Cebu City prosecutors will handle Yongco case after all

The murder case on the killing of lawyer Arbet Sta. Ana-Yongco is getting to be a now-you-see-them, now-you-don’t, now-you-see-them-again affair as far as the prosecutors are concerned.

A day after it seemed that an all-Manila team of prosecutors would be handling the case, now it appears that is not going to happen.

Chief city prosecutor Cezar Tajanlangit is staying on the case after all, as is Oscar Capacio. Only state prosecutor Nolibien Quiambao will come from Manila to join the panel.

Earlier, chief state prosecutor Jovencito Zuño decided to send a three-man panel of prosecutors from Manila after Tajanlangit, Capacio, Vicente Mañalac and Jesus Feliciano signified their intention to withdraw from the case due to the flak over last Thursday’s impromptu sing-along in Tajanlangit’s office.

Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez, however, overturned Zuño’s decision and formally ordered Tajanlangit and Capacio to stay on in the panel.

"There might have been a change of mind. Everything worthwhile and with great value has a price tag. Public service has great value. There is a job to be done and as a good soldier, I have to do the job," Tajanlangit said.

The city prosecutors’ offer to withdraw from the case stemmed from last Thursday’s incident where Tajanlangit, Yongco lawyer Gloria Dalawampu, murder suspect Michel Favila and Favila’s lawyer Orlando Salatandre broke into a song upon reaching a compromise after a particularly long and heated legal wrangling.

But what had seemed to many to be nothing more than an innocuous display of relief did not seem so pleasing to some in the media, thus criticisms promptly flew thick and fast.

First to feel offended was Dalawampu, who angrily announced she was quitting the case. The prosecutors followed suit, sparking a crisis of sorts over what has been one of the most sensational murder cases the province has seen in years.

Yongco was the private prosecutor in the parricide case against cult leader Ruben Ecleo Jr., who stands accused of killing his wife, Alona Bacolod.

The female lawyer was shot by a lone gunman right inside her own home.

Favila, a member of the Philippine Benevolent Missionaries Association which regards Ecleo as supreme master, emerged as the main suspect in the killing for bearing a striking resemblance to a police artist’s sketch based on the witnesses’ descriptions of Yongco’s killer.

But no warrant had been issued and Favila was never arrested. Instead, he turned himself in to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan, and denied any involvement in the murder.

Brought to Cebu, the uncertainty over his status was what provoked the day-long legal wrangling among Dalawampu, Tajanlangit and Salatandre.

When it was eventually agreed upon that Favila would just submit himself to the NBI’s protective custody, Salatandre broke into a hearty rendition of the Tagalog classic Bato sa Buhangin.

Dalawampu was egged on to join and she did, and so did Tajanlangit. Eventually, toward the end of the song, even Favila joined the singing.

The brickbats came flying after that.

Tajanlangit said he welcomes an investigation, if there is any, into the singing incident. He said he, in fact, has an explanation just waiting to be transmitted to Gonzalez, if needed.

"It’s just a matter of faxing my explanation to him," he said.

On the other hand, Democrito Barcenas, president of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines Cebu chapter, said he will try to persuade Dalawampu to continue representing the Yongco family in the murder case.