Kidnapped Korean strangled inside Camp Crame
Former Hanjin executive and South Korean businessman Jee Ick-joo was strangled inside Camp Crame, headquarters of the Philippine National Police, shortly after he was kidnapped by rogue policemen in October, according to a Department of Justice (DOJ) resolution.
The resolution, a copy of which was obtained by the Inquirer, quoted one of the officers accused, Senior Police Officer 4 Roy Villegas, as implicating a fellow cop, Senior Police Officer 3 Ricky Sta. Isabel, as the leader of the group.
In his affidavit, Villegas said he heard Sta. Isabel talking to a certain “Sir Dumlao.” “Sir, I heard you know these people and this operation was sanctioned by you,” he quoted Sta. Isabel as saying.
Villegas said Sta. Isabel then ordered them to ignore Dumlao. He was also the one who brought packaging tape and surgical gloves before ordering them to cover Jee’s head.
“He finally recalls seeing respondent Sta. Isabel strangling and killing the victim,” the DOJ resolution stated.
After the deed was done, Villegas said Sta. Isabel called a certain “Ding,” who agreed to receive the body in exchange for P30,000 and a golf set. Then the body was taken to the funeral home in Caloocan.
“He joined the operation as he believed then that the operation is a legitimate police operation against the herein victim who, according to respondent Sta. Isabel is involved in illegal drugs,” the DOJ resolution stated.
“He reiterates that he thought all along that the surveillance and police operations which he participated in are legitimate police operations,” the resolution said. “When he realized it, he did not resist and instead, he obeyed the instruction of respondent Sta. Isabel for fear of his life and that of his family.”
The DOJ resolution, which approved the filing of kidnapping-for-ransom with homicide against Sta. Isabel, Villegas, Ramon Yalung and several John Does said all the respondents failed to submit evidence denying their participation in the crime.
President Rodrigo Duterte became “very angry” when he mentioned Jee’s case during a meeting with governors on Thursday, according to Pampanga Gov. Lilia Pineda.
“The policemen behind (the kidnapping) are not my people,” President Duterte said, according to Pineda. “I wonder why they are not afraid of me.” The South Korean envoy had asked for a briefing about the case.
PNP Director General Ronald dela Rosa said he believed Sta. Isabel was “the most guilty” and therefore should be disqualified as a state witness.
“I’m very, very angry. I’m very, very offended. I would have melted away in humiliation right at this very moment because it happened within Camp Crame,” Dela Rosa said in Malacañang. “If I have my way, I would kill these policemen-cum-kidnappers. But I cannot do it because that’s illegal.”
Jee, together with his Filipina maid, was taken by two unidentified men from their house in Pampanga last Oct. 18. The maid said the men told her that her boss was involved in illegal drug activities, but that they eventually released her.
Another police officer, Christopher Baldovino, admitted in his testimony that he was part of the surveillance operation that was conducted prior to the abduction of Jee.
The DOJ said the respondents failed to counter the evidence against them as well as the testimonies of the maid, the victim’s wife Choi Kyung-jin, and the admission made by Villegas and Baldovino.
“The special complex crime of kidnapping for ransom with homicide is committed when the person was killed on the occasion, in connection, in the course of or subsequent to his detention, regardless of whether the killing was purposely sought or was merely an afterthought. In this case, it was respondent Sta. Isabel who killed the victim by strangulation,” it said.
At the same time, the department also issued an immigration lookout bulletin order against Sta. Isabel, who resigned this week and is in the custody of the National Bureau of Investigation.
The bulletin order has a similar effect of a court-sanctioned travel ban. Individuals included in the order may still travel abroad, but only with the approval of the justice secretary.
In signing the order, the department noted the severity of the accusation and that “there is strong possibility that (he) may attempt to place himself beyond the reach of the legal processes… by leaving the country.”
On Wednesday, Choi visited the NBI headquarters in Manila and spoke for over an hour with Director Roel Bolivar, commander of Task Force on Illegal Drugs, which oversees the investigation.
“We had the opportunity to personally inform her of her husband’s death and cremation,” Bolivar said. “She was thankful for the bureau’s swift work.”
“They wanted to grow old here, permanently stay here in the Philippines,” he added.
Bolivar said a tearful Choi demanded answers and asked what they did to deserve being targeted. “I have no answers for her,” he admitted.
Sta. Isabel allegedly led officers in taking Jee, 53, from his Angeles City home in the guise of a drug raid. The South Korean Embassy on Wednesday said that the Philippine foreign office had confirmed that Jee was strangled and his remains burned, but that the officers responsible still extorted ransom amounting to P5 million from his wife.
South Korea demands probe
The South Korean foreign ministry, in a statement, said the government had informed them of the death and that it had ordered a special prosecutor to investigate the case. It said it was shocked that the police were involved, and sought assurances that the nearly 1 million Koreans who visit the country regularly would be safe.
“We express our strong regrets for the incident committed by the police officers under the pretext of performing official duties,” the South Korean Embassy in Manila told the Inquirer on Thursday. “We call for the complete and thorough investigation into this unfortunate case as soon as possible.”
Bolivar said they were investigating how the body was taken to Gream Funeral Services in Caloocan City. Gream is owned by Gerardo Santiago, chair of Barangay Bagbaguin 165 and a retired cop reportedly formerly assigned to the Northern Police District, where he worked with Sta. Isabel in the past.
Recovered at the site on Wednesday night were 14 golf clubs owned by Jee worth P100,000. It is believed the clubs were used to partly pay for his cremation.
Santiago is currently out of the country, visiting one of his children in Canada. —WITH REPORTS FROM TARRA QUISMUNDO, JHESSET O. ENANO, MARLON RAMOS AND JEROME ANING
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