Migz has been described as a violent man who suffers from jealousy and who didn’t allow his girlfriend Rachel to visit Diego Bello’s place “La Santa”. Half a year before his death, Migz appeared in “La Santa” and threatened to throw Diego’s body into the mangroves. After becoming governor, Migz was also implicated in the murder of four miners.
Ferran Barber. Diario Público
The relatives of the Galician murdered by the Philippine police on January 8th on the island of Siargao will not be satisfied with requiring the Manila authorities to investigate the individual responsibilities of the direct perpetrators of the crime. They want the Government of Madrid to also pressure the Executive of Rodrigo Duterte to go further and to clarify and punish the politicians and officials who could have instigated the brutal extrajudicial execution of Diego Bello, a surfer from A Coruña who had managed to open in just three years several prosperous businesses in the city of General Luna (Siargao, Philippines). “As stained with blood are the hands of those who pulled the trigger as those who conceived and financed the homicide,” they maintain.
Just over a month ago, a Committee of the Spanish Foreign Affairs Congress unanimously decided to request the Filipinos to promote an impartial investigation into the identity of the criminals. It is not usual that the deputies of all parliamentary groups support the proposition of law (to which no amendments were accepted), but in this case there are clear elements that consolidate the idea that it was a strategy about organizing a heinous crime considered as an act of self-defense.
His execution presents the characteristic stamp of the death squads sponsored by Duterte. The old man’s henchmen have sowed the entire country with corpses with the intention of cleaning it of narcotics and eradicating drug addict people like bacteria. What Diego deserves, at first place, is that doubts about his possible involvement in a cocaine trafficking network should be cleared up and his image as a healthy, honest and athletic young man be restored. Nobody among his Galician’s friends questions that the murder has been tried to be covered up through an opaque screen of lies with the help of a sinister policeman named Vicente Panuelos.
That hypothesis is supported by a devastating report elaborated by a Philippine Human Rights organization. The investigations carried out by the investigators of that independent commission dismantled with testimonies of witnesses, ballistics tests and rigorous forensic data the fiction of the agent or agents who fired six bullets when Diego was about to enter his home in the town of General Luna, after returning from work, while his girlfriend Jinnah was waiting for him with her daughter inside the house.
The victim’s friends are not aware that Foreign Affairs has already begun to pressure the Philippines to identify the perpetrators and instigators of the murder, but they have already improvised their own list of “persons of interest” or, in other words, an inventory of the people who, in their opinion, should be preferentially be investigated. There is an overwhelming amount of data and all of them suggest that the police hitmen who killed the Spaniard did so at the behest of one or more senior Philippine government officials. “Justice will only be done if those gyrfalcons are placed at the center of the investigation that Foreign Affairs is going to request,” say the entrepreneur’s friends, even knowing that demanding justice in the spooky Philippine islands of Duterte is a rhetorical toast to the sun. If a conviction is not achieved, they would be consoled to be exposed to public opinion in their country as the criminals that they allegedly are.
Spoiled and violent
His main “person of interest” is Miguel Luis Reyes Villafuerte, governor of Camarines Sur, better known as Migz. Linking Bello to drug trafficking without providing any proof is, in his family’s opinion, a smokescreen to hide reasons that are far more spurious and perhaps, at the same time, far more absurd and irrational than anyone could interpret at first sight, attending to the Cartesian conception of the world of an European. And among the real reasons with which his friends speculate, there is one that tops the list of his suspicions: Diego’s proven personal enmity with Villafuerte and with his girlfriend, a former Philippine Miss Universe candidate named Rachel Peters . Was Bello the victim of a spoiled and immature, arrogant, impulsive and powerful man and related to a political dynasty very close to the satrap Duterte? Neither Diego’s family nor friends want such an extreme to be ruled out.
It is known, for example, that Migz showed up with his partner and a bodyguard at one in the morning on a day in August 2019 in “La Santa”, one of the businesses that Bello ran in Siargao together with another Spaniard named Arturo, to threaten our compatriots with death. The man from A Coruña was at that time admitted with dengue to a hospital in Manila, so it was Arturo who spoke with Migz.
