MANILA - State prosecutors on Thursday sought the inhibition of the Angeles City judge who allowed the prime suspect in the October 2016 kidnap-slay of South Korean businessman Jee Ick-joo to post bail.
Prosecutors led by Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Juan Pedro Navera urged Angeles Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 56 Judge Irin Zenaida Buan to "voluntarily inhibit herself from further conducting the trial" in 3 cases against Police Lt. Col. Rafael Dumlao III, citing "serious doubts on her fairness and impartiality."
Dumlao is accused of masterminding Jee's kidnapping and killing in October 2016, for which he is facing a kidnapping for ransom with homicide charge.
He is also facing 2 other criminal cases along with 3 other suspects: the kidnapping and serious illegal detention of Jee's helper Marissa Morquicho, and the carnapping of Jee's sports utility vehicle.
Morquicho was taken alongside Jee when police seized the Korean national from his Angeles City home in October 2016 in the guise of a drug operation. She was let go when they reached Quezon City on the same day.
In April, Buan granted Dumlao bail after finding that the evidence against him was not strong and that prosecution witnesses have not proven a particular act that clearly established his complicity in Jee's abduction and killing.
"It is evident from her ruling on the petition for bail of accused Dumlao that she did not even bother to consider the declarations of state witness [SPO4 Roy] Villegas that accused Dumlao harassed and threatened him not to implead Dumlao and not to identify him as one of the perpetrators," read the motion.
"The People is of the firm belief that the Presiding Judge had peculiarly exhibited bias and prejudice in favor of accused Dumlao. The prosecution cannot but notice that certain crucial facts were not even recited but instead inexplicably avoided," it added.
Unlike Dumlao's plea for bail, Buan denied similar motions filed by his co-accused Police Chief M/Sgt. Ricky Sta. Isabel and former National Bureau of Investigation agent Jerry Omlang citing testimonies of prosecution witnesses positively identifying their participation in the crimes charged.
Former co-accused turned state witness Villegas tagged Sta. Isabel as the one who killed Jee inside the national police headquarters in Camp Crame in October 2016 after abducting him, a claim Sta. Isabel denied.
In their motion, prosecutors relied on the testimonies of Villegas and another police officer to prove that Buan allegedly ignored evidence against Dumlao.
Villegas had said Dumlao was the team leader of the "bogus" operation to abduct Jee while PO2 Baldovino testified it was Dumlao who gave instructions to Sta. Isabel and later on ordered him to execute affidavits and pin the blame on Sta. Isabel.
Prosecutors also questioned why Dumlao was present when Jee and his helper were brought inside Camp Crame and why he did not report his subordinates' actions.
They argued that in a crime where conspiracy exists, the mastermind is not usually an active participant in the execution of the crime, and conspiracy could be proven both by direct and circumstantial evidence.
Prosecutors acknowledged the possibility that the plan was merely to kidnap Jee and not kill him. But they insisted that all conspirators are liable not just for the crime they intended but also for the resulting crimes.
They asked Buan to inhibit and defer ruling on their motion for partial reconsideration challenging the grant of bail to Dumlao.
They earlier secured a hold departure order against Dumlao, fearing the prime suspect might leave the country following the bail grant.
Jee's slay had sparked international outrage against the Philippine government's war on drugs.
President Rodrigo Duterte himself apologized to the South Korean government for Jee's death. It also prompted a cleansing of police ranks.