Police and military troops are pursuing a group of communist New People’s Army (NPA) guerrillas who wounded Gingoog City Mayor Ruth de Lara Guingona, wife of former Vice President Teofisto Guingona Jr., and killed two of her bodyguards in an attack in Misamis Oriental province late Saturday.
Mayor Guingona, 78, a member of President Aquino’s Liberal Party (LP), suffered bullet wounds in the arms and feet. She was also wounded by shrapnel from a grenade blast during the attack in the hinterland village of Alatagan in Barangay (village) Upper Kapitulangan.
Guingona, mother of Sen. Teofisto “TG” Guingona III, was returning with a six-member escort from a town fiesta in Alatagan when they were
“ambushed” by the rebels, Chief Supt. Generoso Cerbo, spokesman for the Philippine National Police, told reporters in Manila.
Cerbo said the rebels fled after a 10-minute fire fight with police. But the mayor was safely retrieved only at dawn Sunday, hours after the attack, because the site was a remote area.
Killed were the mayor’s civilian bodyguards, brothers Nestor and Tomas Velasco.
PO3 Rolando Benimerito and Leo Cañete, another civilian bodyguard of the mayor, were wounded.
The attack came less than a month before local elections in May. NPA guerrillas often take advantage of election seasons to raise funds by demanding protection money from candidates who want to campaign in areas under their control.
Mayor Guingona is not running for any office in the elections, but her daughter Marie is running to take her place at city hall.
The NPA admitted the attack and apologized to Guingona and her family, saying it was not intentional, as the rebels’ plan was to hold the entourage, disarm the bodyguards and talk to the mayor.
“We feel sorry about the incident, but Guingona was warned last week not to bring an armed security escort with her while on the campaign trail,” Jorge Madlos, spokesman for the National Democratic Front in Mindanao, said.
“There was a makeshift roadblock, but somebody in their convoy ordered to run it down and fire at the NPA [guerrillas], who were forced to return fire,” Madlos told the Inquirer by phone on Sunday.
“It is our heartfelt request to ask for forgiveness to the family of Guingona. We did not expect this,” he said.
Madlos said the NPA would indemnify the families of those killed.
The NPA North Central Mindanao Regional Command also apologized for what spokesman Allan Juanito called “unfortunate incident.”
But Juanito said the incident was not an ambush.
“It started when Mayor Guingona’s armed escorts fired upon an NPA checkpoint in Kapitulangan,” he said in a statement e-mailed to the Inquirer. “The group was on its way home when it passed by the NPA checkpoint near the bridge in Kapitulangan.”
“The lead vehicle of Mayor Guingona’s convoy rammed the bamboo roadblock mounted by the Red fighters while her escorts opened fire at the NPA flagging down the convoy. The Red fighters immediately returned fire in self-defense,” he said.
Juanito said the NPA unit involved was carrying out orders from the regional command “to implement the revolutionary policies” prohibiting candidates from carrying firearms and bringing armed escorts when they campaign in “guerrilla zones” without “coordination with the concerned revolutionary territorial committees and commands.”
The NPA unit in the area has been manning checkpoints since April 15, he said.
“Aside from explaining our policy to her campaigners, responsible cadres in the area also personally contacted Mayor Guingona [by] phone, reminding her to avoid bringing armed escorts [to] campaign [rallies],” Juanito said.
The communist movement will take “full responsibility” for the incident, he added.
“For the civilian casualties, we will exhaust all efforts to contact their families to extend indemnification and needed medical assistance to the wounded,” he said.
Juanito said the NPA recognized former Vice President Teofisto Guingona Jr.’s “significant contribution” to the Filipinos’ struggle against dictatorship and his “steadfast nationalist standpoint” in various issues.
He said the NPA also respected Sen. TG Guingona’s “propeople” stand on many issues.
“Thus, we are deeply saddened by this unfortunate incident. We take full responsibility for this,” Juanito said.
The NPA, however, will continue putting up checkpoints in the area, he said.
No NPA permit
Madlos said the mayor’s group failed to ask the NPA for permission to campaign in the area controlled by the guerrillas.
