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article imageFamily of slain Davao mayor seeks SC, justice dep’t help

By Antonio Figueroa     Nov 18, 2010 in Politics
After more than seven years of waiting for results, the family of a slain municipal mayor here has finally sought the help of the Supreme Court, the justice department, and the Catholic prelate of Manila for the speedy resolution of cases.
Joel B. Brillantes, former mayor of Monkayo, Compostela Valley Province, was assassinated inside the city cockpit, the Matina Gallera, on June 28, 2003, exactly two years after he was sworn in as chief local executive of the gold-rush town.
Charged in the contract killing were Jose Nelson ‘Tata’ Sala, reportedly a former Army man, rebel returnee Cerilo Engroba, Rey Escuadro, and Gina Koch.
Engroba’s wife, who has since been missing, told investigators earlier that Sala was the guy who fetched her husband the day before the cockpit slay took place.
Probers suspected the killing had something to do with Diwalwal, a mining village under Monkayon and is recognized as the country’s richest gold deposit.
Diwalwal, actually, is a sprawling mining area that straddles four and is chiefly concentrated in an impoverished community of around 30,000 people, mostly transients and tunnel workers.
Brillantes, also a former Army intelligence officer, hit it big in 1996 when the tunnel he previously operated with a partner hit a big lode, making him an overnight multi-millionaire.
But the former combatant, while the enjoying the fruits of his wealth, wanted the mining operations at Diwalwal legalized, and the informal miners, especially the big ones, sharing their bounty with the government in form of taxes.
To pursue this objective, in 2001 he ran for mayor and won. And, consistent with his advocacies, he implemented the ordinances on the collection of excise and other taxes, required businesses to get permits, and moved for the payment of royalties to the indigenous stakeholders, while personally leading the campaign at great risks from his detractors.
After a handful of attempt to silence him, finally on June 28, 2003, while attending a cockfight derby, he was fatally gunned down near the arena in a cockpit that was supposedly arms-free and in a city that was known for its high-profile campaign against illegal firearms.
Sala, the principal suspect in the case and a director of three big-time mining corporations operating in the gold rush, has had a string of brushes with the law prior to his alleged involvement in the Brillantes contract killing.
In August-October 1999, Sala was tagged as the alleged mastermind in the fire-bomb attacks at the Victory Tunnel at Diwalwal, owned by Brillantes. Several deaths were reported in the assaults and a case of murder and frustrated murder was filed against him and several companions before the Regional Trial Court, in Nabunturan, Compostela Valley Province. An arrest warrant was issued setting no bail but it was recalled and set aside on November 8, 2007.
He was also linked to the murder of Judge Eugenio R. Valles, uncle of Catholic bishop Msgr. Romulo Valles, in Nabunturan on April 25, 2002. The early morning assassination was related to the Diwalwal murders.
Sala was also suspected of killing the Norwegian lover of his then live-in partner, former Compostela Valley Board Member Gemma M. Sotto, former nanny of American actress Brooke Shields who resigned hastily resigned from her post to immigrate to the US.
On February 1, 2005, during the Philippine National Police anniversary, then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, in a televised speech broadcast live nationwide, ordered a manhunt of Sala and his brother, Edgar, and to include them in the PNP’s national most-wanted list. Nothing came out of the order.
In recent years, Sala, a compulsive gambler, has continued to be a fixture in the cockpit where Brillantes was fatally gunned down, secured by police and military escorts. Adding insult to injury, he named his cockfight derby entries as “JB 1,” “JB 2,” (Brillantes’ nickname), “Highlander” (after the car owned by JB’s brother), and “Fugitive,” clearly in reference to his being one.
He was also spotted in the company of police and Army officers and other prominent figures.
Whether the individuals were told about Sala’s criminal background or not is immaterial to the suggestion that the suspect has well-placed connections.
Since 2007, Sala has been placed under the custody of the then Compostela Valley provincial commander and some well-known politicians, making him, in the eyes of the Brillantes family, “a certified untouchable.”
In a letter to Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales, the Catholic prelate of Manila, the late mayor’s family cited that the call to reopen the case or hasten the resolution of the charges against the Brillantes suspects is “an appeal to prosecute the perpetrators in the killing of the late mayor, this is also a call to do justice to Sala’s other victims as well.”
The family also sought the help of the Volunteer Against Crime and Corruption (VACC), the leading light in the campaign against the country’s high-profile murders to “help us convince the courts, especially the Judiciary, to speed up the resolution of the case involving the death of our brother and to give justice to those who are similarly aggrieved against Sala. The suspect’s NBI (National Bureau of Investigation) records should be a good place to start.”
A similarly worded appeal letter was sent to the Supreme Court, asking for the faster resolution of the charges filed against Sala, including those that did not involve the late mayor’s assassination.
The campaign to seek justice for the fallen mayor is being pursued by brothers Joselito B. Brillantes, a senior board member of Compostela Province, and Manuel B. Brillantes, Jr., the mayor of Monkayo, and sister Janet B. Diel, a municipal councilor representing the twenty-one village leaders of the town of Monkayo.
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