Batasan bombing witness disappears

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — IKRAM Indama, the alleged Abu Sayyaf member-turned state witness in the November 2007 deadly Batasan Pambansa bombing, broke out of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group headquarters yesterday.

Indama, one of the three suspected ASG bombers arrested in connection with the bomb attack that killed Basilan Rep. Wahab Akbar and three others, was last seen taking a bath by duty officers of the CIDG-National Capital Region Office Sunday night but was nowhere to be found between 5:30 and 6 a.m. yesterday.

CIDG director Chief Supt. Raul L. Castañeda ordered a thorough investigation into the incident which came following the designation of new CIDG-NCRO chief Senior Supt. Isagani Nerez.

Nerez replaced Senior Supt. Ericson Velasquez, who is now the head of the CIDG Criminal Investigation and Detection Division.

Castañeda said he will order the investigation of Velasquez under the principle of command responsibility and his officers who were on duty at the time Andama disappeared.

“I think there’s a culpability here of some officers and I have formed a panel to investigate the incident,” he said.

The Department of Justice approved Indama’s inclusion into the Witness Protection Security and Benefit Program in July.

Leo B. Dacera, WPSBP director, said Indama’s “application for admission into the witness protection program has been approved effective July 10 for a period not to exceed 90 days, subject to re-evaluation.”

“The benefits granted are traveling expenses, subsistence allowance and security protection during witness duties only. You shall remain under the custody of the CIDG,” Dacera told Indama.

However, a government witness can leave his custodians any time he or she wants, officials explained.

“He did not escape since he is not in jail or a prisoner. He just left the CIDG headquarters without asking permission from officials and that is dangerous for a witness,” said one official.

CIDG chief of staff Senior Supt. Asher A. Dolina, who led the arrest of Indama and two others, said he can’t speculate on who will benefit from Indama’s disappearance.

He said ex-Basilan congressman Gerry Salapuddin remains a principal suspect in the bomb attack. Indama was a former driver of Sa-lapuddin.

Castaneda appealed to Indama to return to their protective custody. “We’re concerned over his security. We’ll try to convince him to return to our headquarters and if he wants other law enforcement units to protect him, we can consider that,” he said.

With the latest development, CIDG officials said they can recommend his inclusion anew as a principal suspect in the case.

The PNP last year declared the Batasan bombing case “solved but not closed” with the killing of three suspected ASG members in a raid in Payatas, Quezon City, but said they had yet to pinpoint the real mastermind behind the attack.

The CIDG-NCR then headed by Dolina tagged Salapuddin and Anak-Mindanao partylist Rep. Mujib Hataman and his brother as the alleged brains behind the attack but higher courts eventually cleared the Hatamans.