, denied any involvement in operations conducted against Jee. "Wala po akong inauthorize na ganyang operation. In fact po yung mga kasama niya hindi ko po ka-unit (I did not authorize that operation. In fact, Sta. Isabel's companions were not part of my unit)."

Morquicho also said she did not see Dumlao during the abduction.

Between the two opposing claims, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre said Morquicho's testimony carries more weight.

"Generally, Mr. Chairman, the positive identification prevails over the negative testimony," Aguirre said in reply to Senator Panfilo Lacson, chairman of the Senate committee on public order and dangerous drugs which is leading the investigation.

'Inside job?'

Senator Leila De Lima, however, suspected Morquicho of being involved in the kidnapping as an "inside job."

De Lima pointed out that Morquicho was hired only a day before the abduction. "Is it too much of a coincidence?... I'm just thinking allowed, baka naman (maybe it's) inside job."

Choi Kyung Jin, Jee's wife, through an interpreter said a "close Korean friend" referred Morquicho.

De Lima also said Morquicho actually had three affidavits, and she did not identify Sta. Isabel in the first affidavit.

Morquicho, however said, she failed to recognize Sta. Isabel at first, but confirmed he was her captor when she saw him on TV.

Also read: SPO3 Sta. Isabel arrested, detained at Camp Crame

Sta. Isabel tagged in 2007 kidnapping case

It was also not the first time that Sta. Isabel faced allegations for criminal activity.

Dela Rosa told the Senate Sta. Isabel was implicated in the kidnapping of a certain Arlene Tan in Monumento in Caoloocan in March 2007. The case was dismissed.

Sta. Isabel said he was just falsely accused.

But Dela Rosa admitted rogue policeman may have figured in similar cases. "There is a big possibility that there are cases similar to this that have been happening before."

Senators urged the PNP to review their recruitment process. "How can a police officer with allegations of the sort be assigned to specialty units?" Senator Tito Sotto asked.

Sta. Isabel said he entered the police force in 1996, and was assigned to the Anti-Illegal Drugs Group upon Dumlao's recommendation. The AIDG is tasked to conduct police operations against drug syndicates and personalities, in support of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency.

Lacson said Jee's case was "enough for the police force to lose public trust and respect."

Dela Rosa said the case "should serve as an eye-opener not only for the PNP but for the entire justice system," and assured the Senate of the PNP's full cooperation.


Read: PNP Chief Dela Rosa won't resign over Korean kidnap-slay