NAGA CITY—A campaign coordinator of Fr. Leo Casas, the Catholic priest running for governor of Masbate under the Liberal Party, was shot and wounded by still unidentified assailants yesterday in Barangay Katipunan in Placer, Masbate.
Casas told the Inquirer by phone that the victim, Charles Cortes, is his campaign coordinator in Placer.
The day before he was shot, Cortes was campaigning in Cawayan town, which borders Placer, on Friday, according to Casas.
Casas, however, said he was unsure if the shooting of Cortes was related to his candidacy for governor.
Casas, who took a leave from his priestly duties when he entered the gubernatorial race, is running in a three-way race against scions of the two most powerful political clans in Masbate—reelectionist Gov. Rizalina Seachon-Lanete and last-term second district Rep. Antonio Kho.
Cortes, 57, was attacked by two gunmen inside his residence at past 6 a.m. and took a bullet to the back from a .45-cal. pistol, said Senior Supt. Heriberto Olitoquit, Masbate police chief, in a text message.
Olitoquit said Cortes was rushed to Masbate Provincial Hospital in the provincial capital, Masbate City, about 70 kilometers from Placer.
A ranking police official, who requested anonymity pending results of initial investigation, said they are validating if, despite the priest’s statement, Cortes is a campaign coordinator of Casas.
“Everyone can claim that someone is a supporter but unless we have a list of who is supporting whom, we can’t be sure,” said the official.
Maj. Angelo Guzman, spokesperson of the 9th Infantry Division of the Army based in Camp Elias Angeles in Pili, Camarines Sur, quoted sources from the 9th Infantry Battalion deployed to Masbate as saying that Cortes is not a campaign coordinator for Casas but a crab buyer.
Insp. Melvin Florida, officer in charge of the Placer police, said Cortes had strength left to report to the police his shooting. Florida said Cortes told him he is a campaign coordinator of Casas.
Florida quoted Cortes as saying there was a previous attempt on his life but in 2009.
The shooting of Cortes came three days after a councilor of Barangay Puro in Aroroy town, about 30 km northwest of Masbate City, was shot dead by two still unidentified assailants.
Insp. Dexter Panganiban, spokesperson of Special Task Force Masbate (STF Masbate), said Felix Alfurnan, 54, was gunned down by two men while he was in a waiting shed.
STF Masbate is composed of Philippine National Police and Army operatives running after owners of unlicensed firearms, private armed groups and fugitives in the province.
Alfurnan was rushed to Aroroy Municipal Hospital but was declared dead on arrival. His killing is the first reported murder in Masbate in April.
Panganiban said the killing could be election-related but he declined to elaborate pending the completion of an investigation.
The province is reeling from three election-related killings in March, two of which remain unsolved.
Masbate is considered a hot spot by the Commission on Elections due to the province’s history of political violence, the presence of private armed groups and proliferation of unlicensed guns.