MANILA, Philippines—With the US Embassy keeping a close watch, the four suspects in the Nov. 24 killing of George Anikow, a US Marine major and husband of an American diplomat, pleaded not guilty to the murder charges in a Makati City court on Wednesday.
The trial appears to be proceeding with remarkable speed less than a month after the killing, with the prosecution expected to present its first witness and its first set of evidence in a bail hearing on Thursday.
Suspects Juan Alfonzo Abastillas, Crispin de la Paz, Osric Cabrera and Galicano Datu III—whose attack on Anikow was caught on security camera—entered a plea of not guilty during their arraignment before Judge Winlove Dumayas of Makati Regional Trial Court Branch 59.
Also on Wednesday, the court granted De la Paz’s request to undergo medical examination for his back pain at Philippine Orthopedic Center in Quezon City.
Last week, Abastillas’ lawyer asked the court to downgrade the charge to homicide, a bailable offense, arguing that his client could not have possibly used “superior strength” against the victim, a trained military man whose past tours of duty included strife-torn Afghanistan.
Present at Wednesday’s hearing was US Consul General Michael Schimmel, who said his embassy continued to have “a very active interest on the case” and remained in communication with Laura Anikow, the widow who is now in the US.
“We are observers of the judicial process. The embassy will continue the representation of the husband of the US diplomat, also an American citizen. We are grateful to the Filipinos for the prompt arrest and prosecution of the suspects. We are confident that justice will be served,” Schimmel told the Inquirer.
Assistant Prosecutor Hannah Arriola said Thursday’s hearing would cover the defense panel’s petition for bail.
The prosecution is also presenting Anikow’s medico legal report and death certificate, photos of the knife used in the killing and of the Volvo SUV used by the suspects, and the sworn statements of Dominador Royo and Randy Lecta of Southland Security and Investigative Services.
Also expected to take the stand is Jose Romel Saavedra, the security guard manning the checkpoint where Anikow was attacked by the suspects in the early morning of Nov. 24 near the upscale Bel-Air subdivision.
The guard earlier told investigators that the suspects were about to pass through the checkpoint in their SUV when he asked them for identification. The American, who appeared to be drunk, later approached and also asked the four to produce IDs.
The suspects reportedly lost their cool when Anikow gave their vehicle a hard tap. They got off the vehicle and ganged up on the American, with one of them stabbing him dead.
Jay de Castro, defense counsel for Datu III, said he would focus on Saavedra’s sworn statement, particularly the portions saying that Anikow was unsteady on his feet (pasuray-suray) when he approached the suspects, that it was the American who supposedly threw the punch that started the fight, and that Saavedra did not see who exactly stabbed the victim.