Resigned police officer Vincent Tacorda has been sentenced to 8 to 14 years imprisonment for the failed riding-in-tandem shooting of a drug pusher in Viga town in 2016.
The Regional Trial Court last week found Tacorda guilty of frustrated murder for the Aug. 10, 2016 slay attempt on Samuel Rojas, 56, an administrative aide at Viga Central Elementary School who was then alleged to be the number one drug pusher in the town.
He was also ordered by RTC Branch 42 Presiding Judge Genie G. Gapas-Agbada to pay the victim P25,000 as exemplary damages, P50,000 as moral damages and P100,000 as actual damages.
The official report on the incident stated that at 8:10 P.M. that evening, two suspects on board a motorcycle with no plate number arrived while Rojas was watching TV in front of Boyet’s Electronics Shop in barangay San Jose.
The backrider pulled out a gun of unknown caliber and shot at Reyes who was hit at the back just below the nape. The suspects immediately fled after the attack, leaving Reyes, then alleged to be the number one drug pusher in Viga. Rojas survived the shooting but fled the town after being discharged from the hospital.
The victim later told the police that at first he noticed the gunman, who wore a jacket, a helmet, and a police uniform exercise shorts, walking past his back before firing the gun.
The suspect also threw at Rojas folder marked “PUSHER AKO, HUWAG TULARAN… bicol vigilante.”
Though wounded, the victim sought help from the police patrol car parked just 30 meters away and he was rushed to the hospital. He survived the potentially fatal injury and then fled the town after being discharged.
Less than a year later, however, the first riding-in-tandem shooting incident on the island returned to prominence in the news after PO1 Tacorda submitted a letter of irrevocable resignation on April 26, 2017, to his superior officer at the PNP Regional Headquarters Support Group (RSHG) in Camp General Simeon Ola in Legazpi City.
In subsequent media interviews, he said he could no longer feel fulfillment in his work and that the undue pressure greatly affected his family.
The lawman, who is married with four children, claimed that despite his contributions to the war on drugs, his superiors transferred him to the RHSG from the Catanduanes police, something which he considered as a demotion.
In an interview with the Tribune, Tacorda claimed that he was ordered by his superiors to kill an alleged drug pusher allegedly so the local police could have an “accomplishment” in the Duterte administration’s war against illegal drugs.
He said the “special assignment” was handed to him after several of his companions refused to participate in the island province’s what was supposed to be the first extrajudicial killing under the new regime.
As proof, he presented a cellphone recording of his conversation with then Catanduanes PNP provincial director Senior Superintendent Jesus Martirez before the hit was conducted, with the latter asking Tacorda to ensure that the operation would be ‘clean’. He also claimed that after the incident, then Viga town police chief Inspector Nathaniel Jacob called him up to ask why Rojas was not killed.
Tacorda alleged that the Catanduanes police headquarters was itching for an “accomplishment” in the war against drugs after it was pointed out that, among the six provinces of Bicol, not one drug suspect had been killed in the island.
The job was allegedly offered one by one to eight policemen belonging to an elite group of intelligence specialists that had been organized by the previous PNP leadership. “The others in our group declined the assignment until I was the only one left,” he said. “I could not refuse a direct order from my superior officer.”
He was sent to Viga, to initially monitor the supposed victim and then joined up with a former policeman, who had previously resigned, chosen as a driver of the getaway motorcycle. According to him, Insp. Jacob ordered the deployment of the Viga police to places far from the victim’s location. It was just hours before the hit was to come down that the superintendent called him regarding the matter.
“The spent shell failed to eject and I failed to fire for the second time,” Tacorda disclosed, adding that he had not used the gun for about six months, with the accumulated dirt probably causing it to jam.
At the time, he said he knew he could be charged for the hit job on Rojas and had already consulted a lawyer regarding the matter.
In reaction to Tacorda’s revelations, Senior Supt. Martirez had told the Inquirer that the Catanduanes police does not condone extrajudicial killings. “I have always emphasized that policemen build up cases carefully against illegal drug personalities,” he said.
On May 10, 2017, Tacorda executed an affidavit admitting his participation in the Rojas shooting and providing complete details as to how the shooting was planned and the manner with which it was executed.
However, after being called to the Senate to testify on his allegations, the policeman executed an Affidavit of Recantation that claimed he was confused when he made the initial affidavit and that he sought revenge on the PNP by admitting acts he did not commit.
Earlier, Martirez’s successor at the post, then Supt. Jeffrey Fernandez had described the allegations as unsubstantiated and challenged Tacorda to file a complaint before the proper forum and present evidence of shenanigans in the police organization.
The policeman had essentially made an extrajudicial confession of his involvement in the Viga shooting and he could be charged for it, the police director declared then.
That came to pass last year when the Provincial Prosecution Office filed the frustrated murder charge against Tacorda, who pleaded not guilty when he was arraigned on May 24, 2019.
He denied having executed the May 10, 2017 affidavit, claiming that all he could remember was that he signed four documents and that he was not assisted by a lawyer.
In finding him guilty, Judge Gapas-Agbada stated that the identity of the perpetrator of the crime was unequivocally proven, citing his affidavit of confession which the Court noted was executed before Atty. Joselyn Bonnie Valeros.
“There was no showing of force, coercion or intimidation that could taint the execution of the affidavit of confession,” the Court stressed.
It added that the affidavit of recantation deserves scant consideration, as the recantation of a testimony is exceedingly unreliable, for there is always the probability that such recantation may later on be itself repudiated.
The Court also set aside the accused’s defense, testified to by his wife, that he was at their house in Virac at the time of the shooting. It pointed out that Tacorda failed to prove by convincing evidence that it was physically impossible for him to be at the scene of the crime at the time it was done, as the travel time from Virac to Viga is roughly an hour on board a motor vehicle.