By Dave S. Albarado
The atmosphere was like the dying seconds of a Game 7 where the game is tied.
It was electric. The anticipation was at the fever pitch. It was a moment where you can cut the excitement in the air like a hot knife cutting through butter.
Shockwaves ran through Bohol last night following reports of a dead body which was found floating on the waters between Cebu and Negros provinces.
Like a wildfire, the possibility that the dead body of a lady mayor finally surfaced, caused a maelstrom of comments on social media.
Indeed, social media was noisy last night following reports the discovery of dead body that could be the one.
The excitement brewed on social media as some may have heaved a sigh of relief that finally the dead body of the lady mayor may have been found at last.
However, the news that came almost at midnight doused cold water on the firestorm swirling on social media, after the dead body was identified by the alleged immediate family members from Calatrava town in Negros Occidental.
One post from the BantayDagat from Escalante had more than 80 comments as of press time, saying the body could be that of the lady mayor. Some even have expressed their condolences, believing the body found was of the lady mayor’s
However, upon investigation, it turned out to be a dud.
It wasn’t the lady mayor’s body found after all.
As it is, the search for the body of the lady mayor needs to continue.
THE BODY FOUND IDENTIFIED
The remains were already bloated when found by BantayDagat personnel yesterday. It was floating naked but without a net.
Pictures that surfaced online depict the body inside a net, however, it was learned a net was used by the policemen to drag the body ashore.
Authorities last night identified the body allegedly that of Laurita Casbah, 64, widow, and a farmer.The old woman was reported missing since June 28, 2017.
Reports said the victim was trying to cross a river but got washed off and floated towards the sea.
She was about to cross the river adjacent to her home but left a slipper. She slipped and fell into the water unable to fight the strong current of the river taking her towards the sea.
Police chief of Escalante police station Chief Inspector RolliePoldevilla said the victim’s family members positively identified the body.
The body was of a 64-year-old, while Bien Unido Mayor Gisela Bendong-Bonieljust turned 40 years old last May.
Poldevilla said the body was found by a fisherman off the waters of the coastal village of Maravilla in Tabuelan town in Southern Cebu.
The fisherman had no way of contacting Cebu authorities and decided to call the BantayDagat in Escalante town, the Negros Occidental town facing Tabuelan, Cebu.
The authorities in Escalante towed the body ashore after several hours, the relatives of Cabag lay claim to the body.
Almost everyone expected the dead body could be Mayor Gisela’s. Even the police director for Negros Occidental Sr. Supt. Rodolfo Castil thought the dead body found could be of the lady mayor’s.
While the dead body has been identified, it is possible that the remains of the lady mayor could float somewhere near the waters of Negros and Cebu Islands.
International ship captain Jun Mendez told the Bohol Tribune last night, it is possible for the remains could end up floating and be found by fishermen after the divers already called off the search for now.
He has a theory saying the witness who told the authorities about the location where the body was thrown into may not be accurate.
He said the body could have been thrown off Hilutungan Channel, and not off the waters of Caubian Island where the divers had been searching for Gisela’s dead body for several days.
Being pushed at a rate of 500 meters per hour, the body may have traversed southwards and then northwards through Tanon Strait towards the northern part of Cebu facing north Negros Island, according to Mendez.
Tanon Strait is the body of water that separates Cebu Island and Negros Island.
Hilutungan Channel is a deep water channel that separates Mactan Island and Olango Island.
When asked if it is possible to find the body without the net and stone, Mendez said it is possible the current that pushed the body also caused the net and the stones to slide off.
The human body is too saline for sea creatures to consume, thus explains why the body found was still in near perfect condition, save for the bloating.
Mendez said the body, when thrown into the water, will bloat.
Saltwater is a great preserver. The saline water can preserve the body just like how people use salt to create a delicacy known as “ginamos” or fermented fish.
The salt with the 10 percent chlorine in saltwater can be a great formula to preserve the body, said Mendez.
With the identity of the dead body already known, the search for the missing body resumes.
The frustration creeps in not only among friends and family of Gisela, but also with the entire Boholano public.
The entire nation, perhaps, remains in waiting for any development in the search for the missing body of the lady mayor.