“You don’t know who I am? You don’t know what I can do. There are three of you, right? Where are the other two? I can shoot you, make you disappear and throw your corpses into the mangrove,” he told to Diego Bello’s partner
The governor of Camarines and his monumental couple allegedly came to complain about the volume of music they said was produced by their business. But was it really just that? The tone was cordial for a second, but immediately acquired an aggressive character that betrayed Villafuerte’s viscerality. “You don’t know who I am? You don’t know what I can do. There are three of you, right? Where are the other two? I can shoot you, make you disappear and throw your corpses into the mangrove,” he told to Diego Bello’s partner, as stated in the report of the Philippine Human Rights Commission. Neither Diego nor Arturo ever reported the death threat to the police, although they reported the facts to the person in charge of the Barangay (neighborhood or district), Ruel Oraliza, who they considered a friend.
To threaten someone with death in such a credible way in the presence of witnesses because of the noise that a club produces would be unheard of in the West. Even more so, if the person making the threats is the governor of an island belonging to a clan of corrupt politicians very close to the president of the Executive. The shadow of previous murders and innumerable corruption and arbitrariness are projected on Villafuerte. Welcome to the Philippines of the murderer Rodrigo Duterte.
Does Migz habitually threaten the owners of noisy places with death? What is what really antagonized the young governor of Camarines Sur with the Galician surfer? “The first thing to know is that, contrary to what several subsequent rumors suggested, Diego never had an affair with Migz Villafuerte’s girlfriend”, says one of the closest friends who lived with the Galician. “That is one hundred percent false,” he adds. “They didn’t even flirt in an innocent way. Never. And I know everything about him. I even had his Facebook passwords. He told me everything and I have gone through what happened a thousand times in my head without understanding it.”
Of course, the fact that Diego Bello —a good-looking surfer, keen business acumen, and undisguised womanizer — had not had an affair with Migz’s girlfriend does not necessarily mean that Migz had no reason to be suspicious or to feed some irrational form of jealousy, racial complexes or raw envy of the success of the Spanish. Another Galician friend for whom Diego had no secrets is aware that the governor of Camarines Sur had explicitly forbidden his girlfriend to visit the Spanish club. The islanders know that Migz is a daddy’s kid, controlling and insecure, despite his abdominal muscles and the power he wields in his Luzon taifa. Nobody is surprised that such a character is the governor of a territory because the entire country is kidnapped by an elite of criminals just as perfidious. His charges are transmitted and exchanged like those of a line of Asian tribal sheiks.
Diego´s friends have a theory. “We are convinced that they had us all lined up, but specially Diego. Imagine that you have just arrived in a small place like that, and in a short time you start two or three businesses and everything is going well for you. As an open person, he had a good relationship with everyone. If you put all those things together, envy can be arousing. Villafuerte’s girlfriend had a business in front of “La Santa” and said that the noise bothered her. What probably irritated Migz was to have three Spaniards triumphing over Rachel’s business. She had come to our club a couple of times for a drink. Rachel lived on the island, but Migz spent most of her time in Camarines Sur, which is several hundred kilometers away. I never spoke directly with him but we had common acquaintances and they told us that he is a pathological jealousy. Who knows what went through his head “.
After the incident of threats, Rachel Peters herself went around collecting signatures from neighbors in the vicinity to protest because of the noise from the Spaniard’s business. It is said that her boyfriend wrote to the president to report that Diego and his friends operated a noisy business without a license that closed late in the morning. It was almost certainly a show-off, unless Duterte has a place on his schedule to get personally involved in the noisy bars of the Pacific shores. It would have been an almost grotesque situation if the Spaniard threatened by Migz had not been murdered half a year later.
From that act of intimidation to the day of the crime there was a long and tense period of silence. Neither the hostel for tourists that Migz owned next to La Santa nor the breakfast place that Rachel ran were direct competition of Diego Bello’s businesses. Nor is it true, in Pedro’s opinion, that his friend was extorted or forced by a mafia or official to pay bribes under penalty of retaliation. Definitely, it does not seem that money played a fundamental role in what happened, beyond the resentment and suspicion that the islanders could feel somehow as the Spaniard was recognized by foreigners. Or to be perceived, not entirely foolishly, that it was the foreigners who were carrying the lion’s share of the cake produced by the waves of the Pacific.
