MANILA - Citing weak evidence, a Pampanga court has granted bail to the primary suspect in the abduction and slay of South Korean businessman Jee Ick-joo in October 2016.
Police Lt. Col. Rafael Dumlao III was allowed to post a P300,000 bail for each of three cases filed against him for allegedly masterminding Jee's abduction in Angeles City and slay at the national police headquarters in Camp Crame, Quezon City nearly three years ago.
In the same ruling, the court, denied the bail petitions of his co-accused Police Chief M/Sgt. Ricky Sta. Isabel and former National Bureau of Investigation agent Jerry Omlang.
The three are facing charges of kidnapping for ransom with homicide for Jee's kidnap-slay, kidnapping and serious illegal detention for the abduction of Jee’s helper, and carnapping for taking Jee’s sports utility vehicle as they abducted him.
Jee's disappearance drew public attention when his wife Choi Kyung Jin surfaced in the media in January 2017 to seek help to find her missing husband.
The South Korean businessman was abducted from his Angeles City home on Oct. 18, 2016 in the guise of an anti-drug operation. The case later unraveled, with police and Senate investigations baring that he was killed on the same day, allegedly by police officers, at the national police headquarters.
The case had prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to apologize to South Korea for the incident and for the Philippine National Police to review its anti-drug campaign.
In granting Dumlao's bail plea, Angeles City Regional Trial Court Branch 56 Judge Irin Zenaida Buan said during that the bail hearing, the prosecution “failed to prove that the evidence of guilt of accused P/Supt. Rafael Dumlao III is strong.”
“Sitting through the testimonies of the prosecution witnesses, the Court holds that none of them proved a particular act or acts of the accused Dumlao that clearly established his complicity in the abduction and killing of the victim Ick Joo Jee,” the order said.
In denying bail for Sta. Isabel and Omlang, meanwhile, the court said the prosecution "established the direct acts" they had allegedly committed, "which points to a unity of criminal purpose and design, thus evidencing conspiracy between the said accused to commit the crimes charged."
"The said testimonies clearly paint a picture that crimes were in fact committed and that accused Sta. Isabel and Omlang directly participated in the commission of the same,” the court said.
Also facing a criminal charge for kidnapping for ransom with homicide is Gerardo Santiago, owner of a funeral parlor in Caloocan City where Jee’s body was brought.
Investigation had revealed that his body was cremated and that his ashes were flushed down the toilet.
A fifth accused, SPO4 Roy Villegas, turned state witness in January 2018.
Pinning the blame on Dumlao, Sta. Isabel earlier denied the allegations despite being identified by Marissa Morquicho, Jee’s helper. She was abducted along with the businessman but let go when they reached Quezon City.
State prosecutors on Monday filed a motion asking the Angeles court to issue a hold departure order against Dumlao to prevent him from leaving the country.
Despite ruling in favor of Dumlao, the court noted that this would not necessarily determine the outcome of the case.
“…[T]his conclusion is without prejudice to the Court’s later determination of the guilt (beyond reasonable doubt) of all the accused based on the subsequent/additional evidence or testimony, both from the prosecution and the defense, that the Court will receive during the trial on the merits of the cases,” the court said.
“It has been held that it is not an uncommon occurrence that an accused person granted bail is convicted in due course,” it added.