Army commander relieved over alleged link to Davao businesswoman's slay

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 25) — Brigadier General Jesus Durante III has been relieved as commander of the 1001st Infantry Brigade in Davao de Oro after being named as a "person of interest" in the killing of Yvonette "Yvonne" Chua Plaza, a Davao-based businesswoman and model.

"The Philippine Army will not condone any criminal act committed by its personnel," said Army chief Lieutenant General Romeo Brawner Jr. in a statement Wednesday.

"As such, BGen Jesus Durante has been relieved as Commander of the 1001st Brigade, after being named as a person of interest in the murder of Yvonnette Chua Plaza, to give way to an impartial and thorough investigation," Brawner added.

He also stressed that the incident was not "service-related."

General Andres Centino, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief of staff, echoed the pronouncements but said he would reserve in making further comments on the case while the investigation is ongoing.

"If the results would say otherwise, then there would be sanctions done," Centino said. "That's why, right now, the Philippine Army has relieved the concerned person and placed him temporarily within the headquarters of the Philippine Army."

It remains to be seen whether this development could merit charges against Durante before the military justice system.

Army spokesperson Colonel Xerxes Trinidad said Colonel Febie Lamerez was designated acting commander of the 1001st Infantry Brigade while Colonel Gerry Besana was the deputy brigade commander.

Plaza was gunned down on Dec. 29 last year by two unidentified men, who were riding a motorcycle, in front of her house at Green Meadow Subdivision, Brgy. Sto. Niño, Tugbok District, Davao City.

Based on the press conference livestreamed on Facebook, Durante was implicated as the mastermind in the case, with authorities saying it was a "crime of passion."

A number of Durante's subordinates including six enlisted personnel were also implicated in Plaza's murder.

According to Davao Region police chief Brigadier General Benjamin Silo Jr., their investigation found that Plaza had "very sensitive information" against Durante which she was planning to use to blackmail him.

Durante, who was the Presidential Security Group (PSG) commander during President Rodrigo Duterte's administration, previously denied that he was involved in the killing, in response to allegations circulating on social media that he hurt Plaza based on the victim's Facebook post in April last year.

"This is yet another case of senseless killing perpetrated by riding-in-tandem criminals and we condemn this brutal and merciless act," Interior Secretary Benhur Abalos said on Jan. 7 as they formed a task force in the Philippine National Police to probe the murder.

CNN Philippines senior correspondent David Santos and digital producer Jelo Mantaring contributed to this report.