CEBU, Philippines — The National Bureau of Investigation and the Commission on Human Rights in Central Visayas will launch a parallel investigation into the ambush-slay of Cebu City assistant prosecutor Mary Ann Castro.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said on Friday that he ordered the NBI to look into the killing, while CHR-7 director Arvin Odron said his agency will also dispatch a quick reaction team to collect information regarding the incident.
“I have immediately directed the NBI to investigate the ambush of [Castro] and to identify the perpetrators at the soonest possible time,” Guevarra told reporters.
NBI-7 assistant director Dominador Cimafranca said that as per directive from their head office, they will investigate on the case in coordination with all other law-enforcement units.
As for CHR, Odron said: “We will conduct our own investigation. In fact, any time from now [yesterday], we will form our quick reaction team for deployment. But we are calling on our police and law-enforcement workers to intensify their investigation and bring perpetrators to the court.”
Castro, the assistant prosecutor in Cebu City presently detailed at the Office of the Provincial Prosecutor in Masbate province, was shot dead by an unidentified assailant while driving her Nissan Juke (F1 A604) Thursday night on Escario Street in Cebu City.
If only for the “precise and consistent” trajectory of bullets that pierced into the car, police suspect that the lone gunman was an “expert.”
Chief Inspector Eduard Sanchez, chief of Fuente police, said the gunman waylaid Castro’s car at around 10 p.m. when it was traversing Escario Extension in Barangay Kamputhaw, then fired shots at her at close range using a .45 caliber firearm.
Castro was then heading home in a posh subdivision in Barangay Maghaway, Talisay City from a mall at the Cebu Business Park. Her car bumped into another vehicle on the opposite lane before crashing into a wall at a nearby construction site.
She was then seen slumped on the driver’s seat with several gunshot wounds in the cheek and neck.
Police found empty shells of a .45 pistol around the crime scene, with the slugs all found inside the vehicle.
Sanchez said they are eyeing at personal grudge, work-related matters, and Castro’s reported link to the late SPO2 Adonis Dumpit as possible motives.
He said they will reach out to the family as part of their investigation.
Castro’s bereaved family has been declining media interviews since the night of the incident, asking that their privacy be respected for now.
The lawyer’s wake is at Cebu Rolling Hills Memorial Chapels in Mandaue City.
According to the Integrated Bar of the Philippines in Cebu City, Castro’s death raises questions about whether the police have been seriously implementing the gun ban in Cebu City on the heels of Sinulog and fiesta activities.
But Sanchez maintained that they have been religiously conducting checkpoints.
“What happened here is there was a motive to kill the victim. No matter how many checkpoints are in place, the perpetrator will find a way,” he said.
Meanwhile, Cebu City’s legal community was quick to condemn the killing.
“Atty. Castro’s death again brings light to the spate of killings, which unquestionably manifest a pattern of deliberate targeting of lawyers handling controversial cases or holding high profile positions,” said IBP Cebu City Chapter president Mundlyn Misal in a statement.
Her death came almost a year after another lawyer, Jonnah John Ungab, vice mayor of Ronda town in south Cebu, was shot dead after attending a court hearing at the Cebu City Palace of Justice.
“To be sure, the violence that took these lawyers’ lives was defiantly committed in the open, as if intended to send a message — that we are not safe and we should always watch our backs,” said Misal.
“This current incident is no exception, having been committed on a public street despite the gun ban in effect and heightened police presence in Cebu City in line with the celebration of the Sinulog Festival. The message is heard loud and clear.”
Masbate provincial prosecutor Jeremias Mapula, in a text message to The FREEMAN, also called on the police to fast-track their investigation and bring perpetrators to justice.
For his part, Prosecutor’s League of the Philippines president Irwin Maraya said the league condoles with the family of Castro and is willing to assist them.
Even former Cebu Provincial Board member Grecilda Sanchez-Zaballero, who was once at odds with Castro (see separate story on Page 2), also joined the condemnation, saying “nobody deserves to die like that.”
“It is true that we had disagreements that resulted in the filing of several cases against each other. However, her marriage with my brother was annulled which put to rest issues regarding her claim over my family’s properties,” Zaballero said.
“For over a year, coinciding with her transfer to Masbate, nothing had been heard from either of us,” she added.
CHR-7’s Odron said no one has the right to take away any person’s life.
He also expressed alarm over the successive killings of lawyers because the legal profession is “necessary in the criminal justice system.”
Although there was no directive yet from the head office, Ordon said his office will conduct motu proprio investigation nonetheless because of the high-profile nature of the case.
Odron clarified that they will only determine whether there was arbitrary deprivation for taking the life of Castro. As to the motive, CHR-7 will leave it to the authorities. — with Imarie Jane A. Madarieta and Marjory D. Enriquez, USJ-R Interns, JMD (FREEMAN)