5 tortured, killed in church basement due to basketball dispute

SUMMARY: Due to a basketball squabble, the body of five men were found dead, filthy, bloated, putrid, and decomposing. It all happened in an Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) chapel basement in its Sta. Ana compound during a church activity called "panata."

The victims were brought to the basement, which was at the back of the chapel and beneath the choir office. Inside the basement the victims were continually mauled, whipped with a gun, and beaten with steel tubes, lead pipes and other blunt instruments. One of the victims was tied with wire.WITNESS PROHIBITED BY JUDGE AND INC MINISTER FROM TESTIFYING: As to her long silence or reluctance to give her statement or to testify, ELENA explained that she was initially barred by then Judge Nitafan from testifying. Besides, there was a threat on her life by one of the suspects in the killing of herein five victims. Nevertheless, she had already reported the incident to a certain Brother Cerilo del Rosario, who replaced Pastor Almedina after the latter was transferred to another chapel, and that sometime in 1993 she went to the Central Office of the INC and related the whole event to Brother Eduardo Manalo.

TESTIMONY OF WITNESS: ELENA’s testimony is sufficient to convict.She positively identified all the appellants as among the passengers of the Fiera and whom she saw torturing the victims. She could not have been mistaken in identifying them because she knew them very well, they being deacons of the INC. She was only four meters away when the Fiera passed by her. Her identification must have been confirmed when appellants alighted from the Fiera and proceeded to the so-called basement. Out of curiosity, she followed and stayed near the door of the basement where she saw appellants and their cohorts maul and torture the victims. Although the electric lights inside the compound were switched off she could see the culprits and the mauling of the victims, since the place was illuminated by two streetlights outside.

THE KILLERS' ALIBI: As to the defense of alibi by the members of the INC, the Supreme Court held this to be the weakest of all the defenses. The killers were unable to show that it was physically impossible for them to have been present at the scene of the crime. GRANADA, DE GUZMAN and VALENCIA claimed to have been attending the "Panata" rites on 8 March 1992, the date of the abduction and mauling of the five victims. However, considering that there were at least 200 members of the INC who attended the panata, it was possible for them to have sneaked out unnoticed into the Ford Fiera to Lakas Street, picked up the five victims and waited in the evening for the grounds to be deserted before bringing them inside the INC compound. Neither was ABELLA able to show by clear and convincing evidence that it was physically impossible for him to go from his alleged post at the corner of T.M. Kalaw St. and Roxas Boulevard to Lakas Street, Bacood, Sta. Mesa. Thus, the defense of alibi must fail. Besides, such defense is worthless in view of the positive identification of appellants as the culprits.

DETAILS OF THE CASE: PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, plaintiff-appellee, vs. JUANITO ABELLA, DIOSDADO GRANADA, BENJAMIN DE GUZMAN, and EDGARDO VALENCIA, accused-appellants. (G.R. No. 127803. August 28, 2000)

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