>CEBU CITY – Norwegian national Sven Erik Berger and fiancée Karen Esdrelon on Monday asked the Office of the Cebu Provincial Prosecutor to dismiss outright the special complex crime of kidnapping with homicide charges the police filed against them.
The couple said it was “impossible” for them to kidnap Ellah Joy Pique in the afternoon of Feb. 8 in Calajo-an, Minglanilla, because their “movement was only confined” at the Norwegian School and the Waterfront Hotel in Cebu City when the alleged crime was committed.
Accompanied by their lawyers, Salvador Solima and Glen Villariza, the couple went to the Provincial Prosecutor’s Office Monday afternoon to swear to their affidavit.
Rep. Eduardo Gullas (Cebu, first district) on Monday urged schools, resorts and communities to be watchful against criminals who victimize children.
“No effort should be spared in safeguarding our children,” said Gullas, whose jurisdiction includes Minglanilla.
He said barangay tanods, school officials, as well as hotel and resort personnel should accost persons who accompany a child or children who are not their relatives.
Calajo-an barangay captain Samuel Sedano said his village has an active council for the protection of children, but he admitted that lack of funds hampers the body’s efforts to create programs that promote children’s welfare.
Solima, in an interview after the submission of his clients’ counter-affidavit, said the Provincial Prosecutor’s Office should dismiss outright the charges lodged against Berger and Esdrelon.
Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia, as head of an inter-agency task force against crime, submitted to the prosecutor’s office yesterday the National Bureau of Investigation’s (NBI) findings on Berger and Esdrelon’s whereabouts.
The NBI got photos, captured by security cameras, showing the couple at the Waterfront Cebu City Hotel and Casino past 4 p.m. on Feb. 8.
“The pronouncement of the governor confirms that there is no case. That confirms the innocence of the respondents. The Office of the Provincial Prosecutor should immediately act to dismiss the case and order the release of the respondents. They (couple) should be released now,” Solima told reporters.
In their counter-affidavit, Berger and Esdrelon outlined their itinerary from Feb. 7—the day of the Norwegian’s arrival at the Mactan Cebu International Airport—until the afternoon of Feb. 9, when they reportedly went to Esdrelon’s house in Tuburan, Cebu.
They attached in their affidavit certifications from the Norwegian School and the Waterfront Hotel in Cebu City.
“There is no way that we could be in Calajo-an, Minglanilla, Cebu at 4 p.m., the time six-year-old Ellah Joy Pique was kidnapped and later murdered,” the couple’s affidavit read.
The couple also expressed their gratitude to Governor Garcia for directing the NBI to investigate the case.
They also said they have forgiven CPPO Director Erson Digal.
But Renante Pique, the victim’s father, said in a separate interview that he is still convinced the couple is the culprit.
Renante went to the Provincial Prosecutor’s Office Monday morning to get a copy of his family’s complaint. He said they hired lawyer Darryl Amante as a private prosecutor.
While the case remains unresolved, officials of the barangay and the Calajo-an Elementary School will sign a memorandum of agreement in connection with the deployment of tanods in the school.
As stated in the agreement, the school will give P1,000 as monthly honorarium for the tanods, on top of the P700 they receive each month from the barangay. Six tanods will take turns guarding the school, from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. on weekdays.
The barangay has 14 tanods at present, but they’re planning to hire more to reach the ratio of 20 tanods per barangay, as prescribed in the law.
Gullas said the killing of Ellah Joy underscores the need for stronger defensive actions against possible attacks on children.
“We actually have very powerful laws protecting our children against prostitution, sexual exploitation and abuse,” he said.
He cited Republic Act 7610 or the Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act, which states that any person could be held criminally liable for attempted child prostitution, if caught alone with an underage girl or boy who is not related to him or her, in a room or in a motor vehicle.
Gullas said there is also an attempt to commit child prostitution, “when any person is receiving services from a child in a sauna parlor or bath, massage clinic, health club and other similar establishments.”
He said the penalty for “attempt to commit child prostitution” is lower by two degrees than that prescribed penalty for the consummated felony, which is 14 years, eight months and one day to life in prison.
Meanwhile, Presidential Decree 603 or the The Child and Youth Welfare Code of 1974, mandates the creation of a council for the protection of children in every barangay.
But Sedano said the Barangay Council for the Protection of Children (BCPC) in Calajoan is “weak,” mainly because of lack of funds.
He said BCPC members sometimes have to use their money to pursue cases of abuse against children.
Sedano, who attended the burial of Ellah Joy last Sunday, assured the Pique family of the barangay’s support.
Although the barangay may not be able to offer financial aid, the officials are willing to extend assistance to the family using their money.
He refused to comment about the case of Esdrelon and Berger, but said they will cooperate with the police by sharing with them whatever information they will get related to the death of Ellah Joy. (GMD/GC/RSB