Asked if that was the reason for the roadblock, he said, “It is not the issue of permit to campaign fee, but rather of adhering to policies of the revolutionary movement.”
Madlos said the incident should serve as a warning to politicians who want to campaign in NPA-controlled areas not to bring armed escorts.
“They are not allowed to bring firearms unless they ask for special permits from the local NPA that they will bring one for their own protection against bandits,” he said.
The military condemned the attack as another “proof of the NPA’s criminal nature.”
“They are no different from other partisan armed groups and criminals that consistently break the law and hamper far-flung communities’ growth and development,” Col. Arnulfo Burgos Jr., spokesman for the Armed Forces of the Philippines, said in a statement.
Burgos said Mayor Guingona was not campaigning but returning from a village fiesta in Upper Kapitulangan.
“This is contrary to claims of the NPA that she was campaigning in the area. Mayor Guingona is not a candidate in the coming … elections,” Burgos said.
He said the attack was a violation of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law.
The insurgents also violated Republic Act No. 9851, which penalizes violations of the International Humanitarian Law, genocide and other crimes against humanity, Burgos said.
Burgos said troops from the Army’s 58th Infantry Battalion commanded by Lt. Col. George Banson were spearheading the joint military-police operations to get the NPA guerrillas who carried out the attack on Mayor Guingona.
Burgos said the mayor was first taken to Sanitarium Hospital in Gingoog and was later flown by a military helicopter to Cagayan de Oro City, where she was taken to Capitol University Medical City (CUMC).
Dr. Jesus Jardin, CUMC medical director, said Mayor Guingona was in stable condition, “although her emotions are still high.”
Malacañang also condemned the attack on Mayor Guingona.
“We condemn this ambush,” President Aquino’s deputy spokesperson, Abigail Valte, said on state-run radio. “Whatever the reasons are, this kind of violent attack directed at any (government) official or candidate has no room in the forthcoming May elections.”
The Palace offered its condolences to the families of the slain escorts of Mayor Guingona.
Senator Guingona called the attack on his mother an “ambush.”
He issued a statement saying: “The New People’s Army has fired upon an elderly and innocent woman who is already bowing out of politics. They alleged that they fired upon my mother because [she] breached [their] policy against [bringing firearms in their territory. The people who carried firearms were] members of the Philippine National Police.”
The statement indicated that Guingona does not recognize the NPA’s power to enforce any policy anywhere in the country.
“We would like to remind everyone in this country that there is only one government of the Republic of the Philippines. There is only one President who is in charge of executing the laws of this land. That is President Noynoy Aquino. He is the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines,” Guingona said.
Guingona said he was relieved that his mother survived the attack. But he said he mourned the deaths of her aides, whom he described as “loyal employees of long standing in our family’s home in Mindanao.”
He said his mother was wounded and was trapped inside the vehicle, which was thrown down on its side by the power of the grenade blasts.
Guingona flew to Cagayan de Oro Sunday morning. He said his mother was safe and would undergo surgery on Monday for the removal of the bullets and shrapnel that she took during the attack.
His sister Marie, who is running for mayor of Gingoog, stood silent beside him during an interview with the Inquirer outside CUMC.
Guingona said his father, the former Vice President, would arrive in Cagayan de Oro Monday morning.
Maj. Leo Bongosia, spokesman for the Army’s 4th Infantry Division, also called the incident an ambush, belying Madlos’ claim that the rebels were only forced to return fire.
Bongosia said about 50 guerrillas took part in the attack on Mayor Guingona.
Sesinio Retuya, a driver to the Guingonas, said the “ambush site” was about 10 kilometers from the highway in Kapitulangan.
Retuya, who went to the site Sunday morning, said the lead vehicle that carried Mayor Guingona was riddled with bullets.
“There are holes in the windshield and on both sides of the cars,” he said.
Retuya said Mayor Guingona survived because her bodyguards used their bodies as shields against the attackers’ bullets.—With reports from Michael Lim Ubac, Gil Cabacungan, Jerome Aning and Leila Salaverria in Manila; Karlos Manlupig, Inquirer Mindanao; and AFP
Originally posted at 01:19 pm | Sunday, April 21, 2013