That is, if we assume that indeed the lady mayor was indeed killed allegedly by her husband.
With all the reports coming in, it is easy to get confused with all the banter.
One thing is for sure, this story will be a surefire hit on social media not because the ones involved as public figures, but the selling point is the story behind the incident.
Breakthrough comes as match seen in DNA samples
It seems there is a breakthrough in the case that has shocked the Boholano community.
Reports said the blood sample found in the motorized banca allegedly used by Bohol second district Board Member Niño Rey Boniel matched with the DNA saliva swab taken from the mother of the Bien Unido mayor.
This came as the divers came up dry with their search for the body of the mayor.
As this developed, the Lapu-Lapu City Prosecutor’s Office has found probable cause to file a parricide case against BM Boniel for allegedly killing his wife.
BM Boniel was formally charged with parricide at the Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 54 in Lapu-Lapu City on Friday morning.
The prosecutor’s office filed murder cases against two alleged cohorts of the board member–Wilfredo Hoylar and RestitutoMagoncia–instead of parricide as earlier filed by the authorities.
The panel of prosecutors, composed of Assistant Prosecutors Jude HenritzYcong, ShielamarAbadia and Francis Ian Birondo, simply didn’t buy the claim of the board member that Mayor Gisela was still alive but in hiding to avoid “millions (of pesos) of debts.”
The prosecutors ruled to let the court decide and thresh out the issues. Lapu-Lapu City Prosecutor Ruzo Zaragoza approved the panel’s findings and the case was raffled off to the sala of Judge Victor Teves of RTC branch 54 of Lapu-Lapu City.
In compliance with an earlier directive of the Supreme Court, the cases will be eventually sent to the Cebu City RTC.
The court administrator in 2015 issued a memorandum telling the 12 judges in Cebu City to handle newly-filed cases in Mandaue and Lapu-Lapu City. The move is to speed up the trial and the RTCs in Mandaue and Lapu-Lapu with too much already on their plates.
In a report, Regional Intelligence Division chief Senior Supt. Jonathan Cabal revealed the DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) test conducted came up with a positive result.
“Nag match ang DNA sa blood sample nakuhasa boat and sa mother nimayora,” Cabal said.
At this point in time, however, the report from the Regional Crime Laboratory Office remains unofficial and unconfirmed as further results are set to arrive from Camp Crame next week.
Earlier, police took swab samples from Gisela Bendong-Boniel’s mother and siblings. The idea is to find whether the DNA samples taken from family members would match with the DNA blood samples taken from the banca allegedly used by the suspects.
It was reported aseacraft was allegedly used by BM Boniel and his cohorts and sailed off the waters of Caubian Island.
From there, according to police accounts, the body of the lady mayor was thrown to the sea which was inside a net. Reports said stones weighing 30 kilos were used to keep the body from floating towards the surface.
MORE CASES COMING
Police Regional Director 7 Chief Supt. NoliTalino said there is a possibility of filing additional charges against BM Boniel pending the completion of the investigation.
One possible case is robbery since the close friend of the mayor, Angela Leyson, alleged some of her personal belongings went missing.
As this developed, the parricide case and other cases filed in Bohol are already moving and have been filed.
BM Boniel pleaded not guilty to charges of kidnapping and serious illegal detention filed at a Bohol court.
The board member was taken to RTC Branch 52 in Talibon on Thursday for an arraignment of the cases.
Assisted with his lawyers, the board member pleaded not guilty to the charges.
The two cases were filed by Angela Leyson and her 17-year-old child after they were allegedly abducted by BM Boniel before the alleged killing of the lady mayor.
The search for the body of the lady mayor has stopped following the recommendation of the head of the search and retrieval team to end the search.
During the last day of the search, seven divers dove twice, including at the canal area between Bien Unido and Caubian Island.
A white blanket was found by the divers during the 15-day search for the body.
“Wala nasayang kay naaynakuhangahabol. Wala lang ta swerteha kay walanatonakita ang lawasperonagpasalamatlang ta ngawalaynahitabosaatongmga divers kay kahibawo man gyod ta ngaunsakalisodugkalawom ang ilanggi-dive,” Sr. Supt. Rommel Cabagnot head of Task Force Boniel said.
