TALIBON, BOHOL, Philippines —Provincial Board Member Niño Rey Boniel yesterday pleaded not guilty to charges of kidnapping with serious illegal detention filed by Angela Leyson, the best friend of missing Bien Unido Mayor Gisela Boniel.
As this developed, authorities will resume the search and retrieval operation for the mayor’s body upon the request of her family.
It was Leyson who alerted Cebu police about the disappearance of Gisela, who was believed to have been shot dead and her body dumped in the waters off Lapu-Lapu City by men allegedly acting on the instructions of Gisela’s husband Niño Rey.
The last time Leyson saw Gisela was dawn of June 7 inside a room at the Bien Unido Double Barrier Dive Camp where their captors had taken them.
During his arraignment yesterday, Niño Rey was accompanied by his main counsel in Bohol, lawyer Romero Boniel, and several other lawyers at the sala of Regional Trial Court Branch 52 acting Judge Marivic Trabajo-Daray.
From the Cebu City Police Station 2 stockade where he had been detained, Niño Rey had been moved to the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology-managed Talibon District Jail last Friday after Judge Daray issued his commitment order.
With Talibon close to his hometown of Bien Unido, Niño felt more secure at the Talibon jail, according to Gerardo Carillo, his lead counsel for Cebu.
Carillo insisted that his client is innocent to the accusations hurled against him, taking note of the “questionable evidence” presented by the prosecution.
“Actually it’s either you plead guilty or not guilty. My client opted to plead not guilty because we have not done any acts of kidnapping of the victim Angela Leyson and her son. So we will prove that in court, and they will also have to prove first that the kidnapping really occurred,” Carillo told The FREEMAN over the phone yesterday.
But Leyson’s lawyers maintained a different stand, saying they have a strong case to pin on the accused.
Niño Rey is also facing parricide charges before the Lapu-Lapu City Prosecutor’s Office, alongside eight other alleged cohorts, over the presumed death of his wife. Two of suspects have turned into state witnesses.
Police Regional Office-7 Director Chief Superintendent Noli Taliño said there are witnesses to testify that they were involved in the kidnapping with serious illegal detention case against Niño Rey.
The co-conspirators-turned-witnesses, who are still under PRO-7’s custody, are Randil Lupas, the driver who allegedly brought the victims to the dive camp, and Reolito “Etad” Boniel, Niño Rey’s cousin who reportedly operated the pumpboat used to dispose of Gisela’s body.
Taliño said yesterday that aside from preparing the testimonial evidence, they are already in the process of matching the DNA of the samples found on the blood-stained boat recovered in Bien Unido and that of Gisela’s relatives.
He has also directed Lapu-Lapu City Police Office Director Senior Superintendent Rommel Cabagnot to revive Task Force Boniel, a team of volunteer-divers who had scoured the seas off Lapu-Lapu from June 8 to 27 in search for Gisela but to no avail.
Taliño said regional police’s technical diver Chief Inspector Jacinto Mandal will oversee the diving.
“Sinabi ko i-organize ang search teams, and si Mandal, paminsan-minsan sasama siya. Probably this is a limited search, dahil yung sa malalalim ay hindi na nila kaya, masyadong malalim na,” Talino said.
He added that local fishermen were already advised to be on the lookout for items which could have been used to wrap the mayor’s body, such as a fishnet and a blanket.
Although the search team recovered a blanket, witnesses are torn whether it was the actual blanket used in the crime. The cloth was submitted to national headquarters crime lab for DNA matching.
Lupas, who allegedly assisted the perpetrators in mounting the mayor’s body into the pumpboat, said it was not the blanket used but Leyson said it was the one.
Lawyer Lanilyn Pangilinan, Leyson’s main counsel and the appointed police counsel, told reporters that the failure of the searchers to locate Gisela’s body will not affect their position to proceed with the cases against Niño Rey.
However, she said they are still in process of finalizing all relevant information for the parricide case. The next trial for the case has been scheduled for July 19.
Taliño yesterday also expressed gratitude to the local government units of Lapu-Lapu City and Bien Unido for having reached out to them to provide logistical support for the search.
A congressman from Bohol even sent cash aid for the operation, he said.
The Special Investigation Task Group Boniel is still compiling its reports as it prepares for a full-blown trial with the defense. —with Ric V. Obedencio (FREEMAN)