Ombudsman suspends cop for accosting civilian

Police Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan and Captain Charlie Sustento in a press conference Thursday at the Iloilo Police Provincial Office in Sta. Barbara, Iloilo. (Screengrab courtesy of Radyo Bandera video)

By Jennifer P. Rendon

A case that stemmed from a complaint over an incident that happened several days before the May 2019 elections led to the suspension of a member of the Iloilo Police Provincial Office (IPPO).

Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Pinuela, currently the spokesperson of the Special Investigation Team (SIT) Diergos, was “found guilty of conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service.”

The dispositive portion of the decision rendered by the Ombudsman – Military and Other Law Enforcement Offices (MOLEO) reads, “There being is a mitigating circumstance of numerous awards for exemplary work and no aggravating circumstances, he is meted the penalty of suspension from the service for six months and one day without pay.”

The decision dated August 23, 2021 was penned by Stephanie B. Tabladillo-Yanson, Graft Investigation and Prosecution Officer of Ombudsman MOLEO, which exercises jurisdiction over members of the military and other law enforcement offices.

Pinuela, however, was exonerated from charges of grave coercion and violation of Republic Act 10591 (Comprehensive Firearms and Ammunition Regulation Act).

Pinuela called for a press conference at the IPPO headquarters at Camp Sumagaysay, Sta. Barbara, Iloilo on Thursday, January 20, a day after he reportedly received the order.

During the press conference, he claimed that he was also indicted for the criminal case of grave threat.

He also answered questions surrounding the charges filed by Jeffrey Mar Labestre Agub, a personnel who works for the Biron Foundation of former Iloilo 4th district congressman Ferjenel Biron.

The incident happened May 9, 2019 in front of the Biron Foundation office located on JT Bretaña Street, Barangay Ilaya Poblacion, Barotac Nuevo.


Agub filed charges against Pinuela for conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service, grave abuse of authority, and grave misconduct over an incident that happened 6:30 p.m. of May 9, 2019.

Agub claimed that Pinuela “intimidated him and harassed him in front of the Biron Foundation located on JT Bretana Street, Barangay Ilaya Poblacion, Barotac Nuevo.”

He narrated that Pinuela alighted from a blue Ford Ranger pick-up truck and went straight to him with a gun in his hand.

Agub added that Pinuela attempted to frisk him despite the absence of a warrant but he resisted.

“In a loud, threatening and intimidating manner, respondent shouted and demanded that complainant show the contents of his sling bag,” according to the entry of the Ombudsman decision.

But Agub told Pinuela that the bag only contained a towel and a T-shirt.

He later claimed that the cop grabbed the bag and insisted on opening it himself.

“Complainant pulled his bag back and while being hesitant and fearful, opened it and showed its contents to respondent. Thereafter, respondent, pointed his gun at complainant and ordered the latter to roll up his shirt. Out of fear, the complainant complied.”

Since Pinuela was not in police uniform, Agub asked for his identification card. The latter refused, boarded his vehicle, and drove away.

Job Ducoy Matutina, Jr. and Bienvinido Gunay Jasa Jr., guards on duty at the Biron Foundation, stood as witnesses for Agub.

Matutina said he saw Pinuela alight from his vehicle with a gun and frisked Agub.

Matutina also claimed to have heard Pinuela shouting at the complainant in “a loud, threatening and intimidating manner.”  He claimed to have seen Pinuela aiming a gun at Agub and the latter pulling up his shirt.

He also heard Agub asking for the respondent’s ID card but he did not see Pinuela presenting any.

Pinuela later boarded a blue Ford Ranger pick-up truck.

Jasa claimed to have witnessed Pinuela harassing the complainant which prompted him to go inside the building and report the incident.

When he returned outside, Pinuela already left.


In his defense, Pinuela claimed that he was designated as the acting chief of the PIB, IPPO, on top of being the team leader of the Anti-Vote Buying Task Force for the 4th and 5th districts of Iloilo for the 2019 national and local elections.

Given his work, he travelled around the province to conduct intelligence operations and coordinate activities and movement of intelligence personnel and confidential informants in various municipalities of Iloilo.

Prior to the May 13, 2019 national and local elections, Pinuela claimed that his office received information about the presence of armed groups, vote buying activities, and other violations of the Omnibus Election Code.

Pinuela claimed that in the morning of May 9, 2019, he and his wife visited their farm in Barangay dela Paz, Banate, Iloilo.

On their way home to Iloilo City in the afternoon of the said day, they passed by JT Bretaña Street and saw a person, whom he later identified as Agub, moving around in front of the Biron Foundation and accounting the people passing through and going in and out of the place.

Agub was in civilian clothes and was carrying a sling bag.

Suspicious, Pinuela said he stopped, approached complainant, and queried him about his presence and the contents of his sling bag.

But Pinuela said Agub panicked and hesitated.

He frisked Agub for any weapon and told him to open his bag, to which he voluntarily complied. After realizing that complainant was unarmed, Pinuela returned to his vehicle and left.

He also denied pointing his gun at the complainant but admitted that his service firearm was tucked in his waist at that time. As an intelligence officer, he was then covered by the Commission on Elections gun ban exemption.

Pinuela claimed that the complaint was a harassment suit perpetrated by Biron’s group because on May 10, 2019, the intelligence operatives under his command arrested three persons within the vicinity of the Biron Foundation for allegedly selling their votes and possessing cash and sample ballots.

To support his defense, Pinuela presented the resolution of the Iloilo Prosecutors Office finding probable cause to indict the three for violation of Batas Pambansa Bilang 881 (Omnibus Election Code of the Philippines).

