MURDER CHARGES VS. ESPINO, CELESTE
STANDING by its candidates in the province, the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC) slammed political rivals for resorting to “political harassment and machinations” after the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) filed a complaint for murder against its party stalwarts Governor Amado Espino Jr. and 1st District Rep. Jesus Celeste for the murder of Infanta Mayor Ruperto Martinez.
Meanwhile, Abono party-list chairman Rosendo So described the murder charges as “impossible and improbable” and called on Justice Secretary Leila de Lima to order the NBI to conduct an immediate re-investigation of the case.
“We are very dismayed over these petty tactics against our candidate. It is becoming too obvious to the public that these are machinations for their own political interests,” said NPC provincial chairman and former Pangasinan Rep. Mark Cojuangco.
“We are standing by our candidate. It is very clear that this is an attempt at character assassination,” Cojuangco added.
So, for his part, said, “Martinez is an ally of Governor Espino and Cong. Celeste. Mayor Martinez consistently delivered votes to the NPC. It is impossible for his allies to order his murder.”
Martinez was killed in front of his house last December 15 and the alleged killers Ricardo Legarda and Richard Manuel are currently detained at the Pangasinan provincial jail in Lingayen.
“The NBI must re-investigate this case. This is not a joke. If they are training their guns on Gov. Espino, they will allow the real mastermind to get away and justice will not be served,” So said.
The NBI claims it is holding a 16-year old witness who has first hand knowledge and will testify that Celeste and Espino plotted the murder of Martinez.
Cojuangco noted that their political opponents first tried to implicate Espino in alleged jueteng operations in the province “but when the jueteng allegations did not stick, they are now trying to drag him into this murder case. Is it because they cannot defeat Gov. Espino in a legitimate electoral exercise?”.
“I told him politics is really like that, it is dirty and some resort to desperate measures if they know they cannot defeat their opponent,” Cojuangco said.
Espino has declined to comment until he receives a copy of the complaint but Cojuangco quoted Espino as telling him that he is “being harassed”.
Provincial Administrator Rafael Baraan, speaking for Espino, said,” We have not received a copy of the complaint and therefore we have no basis for making any statement at this time”.
Celeste, meanwhile, has denied the accusations and has earned the support of the victim’s own family.
“It is just another politically-motivated ploy. Ang mga kalaban po natin sa pulitika ay desperado na po, ang panalo ng kalaban ko ay 5%, and panalo ng kalaban ni Gov. ay 10%,” Celeste said in a press conference in Alaminos City last February 13.
The wife and children of the slain Martinez appeared at the media conference.
“Sana itong pagkamatay ng mister ko ‘wag ng gagamitin sa pulitika,” said Crisanta Martinez, the bereaved wife.
The Martinez couple’s daughter-in-law, Jennifer, said the family will fully cooperate in pursuing justice.
“Lahat po ng tulong na maibibigay ng pamilya namin, tutulong po kami para po mapatunayan kung sino po talaga ung totoong nagpapatay kay tatay,” Jennifer said.
Celeste said it was actually the Martinez family who informed him about the case a week earlier possibly implicating him but he did not expect the NBI to give credence to the statement of a polluted witness and actually pursue what he described as “baseless allegations.”
“Nalaman ko na po ito a week ago nang pumunta ang pamilya Martinez sa’kin. Nagreport sila sa akin na pinatawag daw po sila ni Provincial Commander (Marlou) Chan at pinapunta sila doon sa NBI Manila at sinabi nila doon na may bagong findings sa imbestigasyon…pero hindi ko po inexpect na bibigyang pansin ng NBI ‘yon,” he said.
While at the NBI, Jennifer said they refused to meet the witness and do not believe his testimony.
Celeste’s brother, former Congressman Art Celeste, said the witness’ claim makes no sense.
“Magpaplano ako ng pagpatay sa isang mayor tapos papasukin ko ‘yong isang 16 years old na bata, common sense na po ‘yon di ba?” said Art.
The Celestes also pointed out that Martinez was their long-time political ally and it was Art who pushed Martinez to run for mayor.
Art also clarified the issue on “black stone mining”, which was the supposed motive for the killing.
“Wala pong minas sa bayan ng Infanta…ang meron po doon pier,” said Art.
The police investigation on the motive behind Martinez’ murder was looking into politics and the construction of a port in the town for the transport of nickel that comes from nearby Zambales province, a project that is being opposed by residents.
Jesus Celeste also asserted that he has not even met Zambales Governor Ebdane, who is also being implicated in the crime as one of the gunmen is supposed to be his bodyguard. –with Eva Vispera and Johanne R. Macob