MANILA, Philippines - The principal suspect in the grenade attack that marred the conclusion of the Bar examinations in Manila last month surrendered yesterday.
Anthony Nepomuceno, a member of the Alpha Phi Omega (APO) fraternity, denied any involvement in the incident before Vice President Jejomar Binay.
Binay, the highest ranking APO official in the government, accompanied Nepomuceno to the Department of Justice (DOJ).
Binay said Nepomuceno surrendered to him and sought assistance.
“Our brod is being suspected. After what happened, it is always the tendency to blame our fraternity. No group is holding him. The APO leadership is sad about this incident but I believe he is innocent of the crime,” Binay told radio dzMM after bringing Nepomuceno to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).
Binay said he brought Nepomuceno for investigation on the request of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima.
He said De Lima has promised to protect and respect Nepomuceno’s rights in the investigation.
Nepomuceno was tagged as the principal suspect that lobbed a grenade during the traditional “salubong,” a gathering of well-wishers and relatives greeting the Bar candidates after their grueling four-weekend examinations on Sept. 26.
More than 40 people were injured during the attack, including San Sebastian College of Law student Raissa Laurel who lost her legs in the blast.
Binay stressed Nepomuceno, a 27-year old former criminology student at Manuel L. Quezon University who works as a call center agent, was never a suspect in the case.
“There is no warrant for his arrest. He surrendered to me but I believe he is not guilty,” Binay told reporters who waited for him to appear before the DOJ with Nepomuceno.
Binay granted the interview but without Nepomuceno around.
Nepomuceno, however, was released after preliminary questioning by the NBI.
NBI spokesman Cecilio Zamora said Nepomuceno was released to the custody of his fraternity brothers who are also acting as his lawyers.
“He was released as there is no case filed against him at this time. There is also no warrant of arrest,” Zamora said.
Zamora, however, revealed criminal charges are being prepared against Nepomuceno before the DOJ.
De Lima also said Nepomuceno could not be arrested since no charges were filed against him.
She said Nepomuceno surfaced to deny the accusations following the advice of Binay and the council of elders of APO to submit to the probe.
“Our commitment to Vice President Binay and the other (APO) elders who turned the suspect over is that we will protect his rights, and therefore he will be treated properly within the bounds of law now that he’s adhering to the correct process,” De Lima said.
De Lima stressed Nepomuceno was just “invited for questioning and not under arrest.”
She explained the suspect could not be arrested since he was not caught in the act of committing the crime and also because the period within which an arrest could be made immediately after the incident had already lapsed.
Nepomuceno surfaced 30 days after the explosion occurred in front of De La Salle University at Taft Avenue, Manila.
“He’s not under custody of NBI. We don’t have basis to really own him in custody (like warrant of arrest). He’s just cooperating in the investigation,” De Lima said.
De Lima, however, revealed the NBI holds strong evidence against Nepomuceno.
She said the NBI is preparing charges of multiple frustrated murder and multiple attempted murder against Nepomuceno that are expected to be filed before the DOJ anytime today.
“The NBI has eyewitness accounts that it was him (Nepomuceno) who threw the grenade although his face was half-covered then,” De Lima said.
“The witnesses said they even immediately pointed at him after the incident. So he ran and then four other men chased him and tried to subdue him,” she added.
De Lima noted the testimonies of witnesses who claimed Nepomuceno even wrestled with them while trying to escape.
“He wrestled it out with the four guys, and when the cover on his face was taken out along with a pair of shades and cap, two of those four men saw his face,” she said.
De Lima said a total of 17 witnesses had identified Nepomuceno.
She added the NBI is also hunting down two other companions of Nepomuceno during the grenade attack.
The NBI has earlier released an artist’s sketch of the suspect, which reportedly matched with Nepomuceno.
De Lima also did not rule out the possibility that a fraternity war could have triggered the attack.
She said a fraternity war is “one of the most possible motive - but with a little twist,” though she did not elaborate.
This was the reason why investigators initially refused to reveal the affiliation of the suspects so as not to provoke a retaliatory war from other fraternities, particularly from those whose members were hurt in the attack, De Lima said.
De Lima said she only decided to take the initiative to help in the probe when the NBI told her that they already knew the suspect.
Many sectors expressed indignation over the attack that a total of P1.2 million in reward money was raised to help expedite the manhunt for the culprit.
A P1 million reward was offered by a group of businessman while the Fraternal Order of Utopia, an Ateneo School of Law fraternity of Chief Justice Renato Corona, put up P200,000.
The incident was given “top priority” by President Aquino who vowed to give justice to the victims of the blast.
Mr. Aquino has expressed interest in the incident, particularly in the case of Raissa Laurel who lost her legs in the grenade attack.
Mr. Aquino directed the Manila Police and the NBI “to make the resolution of this case their top priority.”
Now that the suspect was known and surfaced yesterday, the President assured Nepomuceno that he will be accorded due process.
“At the very minimum, like any other accused in our system of justice, he is presumed innocent until proven guilty,” Mr. Aquino told reporters covering his state visit in Hanoi, Vietnam after being informed of the developments.
“He will be accorded all the protection of his rights, but at the end of the day, if he is responsible, then he will have to pay,” he said.
Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda also gave assurance there would be no special treatment for the suspect.
Lacierda noted Nepomuceno is a fraternity brother of the Vice President and being given legal advice by a battery of lawyers who are also members of APO.
“Definitely, there will no special treatment. Again, the only request of the suspect was that his rights be respected,” he said.
Lacierda said Malacañang welcomes the development on the surrender of Nepomuceno, particularly on the successful intervention of the Vice President.
He said the surrender of Nepomuceno would signal the DOJ to start the prosecution and give justice to the victims of the blast.
Edu Punay, Philippine Star