|Witness Jesten Aquno|
The witness of the National Bureau of Investigation in the murder case it filed against Pangasinan Gov. Amado Espino Jr. and first district Rep. Jesus "Boying" Celeste for allegedly masterminding the killing of Infanta Mayor Ruperto Martinez “is very credible.” “According to the NBI, very credible po yong witness,” Justice Secretary Leila De Lima said in an interview with ANC.
The case was filed before the Department of Justice. Martinez was shot to death by two motorcycle-riding gunmen in front of his house at Barangay Cato in Infanta last December 15.
Currently detained at the Pangasinan Provincial Jail in Lingayen, the alleged assailants, Ricardo "Kardo" Legarda and Richard Manuel, were supposed bodyguards of Celeste. “Ang trigger men diyan ay nakakulong na at kinasuhan na, hindi alam dati kung sino yong mga mastermind, and this 16 year old provided the answer,” De Lima added. The witness identified as Justin Aquino alleged that respondents planned Martinez's murder with his father, Jaime, in a meeting at a beach resort in Bolinao, Pangasinan, reportedly owned by Celeste.
Celeste denied the accusations while Espino’s camp said that they cannot yet issue any statement in reaction to the accusation until they receive a copy of the complaint. The witness, however, said he heard the governor say “Mayor Martinez should be killed in order to prevent him from implicating us with respect to itim na bato,” supposedly referring to the controversial mining pier project in the province.
In the same meeting, Celeste allegedly introduced a man identified as a certain “Kardo” who was tasked to kill the mayor. He said he saw Celeste meet with Kardo again in the same place on December 14 last year, a day before Martinez was shot dead in his residential compound in Brgy. Cato. “I heard Congressman Celeste telling Kardo to ‘go to Mayor Martinez in Infanta to check if he is already dead or still alive,” the witness recalled in Ilocano.
Last year, Governor Espino was also accused of protecting jueteng operations, allegedly pocketing almost a billion peso in jueteng payola. A plunder case was filed against him by his former ally Bugallon Mayor Ricardo Orduña.
Meanwhile, Liberal Party officials in Pangasinan said in a formal statement that if proven guilty, Espino and Celeste should be jailed and pay for their crimes. “They should be meted out the maximum penalty when found guilty (with the murder of Martinez),” said Oscar Lambino, former vice governor and LP-Pangasinan spokesman (Pangasinan Muna).