Ben Ulo, the murder of Manuel Monroy - fued between Claro M. Recto and Oscar Castelo

Sunday April 08, 2018 ()

(This is the factual background of G.R. No. L-10774, May 30, 1964, an appeal from the decision of the Court of First Instance of Rizal in its Criminal Case No. 3023, finding appellants Oscar Castelo, Bienvenido Mendoza alias Ben Ulo, Jose de Jesus y Lingat alias Peping, Hipolito Bonifacio y de Guzman alias Pol, Domingo Gonzales y Salvacion alias Doming & Jockey Salvacion, Felix Miray y Gutierrez alias Pile, Pedro Enriquez alias Pedring Pasig alias Busog, and Augusta Melencio alias August, guilty of murder.)

In January 1953, Oscar Castelo, then a Judge of the Court of First Instance of Manila, became Secretary of Justice; and on March 1st of that year, he was designated to act as Secretary of National Defense in addition to his duties in the Justice Department. He held these twin positions until the end of the year 1953.

Claro M. Recto
(Senator Claro M. Rector, far left)

Sometime in April, 1953, Bienvenido Mendoza alias Ben Ulo, a police character and an ex-convict, got acquainted with Secretary Castelo at the Country Club in Baguio through Capt. Alejo, his aide. Both being from Nueva Ecija, the ex-convict apprised the Secretary of his enemies (those he had sent to jail as judge) and this aroused Castelos interest. So he invited Ben Ulo to "help him" and the latter became his trusted bodyguard.

On April 29, 1953, Senator Claro M. Recto aired on the floor of the Senate charges against Castelo for bribery and extortion, allegedly perpetrated when Castelo was still Manila judge. The following month and at the instance of Secretary Castelo, Senator Recto found himself a defendant in a bigamy case in the Court of First Instance of Bulacan. Recto countered with a disbarment charge, and the feud between them gained wide publicity, involving as it did two prominent public officials. Recto's charges were investigated by the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee, with Manuel P. Monroy as Recto's star witness — to the charging or irritation of both Castelo and Ben Ulo who had exerted efforts to prevent him from so testifying. Moreover, Monroy was likely to be again a witness in the disbarment proceedings — instituted by Recto — before the Supreme Court, which rested on the same charge of bribery.

With this background, and not long after Ben Ulo had become the personal bodyguard of Secretary Castelo, one early morning in the latter part of May, 1953, Ben Ulo sent for his "boys" Rogelio Robles and Florentino Suarez alias Scarface. When these arrived at his house at the corner of Perla and Sande streets, Tondo, Ben Ulo told them that Senator Recto and Secretary Castelo were mutually suing each other (nagdedemandahan); and so he wanted his said "boys" to kill Monroy; both agreed. Ben Ulo then told them to wait downstairs. The trio left in Ben Ulo's jeep driven by Felix Miray and headed for Castelo's residence at Sampaloc Avenue, Quezon City, arriving there after eight that same morning. Ben Ulo introduced Robles and Scarface to Secretary Castelo in the balcony or porch of the house saying, "These are my boys." Castelo nodded and smiled. Forthwith, in the presence of and within the hearing of Robles and Scarface, Castelo told Ben Ulo "Kailangan mapatay si Monroy" (Monroy must be killed), to which Ben Ulo nodded in quiet assent. Thereupon, Castelo and Ben Ulo went inside. Five minutes later, Ben Ulo came out and told Robles and Scarface to wait in the yard where Ben Ulo's "other boys" were idling by, namely, Domingo Gonzales, Jose de Jesus, Pedro Enriquez and Salvador Realista, all of whom were confidential agents of the Department of National Defense, appointed by Castelo — at the recommendation of Ben Ulo. Later that same morning, Ben Ulo, Robles and Scarface rode in a P.I. jeep driven by Felix Miray and, together with the "other boys" riding in another jeep, escorted Secretary Castelo to his office at Camp Murphy Castelo and Ben Ulo entered the office while Robles and Scarface remained outside. When Ben Ulo came out, he told Robles to come back on June 1st to get his appointment as special agent of the Department of National Defense.

