September 7, 2018

The Assassination of the Rosario, Batangas Chief of Police in 1954

The Municipal Hall of Rosario, Batangas.  Image source;  Google Earth Street View.
The Municipal Hall of Rosario, Batangas.  Image source;  Google Earth Street View.
[In this article: Rosario Batangas, Gaudencio Manigbas, Captain Esteban de Guzman, Court of First Instance Batangas, Marcial Macalintal, Tomas Carandang, death penalty Philippines, reclusion perpetua, Supreme Court decisions Batangas]
In the afternoon of 9 July 1954, one Gaudencio Manigbas1 gathered men in the house of a Catalino Ramos in barrio Macalamcam in Rosario, Batangas, to plot the assassination of the town’s then-Chief of Police Captain Esteban de Guzman. At the time, Manigbas was a “confidential agent” – i.e. informant or spy – assisting the Philippine Constabulary (PC) in its campaign against the Hukbalahap2. Manigbas was also a former Chief of Police of Rosario appointed to the position in September 1951 but was replaced in a quo warranto3 case just four months later by the town mayor4.

Manigbas and de Guzman were affiliated with “irreconcilable political factions,” the former with one Isaac Farol, said to be the leader of an organized gang of kidnappers; and the latter with one “Arias,” already deceased5 [See notes and references.]. Manigbas laid the blame on the arrest and conviction of Farol, whom he called “boss,” on the Chief of Police.

The assassination occurred in the evening of the same day. Details of exactly what happened, we take from a decision of the Supreme Court en banc:
“ It appears that in the evening of July 9, 1954, as Esteban de Guzman, the Chief of Police of Rosario, Batangas, accompanied by policeman Cayetano Ilagan passed in front of the southern gate of the town market on their way home, they were suddenly fired upon by certain persons hidden behind the concrete posts of the gate. Esteban de Guzman was hit in the heart and lungs and fell dead on the spot. Cayetano Ilagan, who was hit on the left thigh, fell on his haunches, but he was able to fire back at their ambushers with his carbine. After the firing had ceased and the attackers had fled, Ilagan was met by a town councilor to whom he related that he and the chief of police had been ambushed. Together with the town mayor and some constabulary soldiers, whom they informed about the ambush, they went back to the scene of the shooting and there found the prostrate body of the chief of police. From behind the concrete posts of the gate, where the shots came from, they found empty shells and live ammunition for Garand and carbine rifles.”
Although the assassination order was given by Manigbas, the actual ambush was carried out by a group of his men under the leadership of one Marcial Macalintal. The latter had earlier volunteered to be one of the “trigger men” along with one Lope de Torres and one Amado Ramos. The assassination accomplished, the ambush group returned to a school building in nearby Padre Garcia to report to Manigbas.

The following day, as though nothing happened, Manigbas and his men went to the compound of the Philippine Constabulary in Rosario “to make a report.” The reader will recall that Manigbas was also a PC informant. Instead of being allowed to report, they were disarmed by the PC and their ammunitions taken.

One Tomas Carandang, a member of Manigbas’ group, was detained by the PC for investigation “in connection with a kidnapping case and also for the killing of Esteban de Guzman.” Carandang would admit to having participated in the assassination of the Chief of Police and likewise implicate the other members of his group. Why Carandang was singled out for detention and investigation, the source documents failed to explain.

However, because of his revelations, he would act as state witness and the other members of his group – including Manigbas – would be rounded up, investigated, and later charged for the murder of de Guzman and also for the assault and wounding of the Chief of Police’s companion Ilagan. The two cases would be jointly tried by the Court of First Instance of Batangas.

Aside from Manigbas, also charged were Macalintal, de Torres, Ramos and Iluminado Landicho, Isabelo Egar, Alejandro Zuño, Ben Mercado, Melecio Sison, Eugenio Mendoza alias Eugenio Hernandez, Eliseo Carandang, Catalino Ramos, Modesto Leviste and Miguel Almario. Carandang was, of course, also charged, until the court agreed to drop the charges in exchange to his being a witness for the prosecution.

At the end of the trial, charges against Catalino Ramos, Leviste and Almario were “dismissed by the trial court for failure of the prosecution to prove a prima facie case against them.” All others were found guilty:
“ At the conclusion of the trial, the lower court found all the other accused guilty as charged in Criminal Case No. 767 and sentenced them to suffer the penalty of death, to indemnify the heirs of the deceased Esteban de Guzman in the sum of ₱6,000.00 and to pay costs proportionately. In Criminal Case No. 768, they were also found guilty, but only an attempted murder, and sentenced to an indeterminate penalty of 4 years and 2 months of prision correccional6 to 10 years of prision mayor7, with the accessory penalties prescribed by law, to indemnify the offended party, Cayetano Ilagan, in the sum of ₱200.10 and to pay costs proportionately.”
Some of the accused filed motions for a retrial on “alleged newly discovered evidence,” but when the trial court rejected these motions, an appeal was filed at the Supreme Court. Not that the highest court of the land would see reason to judge differently. In its September 1960 decision, the Supreme Court wrote, “After going over the records, we find no reason for disturbing this [the decision of the Court of First Instance] verdict.”

It did, however, saw reason to lower the penalty of death to reclusion perpetua or life imprisonment. This was explained in its decision, “there is, however, no sufficient vote for meting out the penalty of death for the complex crime of murder with direct assault in Criminal Case No. 767, so that the same must be reduced to the penalty of reclusion perpetua.”

This was apparently a celebrated case which was something of a “provincial sensation.” According to the one Rosario, Batangas-themed web site, all the accused would eventually be pardoned. This writer, however, is unable to find any documents over the Internet that would corroborate this. For readers who wish to know more about the details of this legal case, please click on the first link provided in the citation section below.

Notes and references:
1 Most of the details of this article are taken from the Supreme Court decision “The People of the Philippines v Gaudencio Manigbas, et. al. 1960,” online at The LawPhil Project.
2 For the benefit of younger readers, the Hukbalahap was World War II guerilla group in the Philippines which became a communist insurgency group post-war. “Hukbalahap,” Wikipedia.
3 Quo warranto is “an extraordinary remedy by which a prosecuting attorney, who represents the public at large, challenges someone who has usurped a public office or someone who, through abuse or neglect, has forfeited an office to which s/he was entitled.” ‘Quo Warranto,’ online at The Free Legal Dictionary.
4 The town mayor mentioned was Jose E. Agoncillo according to “ Rosario of Batangas 1951-1989: Chapter VII Under The Third Philippine Republic,” online at Rosario, Batangas Information.
5 That “Arias” was likely mayor-elect Angel Arias, gunned down in December 1951 before he could assume office. Rosario, Batangas Information, ibid.
6 “Prision correccional,” according to the Revised Penal Code of the Philippines, is imprisonment “from six months and one day to six years.” “Revised Penal Code of the Philippines,” online at the Chan Robles Virtual Law Library.
7 “Prision mayor” is the “temporary absolute disqualification and that of perpetual special disqualification from the right of suffrage which the offender shall suffer although pardoned as to the principal penalty, unless the same shall have been expressly remitted in the pardon.” Revised Penal Code of the Philippines, ibid.

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