Nails with tourists
Tourism is a recent phenomenon that has created some resentment among the sectors of the population that have not benefited from it, or that believe that the traditional culture of that area is threatened. The excesses committed by some Westerners have also fueled a certain atmosphere of xenophobia. That some Anglo-Saxons used oxen highly esteemed by Filipinos to ride naked drunks from Australia or the UK on their backs has not helped to reconcile the natives with the whites.
To his friends, it is possible that Diego’s expansive and assertive personality did not help to temper the atmosphere of hostility that grew in General Luna, in parallel with the success of the Spaniards. “He didn’t keep quiet at all, you know? And he was always the one who finally showed when it was necessary to negotiate something or fire someone. He was a very noble guy and although he was cautious and respectful, he exuded a kind of personal security that could make him look cooler”.
“We knew that we had aroused envy and we lived in fear before the crime; fear to be deported; fear that they would plant a substance to get us out of the way [which in fact they had already done with a Dutch businessman]. But not murdering us or even less so, without saying a word. It was not something we considered “, recalls his friend Pedro. “Even today I wonder if Migz’s jealousy was reason enough.”
Judging by his immaculate appearance and his somehow impossibly smile, no one would say that the governor of Camarines Sur is, in fact, an aspiring political, the youngest member of a dynasty of bloodthirsty chieftains whose fiefdom is in a province of Luzon. When he acceded to the position that he still holds today, in 2013, he was only 23 years old. Both his grandfather Luis and his father Luis Raimundo had previously served as governors. All of his terms were characterized by corruption and nepotism. Not long since Migz took over the reins of the Camarines Sur Governorate when he withdrawn the power of the police over his island to prevent them from influencing the investigation of the murder of the four miners, killed by a para-police force that had created his own father.
No one in his family paid for those crimes with which Migz took his first steps in the political dunghill of his country, of course that is the usual in the space of impunity that Duterte has created. Nor do journalists in the country tend to meddle much in the rottenness of the system. No one is going to investigate what really happened and if they do, they will not make their findings known for fear of ending up in the gutter as well. Even on the small island of Siargao there are precedents of reporters being removed from the office by a shot on the neck.
What really interested the television programs was to compete to show Migz, the superhot, talking about the beauty of his girlfriend and how delighted he was to have mether or whispering to the camera with an angelic and theatrical smile any stupidity of the style of : “Hello, mommy. Divine!”. Daddy’s kid Migz who usually appears before the cameras had little to do with the arrogant fool who, according to those who know him, treats his official bodyguards like scum and threatens without complexes with murdering those who oppose him.
It is taken for granted that Migz is a pawn of his father and his grandfather; someone with no ideas of his own but with the hereditary power necessary to make death threats he utters terrifyingly plausible.
Migz describes himself as a politician and a model. In not a few of the photos of him, he appears posing with the naked and muscular lathe next to Rachel. His narcissism is from manual. He wastes more time on Instagram than solving palace affairs. It is taken for granted that he is a pawn of his father and his grandfather; someone with no ideas of his own but with the hereditary power necessary to make death threats he utters terrifyingly plausible. That is, to assassinate at his request with total impunity on account of Duterte’s extrajudicial war on drugs that has already claimed, according to unofficial sources, more than 30,000 deaths. Diego Bello was not, on the other hand, the first of the victims of the Siargao police. A judge named Dapa who appeared on a list of 163 officials involved in the drug trafficking was also struck down by the president’s hitmen.
There is another piece of the puzzle of this crime that chills the Galician’s friends: the island over which the youngest of the Villafuerte clan rules, is many kilometers north of Surigao. Migz, in theory, lacks power in the town of General Luna, where Diego’s crime took place. How could he have organized a murder in the district if he lacked direct power and, presumably, any other kind of political influence?
