Monday (June 19) marked the 12th day of the search for the body of Mayor Gisela Boniel of Bien Unido, Bohol, who was allegedly killed and dumped into the sea by her husband Niño Rey Boniel, himself a former mayor of the town and now a provincial board member, and four cohorts.
Gisela Boniel was an accomplished woman. She was a commercial pilot before she got elected mayor in 2016, replacing her husband who had held the post for 12 years. Witnesses said that on June 7, she was shot dead by her husband aboard a boat and thrown into the waters near Caubian Island, Lapu-lapu City, Cebu. According to an ABS-CBN report, “as of June 17, search teams have undertaken 19 dives covering 1.5 nautical miles in the seas off Caubian and Olango Island. They had gone up to 170 feet deep, but still found no signs of the mayor’s body.”
Her best friend Angela Leyson has said that on the night of June 6, she (Leyson), Leyson’s teenage son and the mayor were detained at a resort in Bien Unido by Niño Boniel and his henchmen. Leyson complained to the police that she was handcuffed and subjected to electroshock, and that Niño beat the mayor and bundled her away.
The next thread of the grisly narrative was provided by Niño Boniel’s cousin Riolito Boniel and driver Randel Lupas, who were arrested along with Niño on Leyson’s complaint. Under questioning by police, Lupas said he and a certain Jay-R were ordered by Niño to carry the mayor, wrapped in a blanket and still alive, into the boat. Out at sea, Niño then shot his wife; Riolito Boniel confessed that he helped tie a heavy rock to her body before it was thrown overboard.
What would motivate a husband to murder his wife, and in this particularly horrific manner? Police attributed the crime to “jealousy” and to financial problems allegedly afflicting the couple. Before this crime, they were seen as a power couple who brought youth and dynamism to Bohol politics. She had blazed a trail as the first female pilot of low-cost carrier Air Asia Philippines; he became the second youngest mayor in Bohol’s history when he first won in 2007, and, in his three successive terms, was credited for improvements in Bien Unido’s sanitation, infrastructure and tourism prospects. They wed in 2015 and have a three-year-old son.
But that facade apparently hid serious marital problems. According to a report in this paper, friends of the couple said the souring relationship had reached a point where the mayor was planning to have the marriage annulled “on grounds that her husband committed irregularities during his incumbency as mayor and only used her for his political advancement.” Based on the witnesses’ accounts, the husband’s countermove was to take the most extreme form of revenge on his estranged wife.
Niño Boniel is now under detention, charged with parricide and considered the mastermind of the crime. Four other suspects have been captured and slapped with charges of kidnapping, murder and serious physical injuries. Two others are still at large, according to the police.
It appears the police have their work cut out for them in prosecuting this crime to its just conclusion. Any misstep and it could go the way of other sensational cases of parricide with a political angle, such as that involving Ruben Ecleo Jr., a former representative of Dinagat Island, who was found guilty in 2012 of killing his wife Alona and was sentenced to life in prison. But Ecleo has been a fugitive since a warrant was issued for his arrest in 2011—a continuing black mark on the state of justice in this country.
As divers continue to search for Mayor Boniel’s corpse, authorities must also intensify their search for the other remaining suspects and fortify their case against Niño Boniel et al. It’s a long road ahead to achieving closure and justice for this sad case.
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