THE NEWLY designated commander of the 10th Infantry Division vows to cooperate with the police investigation into the alleged involvement of high-ranking officers and soldiers in the murder of model Yvonette Chua Plaza last Dec. 28.
“First of all, cooperate with the investigation being conducted by the Philippine National Police. And the way I see it, the case was cracked because, first of all, our soldiers here in the 10ID helped and cooperated [during the investigation],” Major General Jose Eriel Niembra said.
“It’s very hard to crack a crime perpetrated by an organized group if the Philippine Army will not cooperate,” he further said.
Although he admitted that it’s really a challenge to maintain the discipline of all the soldiers due to the sheer number of their ranks.
“Rest assured there will be programs to address the root causes or possible causes why soldiers behave this way,” he said.
Last week, the Special Investigation Task Group (SITG) Plaza filed murder and several other cases against former 10th ID commander, Brig. Gen. Jesus Durante III, and his deputy, Col. Michael Licyayo.
Also tagged in the crime were Sgt Delfin L. Sialsa and Cpl. Adrian N. Cachero, SSg. Gilbert P. Plaza, PFC Rolly Cabal, PFC Romart Longakit, another unknown civilian and a man identified only as a master sergeant. A civilian, Noel H. Japitan, was also named accessory to the murder after he was instructed to dismantle the motorcycle used in the crime and change its color.
For now, the Army will take custody of the soldiers, but they will be available to investigators when needed. The suspects have also invoked their rights to remain silent although two of them already executed an extra-judicial confession.
On the soldiers’ whereabouts, he said that there is information they have monitored, “but right now we are still trying to confirm if they are in that particular area.”
Captain Mark Anthony Tito, 10th Infantry Division Public Affairs Office chief, said Longakit was abducted, Cabal remained absent without official leave, while Plaza, Sialsa and Cachero were under the division’s custody.
Tito said that a soldier who’s awol on the 11th day would be dropped from the roster of troops, which also effectively withholds his pay and allowances. On the 31st day of absence, the 10ID shall immediately issue orders relieving the soldier from the battalion and placing him at the Headquarters Service Company (HSC).
Last week, The Special Investigation Task Group (SITG) Plaza filed murder and several other cases against Brig. Gen. Jesus Durante III and nine others for the killing of Yvonnette Chua Plaza last year.
In a press conference held at the Bagani Hall of Police Region Office 11 on Wednesday, the investigating body identified Durante, recently relieved as 1001st Infantry Brigade commander, as the crime’s mastermind.
Lawyer Eudisan Gultiano, task group and Police Regional Office 11 spokesperson, said cases of murder, theft and obstruction of justice were filed against Durante, also the commander of the Presidential Security Group during the time of former President Rodrigo Duterte, and nine others in the slaying of Plaza last year in front of her rented house in Green Meadows Subdivision, Barangay Santo Niño, Tugbok District on December 29.
In a statement, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said that it would never condone the unlawful act of its members.
“The AFP is saddened by the alleged involvement of military personnel in the murder of Yvonette Chua Plaza, ” the AFP said in a statement.
“Through the years, the AFP has always shown its respect to human rights and that it will never condone any unlawful act of its members,” it added.
The statement said that the organization is in full cooperation in the conduct of the investigation.
“Once again, we have demonstrated this by the cooperation we have extended to the SITG Plaza in the conduct of the investigation,” it reads.
Sustain victory vs.
Meanwhile, Niembra also vowed to sustain the gains against the New People’s Army.
In an interview with reporters at the sidelines of the change of command ceremony held at its headquarters in Barangay Tuboran Mawab, Davao de Oro, on Friday, Jan. 27., Niembra said: “The biggest challenge is how to sustain our gains as Davao Region was declared insurgency-free. So, the challenge is how to maintain the status of being an insurgency-free region,” he said.
“We still have a lot of work to do because the soldier’s job won’t stop immediately,” he said.
“Even without the insurgency and the threats of communist terrorism, other forms of threat exist in our area.”
Niembra was the former army inspector general of the Philippine Army before he assumed the post as commander of the 10th Infantry Division, replacing Maj. Gen. Nolasco Mempin, who vowed out from military service after reaching the mandatory retirement age of 56.
Philippine Army Chief Romeo Brawner Jr. was the guest of honor and speaker during the change of command ceremony.
Niembra served as Presidential Security Group (PSG) deputy group commander and eventually as PSG commander from April 2018 to January 2020.
He likewise held key posts such as deputy commander of the Task Force Davao of the 10th Infantry Division; executive officer of the 401st Infantry Brigade, 4th Infantry Division (4ID); and battalion commander of the 58th Infantry Battalion, 4ID; and brigade commander of the 701st Infantry Brigade, 7th Infantry Division.
He is a member of the Philippine Military Academy “Sambisig” Class of 1991.
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