Came June 1st, Robles and Scarface went back to Camp Murphy where Ben Ulo handed Robles the latter's appointment as confidential agent, signed by Castelo. At eleven o'clock that noon, Castelo went home to Sampaloc Avenue riding in Car No. 6, followed by Ben Ulo, Robles and Scarface in a jeep driven by Miray, and by another jeep occupied by the "other boys" Peping de Jesus, Domingo Gonzales, Salvador Realista and Pedro Enriquez. Once in the house, Castelo and Ben Ulo had a huddle inside, while Robles and Scarface remained at the balcony. Later Ben Ulo came out and sat beside the two. Shortly afterwards, Castelo joined the trio in the balcony and told them, "Gusto kong mapatay si Monroy pagkaalis ko" (I want Monroy killed after my departure), to which Ben Ulo replied in Tagalog "I will take care of it."

On June 8, 1953, Secretary Castelo left for Korea; but before boarding the plane at the airfield, he called his nephew Augusto Melencio (who was also agent of the Defense Department) and Ben Ulo and told them, "Huwag lang hindi ninyo mapatay si Monroy bago ako dumating" (Don't fail to kill Monroy before my return) to which Ben Ulo replied, "Huwag kang mag-alala, halos patay na siya" (Don't you worry, he is as good as dead.)

About two days after Castelo had left, Ben Ulo gathered his "boys" at his house in Tondo and discussed the killing of Monroy. In the evening, the group headed by Ben Ulo, went to Pasay looking for Monroy, but he could not be found. They decided to postpone the killing and agreed to watch Monroy's habitual movements, taking turns in this observation day and night. In the morning of June 13th, Robles and Scarface using Ben Ulo's jeep, went to Pasay and again reconnoitered in the vicinity of Monroy's place, but they did not see him. They reported the negative results to Ben Ulo.

Then in the afternoon of June 15th, about two or three hours before the actual killing, and in furtherance of their conspiracy, Ben Ulo and his "boys" Enriquez, Realista, Miray, Gonzales and Peping de Jesus, gathered again, this time at the Happy Valley in Quezon City, and there finalized their plans. They agreed to use three motor vehicles: two cars and an AC jeep, Ben Ulo enjoining them that should there be any opposition or untoward incident, they should shoot it out. After everything had been set, the group proceeded to Camp Murphy to get car No. 6 and to fetch Caparas. They went to Pasay in two cars, as follows: Ben Ulo, Enriquez, Melencio, Caparas, Felix Tamayo in car No. 6, and Jose de Jesus, Gonzales, Miray and Realista in a Plymouth car bearing plate No. P.I. 1176. On the other hand, and upon previous understanding, Robles, Scarface and Hipolito Bonifacio went in an AC jeep directly from Tondo to Camp Murphy where they were supposed to meet Ben Ulo, but upon finding that he and the "boys" were not there, they proceeded to Pasay and parked their jeep near the corner of Harrison and David streets. It was dark already. Car No. 6 and the Plymouth arrived later. Ben Ulo briefly asked Scarface whether Monroy was there, and the latter answered affirmatively. Ben Ulo then gave hurried instructions to Gonzales, Enriquez, De Jesus Scarface and Realista, after which he, attired in coat and tie, went back to car No. 6 and sped towards Manila.

At least five men in the group were armed: Hipolito Bonifacio had a Thompson sub-machine gun; Robles and Enriquez had a .45 caliber gun each; Scarface had another gun; and Jose de Jesus had a super .38 caliber automatic pistol. In addition, there were spare guns in the cars.

