Sunday, April 19, 2009

Suicide or parricide? Police still unsure

MANILA, Philippines - Quezon City Police District (QCPD) acting chief Senior Superintendent Elmo San Diego said yesterday initial findings of the investigators have “strengthened” the parricide angle in the death of broadcast journalist Ted Failon’s wife who was shot last Wednesday in the couple’s house in Quezon City.

Failon and his relatives, however, insisted that Trinidad Arteche-Etong, 44, shot herself in their house at 27 General Aquino street, Tierra Pura Subdivision in Tandang Sora, Quezon City.

Failon (Mario Teodoro Failon Etong in real life), a news anchor of ABS-CBN TV Patrol, claimed that his wife committed suicide inside the bathroom of one of their daughters.

He said that his wife had experienced financial problems after the Holy Week.

Trinidad Etong suffered a gunshot wound in the left temple and died at the New Era General Hospital in Quezon City last Thursday night.

Both Failon and his wife tested negative for powder burns, but forensic experts said paraffin tests are unreliable.

Asked how the parricide angle could be pursued, San Diego clarified that they would have to conduct further investigation.

Dr. Filemon Porciuncula, head of the QCPD Crime Laboratory, said Failon and the other household helpers all tested negative for gunpowder burns and nitrates. Trinidad had also tested negative for gunpowder burns and nitrates. “This must be supported by the bullet trajectory found in the crime scene,” San Diego said.

“That (looking into the parricide angle) now appears to be the direction of the investigation,” he said.

Police arrested last Thursday driver Glenn Polan, housemaids Carlota Morbos and Wilfreda Bolleser, and houseboy Pacifico Apacible and brought them to the QCPD headquarters in Camp Karingal, Quezon City.

The police also took into custody Pamela Arteche, sister of the victim.

QCPD investigators said the sworn statements earlier given to the police by Failon and housemaid Morbos showed conflicting accounts of the events that transpired when Trinidad was found with a gunshot wound in the head.

Copies of the statements, with the conflicting entries already highlighted with a green marker, were shown to The STAR by a police source yesterday.

Failon’s statement read: “Pinuntahan ko po yung kwarto sa itaas pero naka-lock. Sumigaw po ako kay Lot (referring to housemaid Carlota Morbos) at pinakuha ko po yung susi kay Carlota at nang inabot nya ang susi, katabi ko na po si Carlota. Nang buksan ko ang kwarto nguni’t wala doon si misis. Kaya bubuksan ko sana yung pinto ng banyo pero naka-lock kaya bumaba si Carlota at kinuha yung bungkos ng susi at noong ibigay sa akin ni Carlota, binuksan ko yung pinto at pagbukas namin ay nakita namin na nakahandusay ang asawa ko na naliligo sa kanyang dugo.”

In her statement, Morbos said: “Habang ako ay nasa kusina at nagluluto ng pangtanghalian, dumating si Kuya Ted. Tinanong nya ako angAte mo Day?’ At sumagot ako ngnasa itaas po.’ At humingi sya sa akin ng isang basong tubig at binigyan ko sya. Ininom nya ito at pagkaubos ng tubig ay iniwan nya ang baso sa kitchen. Pumasok na sya sa loob ng bahay tapos umakyat po si Kuya sa itaas ng bahay. Bubuksan na po nya sana yung pintuan ng kwarto ng anak nyang panganay. Naka-lock po yung pintuan ng kwarto. Bumaba po sya ulit at pumunta sa kusina at hiningi nya sa akin yung susi ng kwarto ni Katrina at ibinigay ko kay Kuya Ted ang susi at sinabi nya sa akinhalika Lot samahan mo ako.’ Pumanhik kami sa itaas ng kwarto ni Katrina ngunit wala doon si Ate Trina kaya pumunta kami sa CR at binuksan ni Kuya Ted ngunit iyon at naka-lock. Inutusan ako ni Kuya Ted na kuhanin ang susi. Bumaba ako at naiwan si Kuya Ted sa tapat ng pintuan ng CR.”

Superintendent Franklin Moises Mabanag, chief of the Quezon City Police District-Criminal Investigation and Detection Unit, also told reporters in an interview that Morbos described the victim to be in a sitting position while Failon said his wife was almost in a lying down position.

Mabanag, however, noted that Failon and the household helpers were consistent in saying that the cleaning of the bathroom where Trinidad was found and the vehicle used in bringing her to the hospital was not on orders of Failon.

Porciuncula said they would also test the bloodied shirt and pants worn by Failon on Wednesday afternoon. He said they had also requested for the clothes worn by Trinidad.

He said that they would determine the actual point of entry of the bullet in Trinidad’s head. Doctors at the New Era General Hospital had initially told them the point of entry was the victim’s left temple.

QC prosecutor issues subpoena on Failon

Quezon City Chief Prosecutor Meynardo Bautista Jr. summoned yesterday Failon to appear before a preliminary investigation on the obstruction of justice charge filed against him and members of his household.

Bautista issued the subpoena after Failon failed to present himself during an inquest proceeding of the obstruction of justice charges last Thursday evening.

During the inquest proceedings, prosecutor Mary Jean Pamitan ordered the release of Pamela and Morbos without posting bail since there is no sufficient evidence against them.

The prosecutor, however, recommended a P12,000 bail bond for Apacible, Bolleser and Polan.