He also submitted the judicial affidavit of his wife, Police Chief Master Sgt. Kim Bañas-Pinuela asserting that Job Ducay Matuto Jr. and Bienvenido Guay Jaza Jr. are not holders of a License to Exercise Security Profession (LESP) based on a National Police Commission (NAPOLCOM) certification.


Weighing the evidence presented, the Ombudsman said it “finds substantial evidence to impose disciplinary sanction against respondent (Pinuela).”

The decision was first anchored on the concept of “suspiciousness” as being present in the given situation.

The Ombudsman said that it might be undoubtedly based on the experience of the police officer.

“Experienced police officers have personal experience dealing with criminal and criminal behaviors. Hence, they should have the ability to discern – based on fact that they themselves observe – whether an individual is acting in a suspicious manner.”

Further, “a basic criterion would be the police officer, with his or her personal knowledge, must observe the facts leading to the suspicion of an illicit act.”

But the Ombudsman also pointed out that “the Supreme Court further posits that to sustain the validity of a stop and frisk search, the arresting officer should have personally observed two or more suspicious circumstances, the totality of which would then create a reasonable inference of criminal activity to compel the arresting officer to investigate further.”

“Given the foregoing parameters of a ‘stop and frisk’ search, respondent failed to adduce convincing evidence to prove that he personally observed two or more suspicious circumstances that would justify the warrantless search on complainant.”

On Pinuela’s claim that he got suspicious of the complainant who was then carrying a sling bag while the latter was roaming around the Biron Foundation and accounting people going in and out of the building, the Ombudsman said that “in the normal course of things, any person can be seen moving around a building and making an accounting of people innocently and without committing any illicit act.”

As such, what happened could be an intrusion of person’s right to privacy if such mere suspicion is accepted as reasonable.

As to the suspicion that Agub was engaged in vote buying, the Ombudsman noted that “the Memoranda on alleged vote buying activities did not at all identify Agub to be engaged in said activities, in contrast to the Manibog case where the accused was positively identified to be carrying a gun through a very specific and reliable tip.”

The Ombudsman added that the evidence on record are clear and convincing to sustain Agub’s narration of the incident.

The “complainant’s positive account of what transpired between him and respondent, and the corroborating statement of witnesses should be given credence vis-a-vis the email and alibi of respondent.”

Despite Pinuela’s denial, the Ombudsman stated that “the act of pointing a gun clearly encounters a threat to kill or to inflict serious physical injury or his person. Actions speak louder than words.”

“As regard to the certification that a certain Job Ducay Matuto Jr. And Bienvenido Gray Jaza Jr are not holders of LESP, it should be noted that these persons cannot be positively identified as witnesses Matutina and Jasa themselves. Said persons are different from the witnesses.”

Given the foregoing, a finding of substantial evidence for Conduct Prejudicial to the Best Interest is meritorious, the Ombudsman added.

In his press conference, Pinuela lamented the fact that the Ombudsman believed on the allegations made by Agub and his two witnesses that he poked a gun at the complainant.

“On my counter affidavit, I denied all of these,” he said in vernacular. “Never ko naga-panaya. Naga tiro ako. Naga join ako sa shooting competition. Never point your gun to a thing you don’t intend to shoot.”

At that time, Pinuela was the acting chief of the IPPO Provincial Intelligence Branch and concurrent team leader of the Anti-Vote Buying Task Force for the 4th and 5th district of Iloilo.

“It was reported that there were armed group who was allegedly into vote buying in the area of Barotac Nuevo. As a policeman, it’s my obligation to ensure the safety and credibility of the election at that time,” he said.

Pinuela said he had several questions about the Ombudsman order that he could not fathom.

“Kung pulis ka gali nga wala pinili-an mag-implementar sang laye, bisan pa dako nga pulitiko ang involved, i-suspende ka sang ahensya nga tani kaupod sang PNP sa pagtapna sang korapsyon, katontohan sa tyempo sang eleksyon?” he said.

Second, he pointed out that despite the services he rendered, it led to his suspension and, probably imprisonment.

“Ikatlo, taga Iloilo ako. Sa Iloilo natabo ang naalegar nga krimen. May ara man kita Ombudsman Visayas, ngaa sa Ombudsman Luzon gin file ang kaso? Para mabudlayan gid kita?” he quipped.

But in the decision, it appeared that Ombudsman MOLEO heard the case.

He then questioned the case filed by another policeman before the Ombudsman which has yet to be resolved until now.

Pinuela also noted that the same Ombudsman, “Ombudsman Luzon,” also handed the suspension of re-instated Police Captain Charlie Sustento.

“In my counter-affidavit, I mentioned that these are all harassment cases nga ginhimo sang kampo sang mga Biron sa akon,” he said.

Pinuela said his legal team is now preparing a motion for reconsideration.

But he pointed out that he would still be looking after the Claire Diergos killing, which has already been filed before the Iloilo Provincial Prosecutors Office.

Amid the legal battle he is facing, Pinuela claimed that it was prayer that keeps him stronger.

When asked who was behind the case, he cited that it was former Congressman Biron since Agub was his employee.

Pinuela said what happened affected his morale and might cause discouragement among other policemen.

“Basi indi lang ako ang nagaka low morale – bug-os nga hanay sang kapulisan. Personally, I don’t think it’s justifiable,” he said stressing that he did no wrong.

“I’ll be a hypocrite if I would say that I am not affected or my family. Yet we will fight. The fight is not over,” he added.