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2 more suspects charged in missing ‘sabungero’ in Laguna

December 3, 2022 Alfred P. Dalizon 234 views

THE Philippine National Police’s (PNP) Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) this week filed criminal charges for kidnapping and serious illegal detention against two suspects in the mysterious disappearance of a “sabungero” (cockfighting aficionado) inside a cockpit arena in Sta. Cruz, Laguna, on April 28, 2021.

Charges were filed against a suspect with the alias “Dondon,” tagged as a staff of the farm in Barangay Palasan in Sta. Cruz town and one “John Doe.”

CIDG Director Brigadier General Ronald O. Lee said that his men filed the criminal charges against the two before the National Prosecution Service (NPS) of the Department of Justice (DOJ) based on the complaint of the wife and brother of Michael Bautista.

Bautista, a San Jose del Monte City resident in Bulacan, had been missing since April 28 last year.

According to Lee, “Dondon” was identified as one of the two men escorting a handcuffed Bautista outside the Sta. Cruz farm.

Bautista’s wife and brother positively identified him as the man in a cellphone video provided by a concerned citizen to CIDG. The victim was recognized thru his haircut, body build, as well as the clothes and bag he was wearing, as seen in the video.

Bautista is among the 34 “missing sabungeros” whose cases have attracted national attention and triggered the suspension of all “E-Sabong” (online sabong) games in the country last year.

Eight men have been previously charged by the police in connection with the case.

Based on the cellphone video provided to CIDG, police digital forensics technicians developed the computerized facial composites of the two suspects in the Sta. Cruz incident said PNP Officer-in-Charge (OIC) Lt. Gen. Rhodel O. Sermonia.

“With these developments, we are confident that the investigation on the ‘missing sabungero’ is gaining solid ground and will find closure in due time,” he said.

This week, the PNP-CIDG released the composite sketches of the two suspects as it called on other persons who may have information on the men behind the disappearance of the sabungeros to contact them.

“Based on the ‘secret’ cellphone video showing two men and a handcuffed missing sabungero walking outside a cockfighting arena in Sta. Cruz, Laguna on April 28, 2021, we now hold vital evidence on our probe in the disappearance of the said sabungeros,” Lee said.

Last November 25, the Journal Group broke the news on the presence of a secret cellphone video showing two men herding the handcuffed victim outside a cockfighting arena in Sta. Cruz, Laguna. Lee said the video is “very vital” in their ongoing probe into the case of the 34 cockfighting aficionados who have “mysteriously” disappeared.

“This is a major breakthrough. Sobrang laki ng tulong ng video na ito sa ginagawa naming patuloy na imbestigasyon sa pagkawala ng mga sabungero,” said the official.

The official told the Journal Group that they had sought the help of the PNP’s Anti-Cybercrime Group (ACG) in further enhancing the video to identify the two men who were seen “escorting” Bautista.

Another witness has also identified one of the suspects in the video.

Lee ordered the CIDG Regional Field Unit 4-A headed by Lieutenant Colonel Joel Manuel A. Ana, to take the formal statements of Bautista’s wife and brother and the other witness as part of their ongoing investigation. The two sought an audience with the CIDG director after seeing the video.

During their meeting, the wife and brother of the 42-year-old Bautista positively identified him as the handcuffed man in the video. “Mrs. Bautista recognized her husband thru her haircut, his shoulder bag, his t-shirt and short pants, his body build, and other physical descriptions when [shown] the video,” Lee said.

A concerned citizen furnished ABS-CBN with the video showing an individual, his hands handcuffed behind his back while being escorted by two unidentified men at the AA Cobra Farm located in Barangay Palasan in Sta. Cruz around 8 to 9 p.m. on April 28, 2021. Lee said that it appears that the source secretly took the video using a cellphone.

Bautista was among the four men who mysteriously disappeared at the farm, also known as the United Association of Cockpit Owners and Operators of the Philippines, Inc. When he disappeared, the missing man told his wife that he will just drive for his friends on their way to the cockfighting arena.

His brother also positively identified him in the video. “Ang kapatid ko yung nakaposas. Alam ko din yung lugar na yun, sabungan yun sa gitna ng farm dahil nakarating na ako doon,” he said.

Bautista’s brother told the Journal Group that he went to the same place to accompany some cockfighting enthusiasts. He said that he earned P4,000 while looking after game fowls belonging to his group.

“Yung kapatid ko ang nasa video. Yung bag niya sa video, ako ang nagbigay nun,” the man said.

Lee said that the video and the statements of Bautista’s wife and brother will also strengthen reports that the latter and his peers were at the Sta. Cruz’s cockpit arena before they disappeared.

Bautista’s wife and brother told Lee that a “television reporter” offered them P1 million in exchange for signing a waiver at the height of the Senate investigation into their complaints.

“Ang sabi niya, galing daw po ang pera sa mga grupo ng sabungero, pati po ang maliliit na grupo na naapektuhan ng ban sa online sabong pero ang tanong po namin, bakit me waiver na papipirmahan sa amin,” Mrs. Bautista said.

Bautista’s brother said that the television reporter also made the same offer to relatives of the rest of the missing persons but was turned down by the majority.

“Sa cellphone lang po kami nag-uusap dati. P1 million ang alok niya pero me waiver po daw na pipirmahan. Para saan po yun ang tanong namin,” the man said.

Lee has reassured the family of the 34 missing persons that they are sparing no effort to uncover the truth behind the disappearance of the victim.

“Through our constant communication with the families of the missing individuals, their full support for the investigation and our fight against the perpetrators will not be influenced by anything and anyone,” Lee said in a statement.

The official said they are also awaiting the resolution of the two cases filed before the Department of Justice – the Manila Arena case against eight identified persons and several John Does and the Ricardo Lasco abduction case against five police personnel and other John Does.

“We are also prioritizing the identification of the man caught on CCTV (closed-circuit television) camera while withdrawing money from the ATM (automated teller machine) account of Melbert John Santos, one of the missing cockfighting aficionados in Sta. Cruz Laguna,” he added.