Alleged NPA rebel acquitted in 2005 killing of airport cops

Lack of evidence led to the dismissal of murder and robbery charges last week against an alleged member of the New People’s Army for the 2005 Valentines’ Day slaying of two airport policemen in Virac.

In junking the charges against him, Regional Trial Court Branch 42 Presiding Judge Genie G. Gapas-Agbada said that the guilt of Jovelio “Joelle” de Quiroz Isuela as one of the four perpetrators in the gunning down of the airport policemen and the taking of their firearms was not proven beyond reasonable doubt.

It may be recalled that in the morning of Feb. 14, 2005 at the outer gate of the Virac airport at San Isidro Village, SPO1 Rodolfo Bernal Cortez and SPO2 Benigno Tolod Tuquero were manning their posts when they were gunned down by four persons, who also took their 9mm pistol and M16 rifle before fleeing on board motorcycles towards the Buyo area.

Three days after the shooting, then PO3 Ruben Rafael, who resided near the airport, executed a sworn affidavit claiming that when he awoke that morning, he saw from his window two men busily texting near his house.

He said he inquired from his friend if he knew the two persons, with the latter saying that the man wearing an orange T-shirt was his elementary classmate, Joelle Isuela of Maysuram, Caramoran.

Shortly after he heard gunshots coming from the airport, Rafael said he saw four men, including the two he had seen earlier, walking and then riding in a motorcycle going towards the Catanduanes State Colleges, and one of them was Isuela who he said held the M16 rifle and fired it four times.

On the other hand, PO1 Tria attested that after running towards the gate where the two lawmen lay bloodied, he saw the four men walking away normally, including a man wearing an orange T-shirt and carrying an M16 rifle.

The twin cases of murder with direct assault, as well as the robbery case, were filed against Isuela and three John Does in February 2005.

On Oct. 25, 2019, nearly 15 years after the incident, Isuela was arrested in Antipolo City and brought to Virac to face trial.

In resolving the case, Judge Gapas-Agbada noted that there was no eyewitness to the crimes, as not one of the witnesses for the prosecution personally saw the shooting of SPO1 Cortez and SPO2 Tuquero.

No one had personal knowledge of how said police officers were gunned down and how they were robbed of their firearms.

“In fine, no direct evidence of the commission of the crimes was presented,” the Court stressed.

There cannot be a verdict of conviction based on circumstantial evidence in the cases at bar, Judge Gapas-Agbada stated, as the evidence presented by the prosecution simply failed to form an unbroken chain which leads to one fair and reasonable conclusion that Isuela, to the exclusion of others, was one of the culprits.

She noted that PO3 Rafael would not divulge the identity of the bystander who told him that Isuela was the latter’s classmate.

“Without the person whom the witness referred as the classmate of Isuela, there is no way the truth of PEMSgt. Rafael’s claims can be ascertained,” the judge said, emphasizing that his affidavit and testimony consists of matters which he does have personel knowledge on and are thus hearsay and inadmissible in evidence.

The two police witnesses’ testimonies also suffered from missing links and material contradictions, differing in the description of the clothes that the man holding the M16 rifle was wearing.

The Court doubted whether Rafael actually saw the four suspects passing by his house, as he could have seen only their backs.

Isuela’s defense was handled by Lex Fidelis Legal Consultancy.

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