MANILA, Philippines—His assignment as an executive officer in war-torn Afghanistan didn’t quite prepare George Anikow, 41, for his encounter with four Volvo-riding young men outside a high-class neighborhood in Makati City.
A US Marine officer and husband of an American diplomat, Anikow was stabbed dead early Saturday morning in what Makati police described as a senseless but isolated case of violence near Bel-Air Village and a checkpoint outside the Rockwell shopping center.
The four suspects are in their 20s and belong to well-to-do families, according to Senior Supt. Manuel Lukban, Makati police chief. With their arrest, the investigation is almost complete, police said.
The four were identified by the police as Juan Alfonzo Abastillas, 24, a resident of the exclusive subdivision Galeria de Magallanes in Makati; Crispin de la Paz, 28, a businessman engaged in multimedia production; Osric Cabrera, 27, owner of a kidney dialysis center in Makati; and Galicano Datu III, 22, a fourth-year political science student of De La Salle University in Manila.
The police have recovered what they call vital pieces of evidence—three bladed weapons, including a tactical knife used in the killing, and a closed-circuit television camera footage showing how the killing occurred near a checkpoint of Rockwell Center along Kalayaan Avenue and just across Bel-Air, where Anikow’s family lives.
According to the Facebook account of the US Marines’ Fourth Civil Affairs Group, Anikow was a detachment executive officer of that unit with a rank of a major. He served in Helmand province in Afghanistan in 2009 before he moved to the Philippines.
Makati police said Anikow’s wife works as a management officer at the US Embassy in Manila. Anikow, on the other hand, was waiting for an order from the US Marine Corps to be called to duty.
“This is an isolated case. The American was a victim of a random crime so there is no reason to consider this a national issue,” Lukban said in an interview.
Backed by the CCTV footage, the security guard on-duty at the checkpoint—identified as Jose Rommel Saavedra—said the four men riding a silver Volvo SUV with Plate No. TOJ 886 lost their cool when Anikow, who appeared to be drunk, gave their vehicle a strong tap.
“Nakalalake lang (They felt slighted as men),” Lukban said, adding that Anikow’s slamming his hand on the car apparently provoked the young men.
Police said that around 4 a.m., Anikow, in white shirt and shorts, went to Saavedra and asked why the gate of Bel-Air was closed to vehicles.
The four men in the Volvo, who had just come from a “gimmick” at a bar in Bonifacio Global City in Taguig City, arrived at the checkpoint. They were supposed to drop one of them, who owns a unit at a condominium in Rockwell.
Saavedra had stopped the Volvo to check its passengers when Anikow butted in. “You need to present your ID, the guard is checking you,” Anikow told the men.
The guard said the driver of the Volvo, later identified as Abastillas, asked for the American’s name and was about to roll up the car’s window and drive off.
But Anikow gave the Volvo a strong tap, prompting the four men to alight from the vehicle.
One of them was even smiling before the fistfight erupted. Anikow, outnumbered, ran
25 meters away from the checkpoint to avoid the group.
The CCTV showed the men running after him and attacking even if the foreigner had already fallen to the ground, bleeding.
Afterward, the men came back to the security guard and threatened him before speeding off. “Wag kang magsusumbong. Huwag mong kunin ang plate number namin. Gago yan (You don’t report this. Don’t take our plate number. The guy is a fool).”
Chief Supt. Leonardo Espina, head of the National Capital Region Police Office, noted the inaction of Saavedra, who was then armed with a shotgun but who just stood at his post during the entire incident.
“I ordered the Makati police to include him in the investigation, why the security guard did nothing to stop the crime,” Espina said.
The police decided to file murder cases because the men still chased the victim supposedly with the intention not just to hurt but kill, according to Lukban.
Although it was only Abastillas who was seen on the CCTV pulling a bladed knife and stabbing the American in the neck, all four participated in the killing, Lukban said.
Degree of participation
“It’s now the duty of the court to determine the degree of participation of each of them in the killing,” he said.
The CCTV footage also showed the security guard attending to the traffic along Kalayaan while the men were ganging up on the American.
But Lukban said the guard did his job by immediately tipping off the police and asking for reinforcement.
He said the Rockwell guard was helpful and cooperative in solving the case.
Espina said the case was solved quickly thanks to the immediate response of the Makati police.
“We are talking of seconds here. Had they not set up dragnets, the perpetrators could have gotten away unpunished and it would have been more difficult for us to track them down,” the NCRPO chief said.
He said he was satisfied with the Makati police’s work and that the policemen in three mobile patrol cars who responded to the incident would be given commendations and awards.
No FBI role
Lukban said 80 percent of the investigation had been completed but more must be done “to strengthen” the case against the four suspects.
The four, held at a temporary detention center of the Makati police station, have been charged with murder. The prosecutor handling the case has found probable cause and recommended the filing of the murder charges.
The Makati police denied reports that the US Federal Bureau of Investigation was conducting a parallel probe.
“There is no parallel investigation. The FBI is not meddling in the case,” Lukban said, adding that a US government official had just contacted him about minor details, such as the transport of Anikow’s body to the United States.
He said the US government had also promised technical assistance, including enhancing the CCTV footage the police had obtained.