Manila police have more questions on milk tea deaths

Manila police have more questions on milk tea deaths
The Manila Police District will ask the Department of Justice to look into the tea poisoning case, after the city prosecutor’s office dropped charges against the lone suspect.

The Manila Police District (MPD) will ask the Department of Justice (DOJ) to take another look at the April 9 milk tea poisoning incident that left two people dead, after the city prosecutor's office dismissed the charges against the lone suspect, the tea shop owner's son Lloyd Abrigo.

Supt. Dennis Wagas, chief of the MPD's legal department, said they would file a petition for review in the DOJ to find out why the assistant prosecutor who handled the case, Dennis Aguila, "never tackled" the death of Abrigo's father William, one of the two fatalities.

"The father also died, didn't he? Why was that part ignored?" Wagas said in an interview on Friday.

In his nine-page resolution, Aguila cited insufficiency of evidence in dismissing the murder and frustrated murder charges filed by the MPD against the younger Abrigo.

The resolution was recommended for approval by Deputy City Prosecutor Antonio Rebagay, and approved by Senior Deputy City Prosecutor Eufrosino Sulla.

According to Aguila, he "limited" the discussion to the cases of shop customers Suzaine Dagohoy, who also died of poisoning, and her boyfriend Arnold Aydalla, who was hospitalised for several days, because "the heirs of William Abrigo have categorically stated they did not intend to join in the present complaint."

William Abrigo, owner of the ErgoCha milk tea shop in Blumentritt, Manila, prepared the beverage served to the couple on the morning of April 9. After the customers complained of the taste, he took a sip from the same glass and fell ill within minutes. He died hours later in the hospital.

More questions

Tests conducted by the police later showed that the victims ingested oxalic acid, a poisonous, colorless substance commonly used as a cleaning or bleaching agent.

Wagas said MPD wanted answers to three more questions:

First, why were the policemen "removed" as party to the case?

Second, why didn't the prosecutor give weight to a closed-circuit television (CCTV) footage that showed Abrigo going back to the shop, after seeing his father still alive at the hospital, to wash the pitcher used in preparing the contaminated drink?

Third, why did Aguila choose to listen to Lloyd's "alibi" that he went back to the store to secure it, while his father was fighting for his life in the hospital?

The MPD built its case against Lloyd on the statements made by a shop helper, who said the suspect came to ErgoCha the night before the incident and mixed a "foul-smelling" concoction.

"We are saddened by the resolution because it closed its eyes on what the CCTV showed," Wagas told the Inquirer. "The CCTV speaks for itself. The footage would show you what happened the night before and what happened after the poisoning."

Parens patriae

The petition for review will invoke the doctrine of parens patriae, which allows law enforcers or government authorities to stand as the main complainant in any criminal case, the MPD legal chief explained.

"Even if the family did not want to file a complaint against the son, we, as law enforcers, could pursue the case,'' he said. "But the MPD was set aside. In fact, we were never informed that the case has been dismissed. Why?"

Inquirer called and sent text messages to Lloyd Abrigo's lawyer Benedicto Buenaventura and Dagohoy's brother Federic for comment, but there was no response as of press time.

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