Recently, I think it was in February of 2011 thought it might have been in January, a beautiful little girl was found dead and dumped in a garbage dump in Cebu.  Her name is Ellah Joy Pique.  She was abducted while returning from school.

Of course, that should break your heart.  It also adds worry to every thinking parent.   Our children are not safe because there are predators out there waiting for their chance to strike.

philippine police sketch in murder case
Police Sketch of Suspect in Murder Case

Her father stated that it was the only day he didn’t pick her up from school.  I read that he had asked her permission not to pick her up because he needed to do something at that time.  It has always struck me as odd that that was the time a predator snatch her.  Perhaps he had targeted the girl, maybe even spoke to her before.  Seeing his opportunity to strike, he took it.

The police soon had sketches drawn of a couple children said had been talking to her shortly before she disappeared.  That is the only lead that I know of that was made public.  If the police have more leads, I’ve not seen them.

Not long afterwards, Bureau of Immigration officials noticed a man that they thought looked like the man in the picture.  From the pictures I’ve seen, he did resemble the man.  Sketches are rarely spot on accurate.  He was traveling to Hong Kong with his fiancée. The woman didn’t look anything like the woman in the sketches.  At least not to me.

What would you do?  You’re working in law enforcement and you see someone that matches a police sketch about to leave the country?  Let them leave?  Would that be responsible action on the part of the police?

The man was arrested and that is where the first controversy comes to play.  Usually, the police in the Philippines arrest when there is a warrant.  There is at least one exception I know of.  That is called “hot pursuit.”  Basically, it means when the police actually see the crime take place.

A judge in the Philippines expressed strong reservations that the arrest as legal because there was no hot pursuit.  The judge indicated that matter was up to the prosecutor to make a determination on.  That seems odd to me but I don’t know the Philippine justice system very well.  I truly hope, I never have reason to gain first hand knowledge!  Even if you do nothing wrong, you could find yourself in just that situation as this case proves.  Perhaps a judge would consider the issue at trail.

Again though, what are the police going to do?  Allow the man that matches the description leave the country?  Is that what we want?  Is a police sketch enough?  It isn’t very clear to me.

Then things really get murky.  Next the police have children identify the couple as the people that were talking to the girl shortly before she disappeared.  Now if that doesn’t send up red flags, you’re not paying attention.

If the police get a positive ID on a person they usually issue an arrest warrant and that’s how they do it in the USA too.  But, proper procedures have to be taken.  Police don’t hand a single picture over to their witness and say something like, we think this is the suspect.  Is this the man you saw?

What procedures the police in the Philippines use I don’t know.  Criticism sprung up soon over the identifications though. It was related to  children making ID.  From press reports, it seems that children are to be handled by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).  From the press reports I’ve seen, they were not.  The police handled it directly.   For me, I had major doubts about the likelihood the police had the right people.

I don’t see a defense for this on the police’s part.  I don’t know why they wouldn’t have taken that necessary precaution.  Do the courts in the Philippines allow the police to circumvent procedure?  Things like that in a court in the USA would go very badly for the authorities.  I’m not saying “that’s not how we do it in the USA.”  I mention it as a point of reference.  I do think it is up to the Philippine courts to protect the rights of people living in the Philippines.  I’m sure I don’t need to tell the court that.

couple held for murder in the philippines
The Couple Held For Murder

Then the alibi came to light.  Surveillance video at a hotel in Cebu showed the couple checking in at the time the child was seen talking to a couple that police believe took her.  This appears to have made it impossible for the couple to have been the pair that took her!

Yet the police continued to hold the couple after a solid alibi was established.   Now if the police were holding other information that negated the alibi that would be one thing.  I’ve seen defense lawyers lament that that was their only defense.  Often it is too easy to poke holes through.

It happens in the USA too.  Remember the rape case when lacrosse team members were accused of rape.  One of the accused was shown in a surveillance video at an ATM.   Still, the prosecutor pursued the case and the college boys were eventually exonerated.

I think one should look at human nature.  First, the kids want to be helpful and are easily manipulated.  Did one kid make up the story and the rest followed suit?  If the police interviewed them together that is completely possible.  I don’t know what happened. Did the kids hear their parents talking about how dangerous foreigners could be?  I don’t know but it’s plausible.   Remember the Texas mom that killed her boys then said a black man did it?  Her own personal biases and perhaps racism came into play.

The police want to solve their crime.  The officer who solves the case will get recognized for their good work.  Really, there is nothing wrong with that.  Except it can lead to people trying to make a situation fit the facts of the case.  Worse, it can lead to misconduct.  I’m not saying there was misconduct here.  If there was, I don’t know about it.  I’m speaking of pressure and rewards in solving a case.

Did the police try to suppress the video evidence that could exonerate the couple?  Perhaps, though I’m not prepared to come to that conclusion.  The governor of Cebu felt that she had evidence withheld from her when the police chief failed to disclose that he had video of the couple at the hotel.

I worked in a bureaucracy.  I know that making a mistake that can be undone is certainly not as bad as making a mistake that is permanent.  Letting someone leave the country after they have been identified would be a hard call for someone to make.  Put yourself in that situation, would you want to make it?  I wouldn’t want to but to be honest, I would have made it.  I had to make some really hard choices like that in my days of working as a revenue agent.   You might find it hard to believe but it is not uncommon to find revenue and special agents at the IRS suffering from some degree of post traumatic stress disorder.  I had one mental health worker once ask me “what are they putting in the air out there.”  There is a lot of stress working in a bureaucracy in the USA.  Does that exist here?   The Philippines is certainly a more casual paced life than the USA but inside a police department?  I don’t know.  The police you see in the malls of Cebu don’t seem very relaxed to me.

This case has caused calls for better crime scene investigation in the Philippines.  I think that is certainly valid.  I don’t know what kind of crime scene investigation the police are capable of here.  Always a good idea to improve that.  If it is inadequate, is that the fault of the police or the politicians that provide the funding?  It could be both.  If there is a need for improvement, I hope it will be looked into.

I don’t know how the interviews with the children took place.   Was it done properly or in a mob?  Have trained people  working with children.  They are innocent and may not understand the consequence of their words.  One must be careful not to get them to say what you want to hear.

Was the arrest botched?  It would seem that all procedures were not followed.  However, I don’t think it was unreasonable to prevent that couple from leaving the country.   Once an alibi that strong was established that couple should have been released.

There have been many expats complaining about this case too.  I’ve seen people say things like it is fact that an alibi is not a defense in the Philippines.  An alibi is a defense and that was the bases the prosecution used to release the couple:

Alibi In their 11-page resolution released Monday, the prosecutors, citing the case of People v. Hillado, said: “To establish alibi, the accused must prove by positive, clear and satisfactory evidence that (a) he was present at another place at the time of the perpetration of the crime, and (b) that it was physically impossible for him to be at the scene of the crime.”

I’m unwilling to call the arrest botched.  Even the Norwegian that was held ever expressed that in the reports I saw.  He did hold he should have been released a long time ago.  When the police saw that video, someone should have done the right thing and done it quickly.

How does this case affect your view of the Philippines.   Does it make you more fearful of living in the Philippines?

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