This time, Malacañang got its language right. Reacting to the recent conviction of suspected car-theft syndicate leader Raymond Dominguez to 17 to 30 years in prison, President Aquino’s spokesperson Edwin Lacierda lauded Judge Wilfredo Nieves for having “handed down the decision with impartiality and swiftness, taking only a year and four months to resolve the case,” as well as public prosecutor Maureen Abad Moises “for her capable handling of the case.”
“Its resolution,” Lacierda added, “proves that with honest and committed public servants, our judicial system can work effectively toward fulfilling its duties to the public.”
Amen. Not only is the swift judgment on the case a cause for cheer in a country where the justice system often moves at a glacial pace, but the nailing of Dominguez should also help hasten the eradication of the infamous car-theft gang he was said to have headed, along with his brother and co-accused Roger—a syndicate said to be behind the string of gruesome car thievery and murder incidents that shook the nation a year or so ago.
In the most sensational of these cases, car dealer Venson Evangelista disappeared in January 2011 after letting two men test-drive his Toyota Land Cruiser, which they had expressed interest in buying. A day later, Evangelista’s charred remains were discovered in Nueva Ecija. Two men later surrendered to the police and identified the Dominguez brothers as masterminds.
That same month, well-known lawyer Oliver Lozano’s son Emerson, along with a companion, Ernani Sensil, was kidnapped in Quezon City. Their bodies were found separately in Central Luzon days after, apparently the victims of the same modus operandi: A henchman of the Dominguez brothers had contacted Emerson Lozano about buying his Kia Carnival van, after which he and Sensil were killed and the vehicle seized.
After the surrender of the two men that led to the raid on an apartment in Pampanga believed to have been used as a hideout by the car thieves, and the subsequent apprehension of the Dominguezes, then Philippine National Police Director General Raul Bacalzo issued a statement saying the set of developments “effectively solves” the murders of Evangelista, Lozano and Sensil. It was a statement the Inquirer had deplored in an editorial as “misleading”—“an important step forward, but not the solution,” because “much work remains to be done… The conviction of the guilty has not been secured.”
Let’s give credit where credit is due. The successful prosecution of Raymond Dominguez now allows the government and law enforcement authorities to claim with some truth that, indeed, justice has been served, and the particular case for which he was arraigned is now “effectively solved.”
However, it is also important to remember that this case does not even cover the killings of Evangelista, Lozano and Sensil, but relates to another incident of car theft, filed by driver Dante Escoto who testified that Raymond Dominguez and two others forcibly took his employer’s car while it was parked on MacArthur Highway in Bulacan in January 2010—or a full year before the crime spree took a turn for the worse with cold-blooded murder compounding the vehicle thievery.
The Dominguez brothers, in fact, have faced some 28 criminal cases in various courts in Bulacan, Pampanga and Metro Manila since 2007, with most of the felonies involving car theft, robbery, violation of the election gun ban and illegal drugs. But the more disturbing revelation has been that Raymond Dominguez was allowed to post bail 19 times in many of these cases. “How is it possible that the policemen who gather the evidence, the prosecutors who file the cases and the judges who approve the motions for bail can fail to see that this sorry record suggests a definite pattern of a criminal career?” was a question posed by this paper’s editorial a year ago.
Indeed, Raymond Dominguez’s conviction by Judge Nieves is only for car theft, not for the truly heinous crime of murder. A string of cases remains to be litigated against this lowlife and his cohorts, and the government cannot afford to be complacent now in making sure that the rest of the charges stick, if it is to bring to heel the Dominguezes’ criminal operations for good. Those cases also need to be resolved with the same swiftness and vigorousness that characterized the resolution of Escoto’s case in Nieves’ sala. To repeat this paper’s earlier words of caution: “The recent developments are a breakthrough, but they do not, at least not yet, mean Case Solved.”