“True is that the real owners of the city where the Spaniard lived was the clan of the Matugas,” says Rebeca Díaz. “So Diego believed himself to be protected in some way by the governor of Siargao. He maintained very cordial relations with the younger members of that family to the point that he seriously considered creating a half-society with one of the cousins of that clan. For some reason that I never knew, that did not materialize. “
Judging by what Pedro says, today it is not entirely clear that the Matugas were so neutral or that Migz was completely excluded from the power circles of Siargao. And even if it had been, he had the endorsement that represents the closeness of his family to Rodrigo Duterte. Sympathizing with the old sociopath is literally a 007 license. “Once we asked our clan acquaintances about Villafuerte and they told us that even though he had power in Camarines, he was nobody there,” he recalls. “They insisted us to keep working; that everything was fine and there was nothing to worry about.” Now we know that they lied. If they had truly been protected and safe, Diego Bello would not be dead today.
“The curious thing is that after Diego’s murder we contacted them again to inquire about what happened and they assured us that they did not know anything. But that they would not put their hand in the fire either for one or the other, and even less, for completely disconnecting our friend on the drug issue, “adds Moreno. In other words, the position of the Matugas began to be much more equivocal.
Would the police have murdered Diego without the consent, even by omission, of the real chiefs of the island of Siargao? From the outset it is unlikely. Nor should the Matugas be excluded from an independent investigation, if it were indeed possible to penetrate the armor of impunity that shields the country’s heartless ruling elite.
The man from A Coruña was 32 years old when he bled to death in the entrances to his house. He had spent since his seventeen traveling around the world with hopes of finding a place to settle. That place was not Siargao, it was much like it. But he barely had time to enjoy his discovery. He landed on the island just three years before his death.
Shortly after the shooting, several more police officers came to the crime scene, among whom was the person in charge of the local police station, an obscure character who goes by the name of Vicente Panuelos, about whom little is known, beyond the certainty that lies consciously and deliberately. At least one of the five or six policemen who accompanied him was hooded “like a ninja,” according to the testimony of Diego’s neighbors. One of his friends arrived at the Galician’s house shortly before he expired. It was terrible to see the partner who you just fired a few minutes before dying. His partner, Arturo, was not even clear that he would not suffer the same fate.
Presumably, the policeman or policemen who were hiding his face – brought from Buatán – were the ones who fired the shots. The usual thing under the sky of Duterte’s dystopia is that these hitmen were recruited for a few hundred euros between the most abject and ruthless executioners of the police itself.
If the family has no doubt about something, it is that the head of General Luna’s police station lies more than a fisherman to cover up the guilty and to hide his own participation in the murder, whether by action or omission. The head of the General Luna’s police station is precisely the second “person of interest” whom Diego’s relatives want to be investigated together with the direct perpetrators of the death. To begin with, it is known that he comes, like Migz, from Camarines Sur, and some sources close to the family maintain that they both knew each other and had some kind of personal relationship. “That proven connection could have helped to organize the operation,” speculate his friends.
Both Migz and Panuelos have a smirk and a boyish face that masks their true personality and the criminal impulses they have often displayed. No one would guess from their cordial gestures the ease with which they develop in the gruesome sewers of Duterte. “Filipinos are a mixture of Japanese and Latinos,” jokes Pedro. “On the one hand, they tend to keep their forms and tend to interact with a kind of polite shyness, but on the other, they can be tremendously irrational. It is not easy to know what they really think because there are huge cultural differences between them and Europeans.”
There are witnesses that say that the agents who executed the Galician not only did not reprimand him but deliberately shot to kill him without warning. Neither Diego’s girlfriend nor his neighbors heard any provocation or anything other than the sound of the bullets that ended his life and a voice that affirmed: “No, please, sir.” The recordings of La Santa cameras proved after her murder that it was the police themselves who planted the fanny pack and the cocaine, they said they had found in their possession, as well as a 45-caliber pistol. Bello was not even on the list of traffickers and drug users of the mayor of the Barangay. Those who know him and those who treated him assure that it is impossible that he had cheated. He would have had to be a fool to risk attracting the ire of the police when his business was sailing smoothly.
The autopsy performed on him did not find any traces of substance use in his body for at least the six months preceding the date of his murder. Forensics did not detect gunpowder on his hands. The arrangement by the General León police chief was a real botch. In the list of drug traffickers that Diego appears is the one that Panuelos made, although it does not seem that he needs evidence to make it. All the calumnies that link the Galician surfer with drug trafficking have come from him.
