MANILA, Philippines - The investigation into the Bar examinations grenade explosion now focuses on the motive of the attack.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima ordered the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to dig deeper into what could have possibly motivated the suspect, Anthony Nepomuceno, into throwing the grenade.
De Lima issued the order a day after the NBI filed criminal charges against Nepomuceno over the Sept. 26 grenade attack.
Two other unnamed suspects were also charged for allegedly helping Nepomuceno in throwing the grenade.
De Lima said there are indications in the initial investigation that other suspects helped Nepomuceno carry out the attack.
“There are indications that it was planned, so it should be pursued,” De Lima said.
“Just like any investigation of this sort, it is important that we go deeper and find out exactly if there are other possible co-conspirators, especially since Nepomuceno is denying that he is the guy (who lobbed the grenade),” she added
De Lima said the NBI should establish the motive of the attack for proper prosecution of the case.
She said the NBI should find out if the incident was triggered by a fraternity war.
De Lima earlier revealed the initial information gathered by the NBI from testimonies of several witnesses established a frat war as a possible motive of the attack.
Nepomuceno, a member of the Alpha Phi Omega (APO) fraternity, denied lobbing the grenade although several witnesses identified him.
Nepomuceno told ABS-CBN that he was in Marikina buying a pair of shoes at the time the explosion took place in the afternoon.
Nepomuceno, who worked as a call center agent, said he was asleep at home since Sunday was his day off. He said he woke up at 2 p.m. and left the house at 6 p.m. for the shoe store.
“I only learned of the blast on television. I was in Marikina looking for a pair of shoes at that time,” Nepomuceno told ABS-CBN for the first time facing the camera.
Nepomuceno agreed to face the camera, which he said was an effort to allow other people to recognize him and clear his name over the incident.
“This is to clear my name. Why am I being pinpointed as the suspect? My family has been affected by this. I lost my job because of this,” he said.
According to Nepomuceno, one of the witnesses who supposedly recognized him during the police lineup at the NBI last Wednesday even attacked him.
He claimed some of the witnesses might have picked up his picture in his Facebook account and described it before investigators to make it appear that he was the suspect in the bombing.
Nepomuceno suggested rival fraternities might have planned to pin him down and also put the blame on APO.
Nepomuceno though admitted the possibility that his fraternity brothers in the APO might have carried out the attack.
“This may have been made by my brods. Not me. Maybe, somebody heard about this bragging (that APO had done this grenade attack). And this was taken seriously,” he said.
His lawyers, who are also members of APO, also told ABS-CBN that the issue started with rumors that APO was behind the attack.
Nepomuceno also told an earlier television interview that APO has no motive to start a fraternity war.
“This angle (of fraternity war) is actually strong. I just can’t disclose the details yet, because that is still being confirmed. But the NBI is confident on this because there are eyewitnesses,” De Lima stressed.
An NBI official privy to the investigation confirmed they are checking on the possibility that Nepomuceno was tapped to throw the grenade against members of another fraternity.
“According to what we have initially gathered, it appears that he (the suspect) was so nervous that he removed the pin from the grenade earlier than he should have, and then just threw it to another group in the crowd for fear that it might explode in his hands,” the official said.
The NBI is hunting down the two men who helped Nepomuceno escape while being pursued following the explosion.
Witnesses said four bystanders tried to subdue the suspect while running away from the blast site.
The NBI gathered the four bystanders were members of another fraternity who gave chase to the suspect when another witness cried out for help while pointing at him.
One of the two unnamed suspects reportedly helped Nepomuceno out of the fray by pointing a .45 caliber automatic at the men trying to subdue the suspect.
The NBI said the gun-wielding suspect was not able to fire his gun, apparently because it jammed, sparing the lives of the four men who gave chase to Nepomuceno.
The gunman was described to be in his early 20s, about 5’7” tall, stocky and fair complexioned.
Nepomuceno and his two cohorts, however, managed to escape unhurt.
Another witness reportedly saw Nepomuceno being helped aboard a waiting pickup truck by a woman and another man before proceeding to a restaurant which APO had rented for the duration of the Bar examinations.
The NBI had filed charges of multiple frustrated murder and multiple attempted murder against Nepomuceno before the Department of Justice (DOJ), a day after the suspect surfaced to deny the allegations implicating him in the bombing attack.
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 that occurred in front of De La Salle University along Taft Avenue in Manila.
The NBI said the charges stemmed from the testimony of several witnesses pointing to Nepomuceno as the person who threw the grenade.
De Lima said the complaint against Nepomuceno would still undergo preliminary investigation to determine if there is ample evidence to file the case in court.
“It will go through the usual process. And since this will undergo preliminary investigation proper, I’ll be hands off on this henceforth,” she said.
De Lima cited the possibility that the prosecutors would eventually submit their findings for her review.
She added the DOJ could place the witnesses under its witness protection program upon the recommendation of the NBI.
Malacañang also said they are leaving it up to the DOJ and the NBI to prove the guilt of Nepomuceno and the other suspects in the bombing.
Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said the NBI had given assurance that all efforts are being exerted to prosecute the case against Nepomuceno and the other suspects.
Valte pointed out the victims of the blast have legal options to file an appeal or question the decision regarding the case.
“The case is ongoing… the victims or the complainants can file a motion for reconsideration if they think that there is another charge that is more proper. That is the process,” she said.
“Our prosecutors are very prepared. The prosecutors know their duty and Secretary De Lima will ensure that the results of the preliminary investigation will be credible and impartial,” Valte said.
Malacañang earlier defended Vice President Jejomar Binay for vouching for Nepomuceno.
Binay accompanied Nepomuceno to the NBI on Wednesday where he was taken into custody for a brief questioning.
Binay, a senior APO official, earlier expressed that his fraternity brother is innocent of the charges.
Valte, however, said the Vice President played a key role in bringing Nepomuceno to surface.
She said Binay has started the legal procedure to bring the case to conclusion.
PDP Laban secretary-general Joey de Venecia said Binay was well within his rights to peacefully deliver Nepomuceno for prosecution.
“Mr. Binay maybe the country’s highest official, but he is also a human rights lawyer who was approached by Mr. Nepomuceno seeking his advice,” De Venecia said.
Edu Punay, Philippine Star