At the time Ben Ulo was giving last-minute instructions to his "boys", Manuel P. Monroy was unconcernedly playing "mahjong" with his wife, Mario Bautista and Donato Baras at the ground floor of No. 18-C Gamboa Apartments occupied by Paula Montes, Monroy's neighbor. These apartments were located inside a compound and consist of twin buildings facing each other, separated by a wide blind alley or "pasillo", the only entrance or exit being from David Street. The Montes apartment was well lighted with fluorescent bulbs and the game could be seen from the door. It was then about 7:30 in the evening.

After Ben Ulo had left and pursuant to his instructions, Scarface, De Jesus, Gonzales, Enriquez and Realista walked along David Street. Scarface who was supposed to be the triggerman, showed some hesitation, so De Jesus entered the pasillo and went towards the apartment where Monroy was playing. De Jesus tarried a while pretending to watch the game from the door, almost blocking the way, in such a manner that when William Clemens, a neighbor, entered to deliver the cigarettes he had bought for one of the players, he had to ask De Jesus to allow him to got in. When Clemens was already inside, De Jesus suddenly fired three successive shots at Monroy who, clutching his belly; exclaimed, "Pinatira ako" (Someone had me shot). Commotion ensued and De Jesus, gun in hand, retraced his steps towards David, thence to Harrison, and then boarded a passing passenger jeep which was heading towards Manila.

Alerted by the shots, Pablo Canlas and Jose Moratalla (a Quezon City policeman off-duty) who were listening to another neighbor strumming a guitar at the entrance of the "pasillo", spotted and tried to chase De Jesus but lost him.

Monroy was taken to the hospital where he soon died, and upon autopsy performed by Dr. Pedro Solis of the NBI the following day, he was found to have received three gunshot wounds, one of which was fatal (Exh. A-3).

Immediately after the shooting, Robles, Scarface and Bonifacio boarded their AC jeep and returned to Tondo, while those in car No. 6 and in the Plymouth No. PI-1176 proceeded to the house of Adelaida Reyes, Castelo's mistress, taking different routes. Meanwhile, gunman De Jesus alighted from the passenger jeep at Taft Avenue near La Salle College, took a taxi, and headed also for Adelaida's place where he found the two cars already there as well as Ben Ulo and the "boys". Later that night, they disbanded and returned to their respective homes.

The Pasay Police soon started its investigation and Chief Antonio C. Amor requested the NBI (National Bureau of Investigation) and the Manila Police to have a conference with him so as to coordinate police work, as it was believed that the culprits were from Manila; and this request was confirmed by him in a letter to Mayor Lacson (Exh. KK).

Castelo returned from Korea on June 26th. On hand to greet him in the airport were Ben Ulo and Melencio, and a picture was taken of the occasion (Exh. RRR). The following morning, Ben Ulo and the "boys" were again at Castelo's house. In a gay mood and fingering his bow tie, Castelo tapped Ben Ulo's shoulder and said, "Mabuti wala na tayong iintindihin ngayon; pero, Ben, natitiyak mo kayang walang nakakita?" (Good, now we have nothing to worry about; but, Ben, can you be sure nobody saw?) Ben retorted, "Wala; malinis na malinis ang trabajo" (Nobody; the job was very neatly done.)

Pursuant to the request of Chief Amor of Panay, the Manila Police made its own investigation, and on June 26th, Scarface and Robles were arrested. At this, Ben Ulo's "boys" became so apprehensive and jittery that he had to calm them down saying, "Hindi ba sinabi ko sa inyo na kaya ng matanda iyan, maski anong asunto. Puede ba tayong iwanan ng matanda (Secretary Castelo) ay kasama siya diyan." (Didn't I tell you already that the old man [Castelo] can take care of any case? Can the old man desert us when he is in it himself?)

Scarface and Robles were later set free, but were under police surveillance.

Some days after, while Ben Ulo and the "boys" were hanging around Castelo's office at Camp Murphy, Ben Ulo told Melencio, "Tila merong masamang nangyari. Babaliktad na si Scarface, pick apen natin. Kailangan makausap ng matanda." (It seems that something went wrong. Scarface is about to turn around. Let's pick him up. Its important that the old man talk to him.)