Apacible and Bolleser cleaned the bathroom where Trinidad was found and Polan cleaned the Mitsubishi Pajero that was used to transport the victim to the New Era General Hospital.

Lawyers of Failon’s camp posted bail for Bolleser, Apacible and Polan who were all released yesterday afternoon after Failon visited them at the QCPD headquarters.

Failon told reporters that the police have been unfair in handling the case and in filing of charges against them.

He accused the police investigators of getting back at him for his past exposés against police abuses.

Police investigators denied Failon’s allegations and assured the victim’s family that the police are conducting an impartial investigation.

Kung gusto nyong bawian ako sa mga balita at kumentaryo ko sa dzMM, ako na lang. Kung maari ako na lang at huwag na idamay sila Pamela,” Failon said.

QCPD director San Diego maintained the probers are conducting the investigation objectively and were not getting back at Failon.

Metro Manila police director Chief Superintendent Roberto Rosales said the work of the police was not done with partiality, and that Failon’s accusation was wrong.

Members of the media, except for a news crew of ABS-CBN, were barred from the detention area when Failon visited the QCPD.

Before leaving Camp Karingal, Failon told reporters: “Kahit yung iba twisted yung report, naiintindihan ko kayo.”

Failon evaded questions posed by reporters, including why he did not report to the police the supposed discovery of his wife inside the bathroom after the shooting.

Prosecutor Bautista said Failon, Bolleser, Apacible, and Polan remain liable for obstruction of justice.

Investigators said Failon might have obstructed justice when he gave limited details to the authorities and refused to surrender his mobile phone.

Bautista said Failon is now considered “at large” because he was not presented for inquest. The Prosecutor’s Office has scheduled the preliminary investigations into the charges against Failon and other suspects on April 21.

“He (Failon) must appear in the hearings to rebut the charges against him. If not, the case would be resolved using the evidences gathered, without his response,” Bautista explained.

DOJ probes link of Failon’s friend

Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez ordered the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to invite a friend of Failon who was at the house of the broadcaster when his wife was shot last Wednesday morning inside the couple’s house in Quezon City.

Gonzalez said he received information that businessman Delfin Lee was in the house of the Failons during the shooting incident.

“He (Lee) is significant in the case,” said Gonzalez, who clarified that he wants the NBI to check all angles in the investigation.

Gonzalez said among the speculations that circulated in text messages was that Lee allegedly helped Failon carry the body of his wounded wife from the bedroom to one of the bathrooms inside their house in Quezon City.

“With so many speculations it’s important that we should look at these different information dispassionately so we can piece together the puzzle. The NBI has to look into all these things. The caveat is that’s very raw information. But in the milieu we have now, it’s good to look at all information,” Gonzalez clarified.

Lee, according to initial reports, is connected with ABS-CBN and serves as a major sponsor who donates houses given as prizes in television shows like “Pinoy Big Brother,” “Wowowee” and other game shows of the network.

Lee, however, denied yesterday that he was at the crime scene and said that he was willing to cooperate with the police in the investigation of the case.

There is a witness to prove that he wasn’t at the Failon’s Tierra Pura residence last Wednesday morning, Lee said.

Lee was reportedly spotted at the New Era General Hospital last Thursday night. He was even interviewed by reporters and said he last visited the family during the blessing of their house last year.

“If they can find him (Lee), they should ask him – just an invitation,” Gonzalez added.

Gonzalez said investigators should focus on the motive of the shooting even as he also defended the police from criticisms in handling the investigation.

“The police are doing well. Although there are some lapses which may be caused by confusion, there is no violation of rules,” he said.

He said there was nothing wrong with the warrantless arrest of the household helpers of the Failons after charges of obstruction of justice were filed against them.

“That (warrantless arrest) is allowed. You can be arrested without warrant if the crime is committed in your presence. It also applies to fugitives,” he explained.

Gonzalez earlier tapped the NBI to assist the police investigators.

“I want them to be supportive of the police in the gathering and interpretation of evidence. Every suspect at the scene of the crime can be invited for questioning. But they cannot be held unless you inquest them,” he said.

Gonzalez believes that the cleaning of the crime scene was not a lapse in judgment but rather an “intentional act of tampering evidence.”

NBI to reconstruct crime scene

The NBI will try to reconstruct the crime scene, including possible retrieval of bloodstains and fingerprints in the house of Failon after members of the household contaminated the crime scene.

Head Agent Arnel Dalumpines, chief of the NBI Special Task Force (STF), said bureau forensic experts would use special chemicals and equipment to try to find the bloodstains from the walls, floors and other areas of the house where the victim was shot.

Dalumpines said the NBI agents would try to get more fingerprints with the use of chemicals and equipment.

He said the NBI would coordinate with the QCPD and review the other pieces of evidence that the police investigators have gathered.

National Capital Regional Police Office (NCRPO) director Rosales has created a Special Investigation Task Group to assist in the investigation of the death of Mrs. Failon.

The Task Group is headed by acting QCPD director San Diego.

Rosales clarified that there is no quarrel between Failon and the QCPD and the investigation on the case of Trinidad would go on.

“Failon is being probed on the death of his wife because he was there in the area when her body was found. Had he been in the province at the time, there is no need for him to be investigated,” said Rosales.

He appealed to Failon to fully cooperate with the police investigators so “the truth would come out.”

Rosales clarified that he gave no orders to relieve Superintendent Mabanag as head of the CIDU of the QCPD.

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