By Czarina Nicole Ong
Former Pagudpud Mayor Reynolan Sales of Ilocos Norte has been convicted by the Sandiganbayan Fourth Division of homicide and has been sentenced to maximum imprisonment of 17 years and four months of reclusion temporal.
He was convicted of homicide as defined under Article 249 in relation to Article 17 and 18 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC) for killing Atty. Rafael R. Benemerito back in August 2, 1999.
Sales “unlawfully and feloniously assault, attack and shoot” Benemerito with an unlicensed firearm that morning. The victim sustained multiple gunshot wounds, which directly caused his death that same day.
Sales shot his victim in the presence of Chief of Police Celso Ragudo, police officers Alfonso Cariaga and William Quiamas and bodyguard Eduardo Lorenzo, who were said to have given “moral support to Sales prior to and simultaneous with his commission of the subject crime of homicide.”
Sales admitted to killing Benemerito, but he denied any criminal liability since he claimed the act was done in self defense. Because of this, the Sandiganbayan noted that the burden of proving that the victim committed unlawful aggression fell on Sales. He also had prove that there was reasonable necessity to prevent that unlawful aggression.
Benemerito’s wife, Dr. Thelma Benemerito, revealed to the court that Sales and her husband were not on good terms because Sales was interested in properties being developed by Benemerito. At the same time, a truckload of illegally logged timber owned by Sales was confiscated by the police under the direction of Benemerito, who was then the mayor of Pagudpud.
However, there were several discrepancies noted by the court in the testimonies of Sales and defense witness Merly Galapia Bacud, a heavy equipment operator who was present during the shooting incident.
For instance, Sales said that he always carries a pistol, but Bacud testified Sales was unarmed at the time of the shooting. Bacud later retracted his own statement when he said Sales pulled out a gun. Still, there were differences in what they said – Sales stated that he pulled his gun from his right waist while Bacud said it came from his left.
“The varying answers given by defense witness Bacud throughout his testimonies in court put a dent on his credibility as a witness,” the decision stated.
The Sandiganbayan found Bacud a “biased” witness, since he remembered details of the shooting only when it was convenient and favorable to Sales.
What’s more, the anti-graft court noted that there were disparities in the injuries sustained by Sales and Benemerito, as well as the locations of the wounds inflicted by the victim. Benemerito was shot four times, while Sales only sustained minimal injury.
“Under the circumstances, it is rather hard to believe that accused Sales was never hit nor grazed by even a single bullet from the purported Armalite rifle, considering that Atty. Benemerito was allegedly shooting at him continuously at close range,” the decision read.
Based on the autopsy report, two of the bullets even entered the victim’s buttocks, which therefore suggested that he was shot from behind. The Sandiganbayan believes that this coincides with the eyewitness accounts that Sales was continuously firing at Benemerito as he was running away.
“Thus, contrary to the claim of the defense, it appears from the physical evidence, as demonstrated by the location of the wounds, that accused Sales was the aggressor and not Benemerito,” the decision read.
Sales is found guilty beyond reasonable doubt as principal for the crime of homicide, and is sentenced to suffer an indeterminate penalty of imprisonment from 12 years as prison mayor as minimum to 17 years and four months of reclusion temporal as maximum.
Ragudo, Cariaga and Quiamas were also found guilty as accomplices to the crime because of their inaction. As police officers, they failed to perform their duties and intervene when Sales was shooting at Benemerito.
They are sentenced to suffer an indeterminate penalty of imprisonment from four years, two months and one day of prison correccional as minimum and eight years and one day of prison mayor as maximum.
They are all ordered to pay the heirs of Benemerito P50,000 as civil indemnity, P50,000 as moral damages, P50,000 as exemplary damages, and P49,099.05 as actual damages. Sales should shoulder half of the amounts stated, while the accomplices have to pay the other half. All the awards shall earn interest at the rate of six percent per annum reckoned from the finality of the decision until its full payment.
On the other hand, Lorenzo is ordered acquitted due to failure of the prosecution to prove his guilt beyond reasonable doubt.
The 45-page decision was penned by Associate Justice Reynaldo Cruz and concurred by Chairperson Alex Quiroz and Associate Justice Bayani Jacinto.