MANILA, Philippines — The Court of Appeals has directed a Gapan regional trial court to rule if dismissed Jaen, Nueva Ecija Mayor Antonio Prospero Esquivel should be tried for murder in connection with the killing of a village chairman in June 1994.
In issuing the decision, the appellate court reversed and set aside the orders of Gapan RTC Judge Rodolfo Beltran that dropped Esquivel from the murder charge and denied the issuance of an arrest warrant against him.
It said Beltran should have first ruled on the government prosecutors’ plea to include Esquivel as an accused in the fatal shooting of Ricardo Velarde before issuing the orders.
In an April 23 decision, the appellate court said there was probable cause to charge Esquivel for Velarde’s death based on the third preliminary investigation of the case.
“The records of the third preliminary investigation directly incriminated Esquivel as the mastermind in the killing of petitioner’s spouse,” it said.
According to the Court of Appeals, Beltran had no jurisdiction to issue the orders that excluded Esquivel from murder and junked the plea for an arrest warrant since the judge had not yet decided on the prosecutors’ motion to admit the amended murder charge that indicted Esquivel and added Edgardo Santos as among the accused.
“Consequently, as respondent Esquivel had not yet been reinstated and included as an accused in the information, public respondent had no jurisdiction to issue the assailed orders which denied the issuance of the warrant of arrest against him and ordered his exclusion from the Information,” it said.
“The public respondent is hereby ordered to act first on the Ex Parte Motion to Admit Amended Information reinstating respondent Esquivel in the Information and substituting the name Edgardo Santos for ‘John Doe,'” it added.
It said that should Beltran still have doubts upon the determination of probable cause, he should hold a hearing for additional evidence or arguments from the prosecution.
The appellate court said that even if Beltran granted the prosecutors’ motion to indict Esquivel, the judge should still not have ordered the mayor dropped as one of the accused in Velarde’s death. The Court of Appeals noted Beltran did not conduct a hearing to determine probable cause. Besides the records of the case based on the third preliminary investigation established probable cause.
In saying there was probable cause, the appellate court cited the extrajudicial confessions of Rufino Domingo and Edgardo Santos who had tagged the mayor as the mastermind in Velarde’s killing.
The extrajudicial confession was among the new evidence considered in the third preliminary investigation.
The appellate court also said it was not pronouncing Esquivel guilty, but was simply stating that murder charges should not be dismissed for lack of evidence since evidence should be presented in the trial.
“Lest it be misunderstood, we are not prejudging the guilt or innocence of respondent Esquivel… It is just that we adhered to the general rule state in Cerbo, that ‘if the information is valid on its face and there is no showing of manifest error, grave abuse of discretion or prejudice on the part of the public prosecutor, courts should not dismiss it for ‘want to evidence,’ because evidentiary matters should be presented and heard during the trial,” it said.
Esquivel was initially excluded as an accused from the Velarde murder case
during the first preliminary investigation. A second preliminary investigation by the Department of Justice, however, resulted in the finding of probable cause against him.
Esquivel appealed the DoJ findings before then justice secretary Silvestre
Bello III, and the latter modified the findings and dropped the mayor as among the respondents.
But following Domingo and Santos’ surrender and confession tagging the mayor, a third preliminary investigation was conducted, again finding probable cause against Esquivel.
Esquivel, who is running for reelection, recently figured in a shooting incident that also involved the camp of his rival, Rodolfo Antonino. Two people were killed in the incident, while 12 others were hurt including Esquivel’s two sons.
The incident prompted the Commission on Elections to place Nueva Ecija under its control.
Esquivel was earlier ordered dismissed from service by the Ombudsman for his illegal dismissal of three employees.