False accusations of rape
Panuelos tried to cover his back by spreading the fallacy that Diego had been charged several times for rape. It was more than obvious that he was trying to discredit the murder’s victim to the Filipinos, given that no sane European who had known Diego would believe his lies. To prop up the whole scheme, he had the invaluable help of a local Mindanews journalist named Roel Catoto, the same one who accused Diego of being a rapist and trafficker without evidence and who, curiously, omitted the report of the independent commission of the Philippine Government that showed that Panuelos and his companions are involved in the criminal plot to the hilt.
When that policeman was interviewed, days after, with the Spanish consul in the Philippines, Fernando Heredia, he assured that he had “consistent” evidence that Diego was linked to the appearance of bales of cocaine on the island’s coast. It is true that some months before the Galician was executed, forty one-kilo packages of that substance were found floating off the coast of Siargao —not once, but twice— with an unusual inscription where you could read “3D-Bugatti “. The so-called “consistent evidence” from Panuelos never appeared. On account of this finding, the Matugas made such ridiculous statements as that someone wanted to land the drug to buy voters’ votes.
On top of the absurdity, the Manila police officers themselves wisely asserted that the bundles that washed the coast of Siargao and other Philippine islands in the eastern Pacific were not intended for domestic consumption. The only truly popular drugs in the country are marijuana and a local variety of methamphetamine known as shabu. Finding packages of cocaine are common not only in the Philippines, but in remote Pacific enclaves such as the Marshall Islands. It is taken for granted, in the first place, that they have arrived after disengaging from the networks where the drug traffickers fixed them or after a flight caused by the appearance of a coast guard. Its logical and natural destination could be Australia or New Zealand and in the worst case scenario, the Philippine islands would be the transoceanic meeting place where the transshipments of the merchandise take place.
In other words, the Siargao police chief accused Diego Bello of being linked to the appearance of bales of cocaine despite the fact that the Manila authorities themselves acknowledged that their presence on the country’s coastline was merely accidental and that they had been dragged up there by currents from New Guinea. Another senior police officer in the Philippine capital suggested that the drug traffickers threw hundreds of packages of cocaine into the sea to mislead the police while they landed marijuana or methamphetamine in some other remote enclave on its coast. That someone dared to make such a statement for a CNN reporter gives a measure of the level of intelligence and insight that law enforcement agencies often display in the former Spanish colony.
No one of the top Siargao officials wondered what kind of idiot who wanted to sell drugs on the island would have dumped forty packages of the drug ashore or lose them twice due to a landing error. No one knows for sure if Panuelos really suspected at some point that Diego might be involved in some kind of illicit activity, despite the fact that he had no evidence. Nor is it ruled out that some native of the La Coruña entrepreneur’s environment who fell out with Bello spread fallacies about him deliberately or under pressure from police torturers. Once again, jealousy appears at the epicenter of the criminal plot.
They distrust Madrid
Diego’s friends do not trust the Government of Madrid or his sincere desire to deploy all the necessary tools to prevent the murder of the Galician from going unpunished. They believe that our diplomacy is much more concerned with guaranteeing the signing of contracts for companies like Acciona than with protecting Spanish citizens. “Until today, the consulate has not even been able to process things so that Diego’s family can recover their belongings, the material from Mamon (the surf shop that he also ran) or the money he had in at least three accounts, “says Rebeca Díaz, a native, like Diego, from a small town in La Coruña called Pastoriza. The family feels completely abandoned, as is often the case in these cases. “The only thing that Foreign Affairs has done to date is to recommend to his parents to find a lawyer in the Philippines and to file a complaint. We also do not know what Congress has done, apart from making an institutional statement. Where are the emails, the letters, the work, the pressure to demand justice? I don’t doubt that they have already moved a file, but we don’t know anything. “
“The situation with the Spanish embassy in Manila is incredible. They have behaved fatally. They neither helped us nor protected us. The consul limited himself to meeting with Panuelos” Moreno corroborates. No one of the rest of the friends who lived with Diego in Siargao have returned to the island, fearing the same fate.
Copyright by Público 2020 & Ferran Barber