Philippine Daily Inquirer, By Vincent Cabreza Inquirer Northern Luzon With a report from Leoncio Balbin Jr., contributor
BAGUIO CITY—A congressional candidate for the lone district of Abra province and his father are facing a complaint for murders that took place more than 10 years ago.
Mayor Joseph Sto. Niño Bernos, of La Paz town, who is running for Abra representative, and his father, Danglas Vice Mayor Andres Bernos, were accused of ordering the murders of Joel Afos in 2002, La Paz vice mayoral candidate Ruben Afos in 2004, and William Sagun in 2006, according to a complaint sent to Abra Prosecutor Nestor Tolentino by lawyer Manuel George Jularbal, Ilocos regional director of the National Bureau of Investigation.
The accusations were “clearly political harassment,” Mayor Bernos told the INQUIRER on Thursday.
The NBI Ilocos office filed the complaint on Dec. 21, citing the testimony of a witness who claimed to have seen Mayor Bernos give a gun to his bodyguard. The pistol was supposedly used in one of the three murders that the NBI had been investigating.
The complaint was the second criminal case the NBI filed against Mayor Bernos and Vice Mayor Bernos, a former Abra governor.
The first case filed in 2013 was based on the testimony of Mayor Bernos’ bodyguard, who admitted he killed the three men. But the case was dismissed due to insufficiency of evidence, Jularbal said, adding that the bodyguard’s testimony was not corroborated by other witnesses.
On Dec. 8, Mayor Bernos’ driver surfaced and testified against him, forcing the NBI to file a new complaint against the officials for preliminary investigation.
Mayor Bernos said he and his father were facing “rehashed accusations,” which the prosecutor had already dismissed. “But we will answer these accu- sations,” he added.
On Dec. 28, lawyer Dave Alunan, assistant director of the NBI Ilocos, petitioned the Office of the Regional State Prosecutor to assign new prosecutors to handle the case against the Bernoses.
Alunan said the NBI “could not obtain a fair and impartial resolution” from Tolentino’s office because the case involved influential politicians.
Alunan cited “previous incidents that transpired in the Office of the Provincial Prosecutor [of Abra], involving a politician threatening the lives of the prosecutors assigned [to the province].”
Mayor Bernos and his father belong to an influential political family. A family member, La Paz Mayor Marc Ysrael Bernos, had fallen victim to Abra’s history of political violence.
Marc Ysrael, Mayor Bernos’ brother, was gunned down while he was watching a basketball game in the town plaza on Jan. 13, 2006.
Marc Ysrael’s murder has yet to be solved, unlike the Dec. 16, 2006 assassination of Abra Rep. Luis Bersamin Jr. at the wedding of his niece in Quezon City.
Former Abra Gov. Vicente Valera was convicted for the Bersamin murder by a Quezon City court in September.
The murders of Tineg Mayor Clarence Benwaren, who was shot dead in a church in Laguna province on Nov. 7, 2002, and Tubo Mayor Jose Segundo, who was killed on Dec. 27, 2001, have not yet been solved.
Marc Ysrael’s widow, incumbent Rep. Joy Valera-Bernos, is running for governor in the May 2016 elections.
In 2004, the government withdrew Abra’s police force and installed a special police task force after a government fact-finding team noted that some of the unsolved political murders in the province may have been committed by private armed groups hired by political families.