Consequently, in the evening of July 13th, Scarface found himself in the Shellborne Hotel with Ben Ulo, Miray, Enriquez, Gonzales and De Jesus (Exh. JJJ). Castelo, who had a suite in the fifth floor, was also there and knew that Scarface was with the "boys" in the second floor.

Mayor Arsenio Lacson of Manila likewise knew that both Castelo and Scarface were in the Hotel that night. The Mayor, accompanied by armed policemen, photographers and newspapermen (whom he had alerted earlier in the afternoon promising them that something "big" would be coming) went to the Shellborne Hotel at about eight o'clock that evening and posted himself and his men at the Ambassador Hotel nearby, presumably waiting for some signal for them to rush to the Shellborne Hotel and take pictures of Castelo and Scarface while talking and, if possible, get a tape recording of their conversation (Exhs. 57-A-Castelo to 57-U-Castelo). Informed that Lacson and some thirty "armed hoodlums" were looking for him, Castelo observed from his suite and noticed that really there were armed men around the Shellborne. Alarmed, Castelo directed that some constabulary soldiers be sent to that hotel for his protection. (Remember, he was Secretary of National Defense.) Inasmuch as the constabulary was slow in coming, Castelo directed his confidential assistant to telephone Capt. Alejo, the Secretary's aide at Camp Murphy, to send Army troops. Thirty enlisted men and two officers under Capt. Orestes Montano, "in full combat gear," were dispatched posthaste to the Shellborne Hotel, riding in two weapons carriers, a scout car and a jeep. Capt. Montano found Castelo in his suite "pale and jittery"; thereupon Castelo ordered the Captain to arrest Mayor Lacson, but the Captain failed to meet the latter after looking for him in several places, including the Mayor's house. Meantime, Col. Antonio Sayson, Deputy Chief of the Constabulary (who was also called by Castelo), arrived with twelve men and two officers at ten o'clock that evening. Sayson was likewise ordered by Castelo to arrest Mayor Lacson and to provide security for Scarface in the second floor of the hotel. Col. Sayson went down, saw the Mayor and informed the latter that he was being arrested upon orders of the Secretary. Asked whether the Colonel had a warrant of arrest, Sayson answered in the negative; whereupon Mayor Lacson said that if the Colonel would insist in arresting him, he would have to do it over Lacson's dead body. Sensing that the situation was tense, there being two opposing armed groups standing by, Sayson desisted and reported back to Castelo. Then Generals Vargas and Selga, Cols. Velarde and Cabal arrived. Castelo at last lifted his order, and the incident was closed. Upon suggestion of Capt. Gayares, Scarface was taken to Camp Crame for better security instead of leaving him in the hotel under the Captain's protection (Exhs. BBBB, BBBB-2, BBBB-3, BBBB-4, BBBB-5, BBBB-6, BBBB-7, BBBB-11).

One month after the Shellborne incident, Castelo went to the United States, but before his departure, he told Ben Ulo in the presence of Melencio, "Ben, ang mga bata, ikaw ang bahala sa kanila. Siguruhin mo lang ni walang magsasalita at delikado tayo" (Ben, take care of the boys be sure nobody talks as we would be in danger).

On October 20, 1953, three months after the Shellborne incident, Robles and Scarface were called to Ben Ulo's house where the latter banded a super .38 caliber pistol (Exh. G) and a magazine to Scarface, saying "Iyan daw ang ginamit pagpatay kay Monroy " (That's said to be the one used in killing Monroy). Scarface and Robles left. Ten minutes later, both went to Robles' house and there Scarface wondered where they could hide the gun and the bullets. Scarface then dismantled the gun; the handle and the bullets (Exhs. G-3 to G-2-L; G-3 to G-3-14) were wrapped by Scarface. Both bundles were hidden by them in two places: one was buried in the grounds seven inches deep, under the "papag" bed in the house of Robles' aunt, and the other (Exhs. H-6, H-7, H-8, and H-9) in the house of Robles' sister.

