By Martin Sadongdong
The primary suspect in the killing of a Catholic priest in Nueva Ecija province earlier this week has finally been arrested, and he is known to be a drug surrenderer and alleged member of a gun-for-hire syndicate, the Philippine National Police (PNP) today bared.
PNP chief Director General Oscar Albayalde confirmed the arrest of a certain Adell Roll Milan, of Barangay Malapit, San Isidro, Nueva Ecija.
He is among the six suspects being investigated by the Central Luzon Police Regional Office (PRO-3) and the Special Investigation Task Group (SITG) Nilo in the killing of Fr. Richmond Nilo, the parish priest of Zaragoza, Nueva Ecija and member of the Diocese of Cabanatuan City.
The announcement of the suspect’s arrest came just as Father Nilo was laid to rest at the Crypta of Saint Nicholas of Tolentine Cathedral in Lakewood, Cabanatuan at noon today.
Albayalde said Milan was arrested by elements of the SITG Nilo and tracker team of Nueva Ecija Provincial Police Office (PPO) around 6:30 p.m. yesterdayin a follow up operation in Barangay Malapit.
Chief Supt. Amador Corpus, regional director of PRO-3, said in a press briefing in Nueva Ecija that Milan admitted to police that he is a drug surrenderer while intelligence operatives said he is also a member of a notorious gun-for-hire syndicate operating in the province.
Furthermore, Corpus said Milan was positively identified by one of the altar boys who witnessed Father Nilo’s killing through the Nueva Ecija PPO’s rogue gallery.
“Investigators on case laid down different pictures of criminal gangs taken from the rogue gallery of Nueva Ecija. One of the pictures bearing the name of Adell Roll Milan, of Barangay Malapit, was positively identified by [the] witness as the one who shot Father Nilo,” Corpus said.
According to Corpus, Milan was one of the two motorcycle-riding suspects who shot dead Nilo at the altar of the Nuestra Senyora de la Nieve Chapel in Barangay Mayamot, Zaragoza, Nueva Ecija on June 10. He was minutes away from officiating a 6-p.m. mass when the incident happened.
Corpus said investigators have already established the composite sketches of two more suspects which have already been presented to the witness for the verification of their identities.
He also appealed to the public to report any information which could help to the arrest of the suspects through their hotlines: 0922-833-6675 and 0917-164-3235.
Milan was brought to Nueva Ecija Provincial Crime Laboratory for an examination after he underwent booking procedures while a murder charge will be filed against him and five other John Does before the court.
According to Corpus, Milan was onboard a motorcycle with another cohort while four other suspects were inside the Nissan Sedan van they used as a getaway vehicle. He said they have been trailing Father Nilo since the first mass he officiated in other nearby barangays.
“Based on footages that we recovered, ilang beses nagpaikot-ikot sa mga chapels itong van and motorcycle. As early as 2 p.m. Sunday, the motorcycle and car were already surveilling the first barangay, entering Barangay Mayamot up to Barangay Valeriana. Palaga-lagare ‘yun,” Corpus explained.
Three of the lookouts even attended the Mass that Father Nilo officiated in Barangay Valeriana in Zaragoza, Nueva Ecija hours before the incident and it is where he was supposed to be killed, Corpus said. However, they never had the chance to do so. Instead, they followed the priest to his next mass in Barangay Mayamot.
After the shooting incident, Corpus said the motorcycle-riding suspects traded vehicles with three suspects in the getaway van to erase their trail and they all sped off to different directions.
With the arrest of Milan, Corpus hopes that they will be able to identify the five other suspects and locate them for the immediate resolution of the case.
He also said part of their investigation is to determine whether the five other suspects are part of a gun-for-hire syndicate of which Milan is a member.
Meanwhile, the possible owner of the Nissan Sedan used by the suspects as a getaway vehicle has been identified by the investigators.
However, Corpus refused to divulge the identity of the car owner saying that it is up for verification since the car was transferred and sold many times before it ended up in the hands of the suspects.
“The Nissan Sedan car which was used during the tracking and surveillance, we have already initial verification of the identity of the registered owner based on the latest LTO [Land Transportation] registration. But it is still ongoing because there were deeds of sale and transfers,” he said.
As to the possible motive behind the killing, Corpus said they are still eyeing Father Nilo’s active participation in resolving land dispute issues, in helping rape victims and his staunch criticism of other religion’s wrongdoings.
Corpus also said he has ordered the police provincial directors in Central Luzon to coordinate with all the Catholic priests and other religious leaders in the region to discuss issues on security and determine if they have threats on their lives.
Laid to rest
Father Nilo was laid to rest at noon today with hundreds to thousands of supporters wearing black shirt as a sign of protest attending the funeral march.
Cabanatuan Bishop Sofronio Bancud officiated the funeral mass and said Pope Francis has sent his condolences to the diocese over Father Nilo’s death.
Moreover, Papal Nuncio to the Philippines Archbishop Gebriele Giordano Caccia attended the funeral mass as a sign of his solidarity with the Diocese of Cabanatuan in demanding justice for the slain Catholic priest.