PUERTO PRINCESA CITY - Authorities are eyeing a Japanese criminal syndicate behind the murder of two Japanese nationals in Culion town in Palawan province, after investigators arrested a Japanese citizen last week as the principal suspect behind the hit job.
Supt. Gabriel Lopez, Palawan police chief, told reporters during the presentation of the suspects at the Western Command headquarters on Monday that the murder of Itani Masaru, 59, and Arai Yoshihiro, 24, had "the character of a yakuza killing."
The yakuza is the blanket name used by the general public for Japan's largest organised crime syndicate that dabbles in drugs, protection, loan-sharking, gambling, smuggling, prostitution and real estate rackets.
He said investigators were looking at insurance fraud as a possible motive.
The Coron police, which led the investigation, on Sunday filed multiple murder charges against six people, including the principal suspect, Hiroyuki Nagahama, who was identified by other suspects as the mastermind.
Also charged were five members of a local gang, Commando Brotherhood, based in Puerto Princesa City and led by a certain Sonny "Tatan" Anicete. The others were Reynante Labampa, Jovec Viscaya and two men identified only as Bando and Jhun.
Authorities have placed under custody two persons who admitted to being part of Commando Brotherhood and witnesses to the murder, including the operator of the boat that the victims had used for an island-hopping tour before they were reported missing on Tuesday last week.
Michael Suangco, the boat operator and a member of the Commando Brotherhood, told reporters that Masaru and Yoshihiro were shot and killed on the island of West Galoc in Culion. They were dismembered and thrown into the sea (the bodies were not recovered, contrary to earlier reports) as Suangco's group left for El Nido town in the northern mainland.
"We threw them, piece by piece, into the water," Suangco said in Filipino.
Nagahama, through an interpreter, claimed that he was not involved in the murders.
"That is not true. Do not believe them," his interpreter told reporters.
Palawan Gov. Jose Alvarez told the Inquirer that police found insurance documents among the victims' belongings, indicating that they were covered by multiple death insurance policies.
"They (police) are looking at this as the possible motive," Alvarez said.
Lopez observed that the manner by which the victims were killed had the trademark of a yakuza hit. He said the local government was coordinating with Japanese authorities to deepen the investigation.
Suangco said one of the suspects ordered him, under threat that he would be killed if he did not co-operate, to load the body parts into his boat.
"He (Nagahama) was not satisfied with just killing the victims that he even ordered the boat sunk. We are coordinating with other agencies to establish possible links with the yakuza," Lopez said.
Police described Nagahama as a "frequent traveller" to Palawan who set up restaurants in the tourist towns of El Nido and Coron.