Chief Insp. Jacinto Mandal Jr. said the close friend of the mayor, Leyson, confirmed the blanket retrieved from the sea by divers was the same one used at the Dive Camp resort in Bien Unido town. She, together with her child and Gisela,was told to stay in the resort where they were allegedly abducted before the mayor was allegedly killed.
“We are very happy. Na-estorya man namo ang usasamga amiga ni mayor. Nag-estoryasiyanga ang katongna-recover nga blanket was positively identified ngamaogyod to ang blanket ngagikansa dive camp,” Mandal was quoted by Cebu-based media.
However, Taliñosaid the search will be re-organized and will resume shortly.
The search will be limited to the periphery only since the search site is too deep.
Taliño said the area is second deepest part of the Philippine waters, second only to Surigao.
Divers may only dive to a depth of 300 feet, as any deeper may prove to be a huge challenge.
The regional police chief said the authorities are literally going to the bottom of the case and not giving up on the search for the body.
Fishermen who may spot a floating body are urged to report to the nearest police station any unusual floatsam or jetsam they might spot on the water near Caubian Island.
The Bohol Tribune asked Talino’s reaction about the insinuation of the defense that the lady mayor is still alive and in hiding.
“Patunayannilanabuhay,” the regional police chief said.
Taliñofurther said the police have enough evidence to prove the lady mayor is already dead contrary to the claim of the defense legal team.
The reaction comes after the board member included in the counter-affidavit the allegations that his wife is not dead but in hiding.
The regional police chief remains confident that the authorities have an air-tight case against the board member.
Witnesses remain committed and decided to testify against the alleged perpetrator of the crime that shocked the Boholano community as an emerging power political couple have been involved in a controversial case.
At this point, the legal team of the board member is now preparing for trial, reports said.
“We are also preparing not anymore on whether makit-an ba or diliba. We are now one step ahead because we are preparing full time for the trial itself. We do not expect that these cases will be dismissed in the prosecution level,” defense counsel lawyer InocencioDelaCerna said.
An official statement from DelaCerna’s client reads:
“As the PNP has declared that it will officially end the search re the whereabouts of Mayor Gisela Boniel, the Board Member and the other respondents have mixed feelings of frustration and distress. On one hand, the Board Member is most concerned if indeed his wife will ever be found.”
One of the members of the board member’s legal team, lawyer Gerardo Carillo, said the so-called testimonial evidence presented by the police against the board member is not enough to establish guilt beyond reasonable doubt.
“First, walaynakit-an ngalawas… walayarmasnakuha… ikatulo, negatibosa powder burns,” Carillo said.
The defense does not carry the burden of proof to prove the lady mayor is still alive, said Carillo.
Aside from that, the lawyer pointed out the statement of the alleged cohorts who have turned as state witness, are inconsistent.
“Mao ni ang problema kung mu-rely ka satestimonya… if the police relies so much on testimonial evidence. What if inigabotsahukmananmausab? Then their evidence will fall apart. Is that what we call strong evidence?” Carillo said.
The board member and his alleged cohorts face at least three criminal cases filed in Cebu and in Bohol.
The parricide case was filed in Lapu-Lapu City since it was alleged the board member killed his wife and dumped the body off the territorial waters of the city.
The kidnapping charges were filed in Bohol because it is where the plaintiffs were allegedly abducted.
BM Boniel’s cousin Reolito and the driver Randel Lupas were earlier charged for murder after the two decided to forego the conduct of a preliminary investigation and confessed about their participation in the crime. The two were being eyed to be state witnesses by authorities.
Reports said Supt EhdelGenese Pereira, the legal representative of the Police Regional Office 7, said the case against the board member is strong.
Several pieces of evidence will be presented against the board member during trial, said Pereira. He also said the case does not rely heavily on testimonial evidence.
When asked whether there is a move to ask Judge MarivicDaray to inhibit, Taliño said he is still awaiting the recommendation of the legal team.
There have been reports that there is a move to ask Daray to inhibit from the case involving the board member.
Taliño said he will act accordingly to the issue once the legal team comes up with recommendations.
At the same time, Taliño assured the Boholano public that the police remain committed in providing justice to the slain lady mayor, who was an international pilot for AirAsia.