Five days later, Scarface was found dead, with multiple stab wounds. His death still remains a mystery.

It appears that the day after Monroy's murder, Francisco Villa, an agent of the NBI, was assigned to make the corresponding investigation. He contacted Clemens and thru him, ascertained the identity of the killer Peping de Jesus. Having known the latter's connection with Ben Ulo and his "boys", the authorities cautiously proceeded; and having been informed by Floring Cabanatuan that Pile (Felix Miray) was probably the least tough of the gang, they took the latter into custody of the (NBI) on December 18th for questioning. He confessed, and his narration was tape-recorded and later reduced to writing in five pages (Exh. 2). He did not sign it until he obtained the assurance from the NBI that he would be given adequate protection. In this statement, Miray named Ben Ulo, Peping de Jesus, Domingo Gonzales, Robles, Pedro Enriquez, Salvador Realista and a certain Rading as among the conspirators. This revelation resulted in several apprehensions. Enriquez was arrested on December 24, 1953. He confessed, and his statement was tape-recorded and later written and subscribed to, before Atty. Arturo Xavier of the NBI.

Domingo Gonzales was arrested on the 28th, and his narration was likewise tape-recorded, then reduced to writing. During said tape-recording, Miray was listening to it in another room, — unknown to Gonzales — and Miray assured the NBI that what Gonzales had said was all true. In his statement Exh. BB, Gonzales linked Enriquez, De Jesus, Realista, Scarface, Tamayo and Rading to the murder and conspiracy. Gonzales even made corrections with his initials, on pages 2 and 4 of his written statement.

The NBI on December 30th, picked up Ben Ulo; but he denied everything, and refused to make any declaration.

The Manila Police, on its part arrested on December 29, Peping de Jesus who executed statement Exhibit EE describing how he shot Monroy, and the conspiracy with Ben Ulo, Enriquez, Realista, Miray, Gonzales and Melencio in the manner already stated.

Hipolito Bonifacio was likewise taken into custody by the Manila Police; and he also made the confession Exh. DD naming Ben Ulo, De Jesus, Domingo Gonzales, Scarface and Robles.

Rogelio Robles was then apprehended and questioned. He confessed too; and upon his indication, the police recovered the gun parts hidden by him as well as the bullets, which were turned over to the NBI and then to Major Cabe, the ballistics expert of the Armed Forces. The three slugs (Exhs. K, K-1 and K-2) as well as the three empty shells (Exhs. J, J-1 and J-2) found on the night of June 15th by Patrolman Matias Soriano of the Pasay Police on duty at Harrison at the time of the shooting, were likewise turned over to Major Cabe who, upon laboratory tests, concluded that the three slugs came from the three empty shells which, in turn, were fired from that gun (Exh. G).

Miray, Gonzales, Enriquez and Ben Ulo were turned over by the NBI to the Manila Police where, except Ben Ulo, they again made confessions (Exhs. GG, CC and FF).

Augusto Melencio voluntarily surrendered to the police. Then on May 24th and 26th, 1954 (Exhs. JJ and HH-1) while out on bail and when the case was already being heard, he made the revelations later to be quoted herein.

All these statements or confessions relate, with some variations as to minor details, the story of the assassination, the motives thereof and the names of the raiding parties.

The conviction for murder — qualified by premeditation — all the herein accused-appellants was affirmed. There were aggravating circumstances, like nighttime, aid of armed men, etc.; but for lack of sufficient votes, they (including Oscar Castelo) were all sentenced to life-imprisonment and to indemnify the heirs of Monroy, jointly and severally, in the sum of six thousand pesos (P6,000.00), and to pay the costs.

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