On Thursday night, before and after he was found bloodied in his office, outgoing Cagayan de Oro Rep. Jose Benjamin “Benjo” Benaldo thanked his staff not once, but twice.
This was according to the statements of three staff members who were among the first to discover Benaldo with a gunshot wound to his chest.
Anthony Villafranca, a member of the staff of Benaldo, said they heard a gunshot around 7:30 p.m. in the solon’s office at Room 512 at the South Wing Building of the Batasan complex.
Villafranca instructed Benaldo’s driver, Elmer Ladra, to check out the congressman’s office.
In his statement, Ladra said he saw Benaldo slumped on his chair with a gunshot wound on the left portion of his chest. His 9mm cal. SIG Sauer pistol was on the table.
He then called Villafranca, who rushed to the room.
Both Ladra and Villafranca heard the congressman say, “Thanks for everything.”
Before the incident, another staff member, Edmar Zurigao, heard Benaldo thanking the staff.
Zurigao recalled that he was with Villafranca, who was getting a massage from a blind masseuse inside the office, when Benaldo and Ladra arrived around 5:30 p.m. on Thursday.
The congressman went to his room alone and came out after a while to hand out money to his staff.
Zurigao said he heard Benaldo say, “Thanks for everything.”
Zurigao said Villafranca asked Benaldo why he was thanking them but the solon did not reply and went back to his room.
In their separate statements, all three heard a gunshot around 7:30 p.m.
Benaldo lost in the May 13 elections.
A source said the congressman had been packing his things as Friday was supposed to be his last day in office.
Benaldo has been in the limelight lately after a well-publicized tiff with his wife, Brazilian model-actress Daiana Menezes.
Following the shooting, the solon was first brought to New Era General Hospital and later to St. Luke’s Medical Center in Quezon City where he is in stable condition.
An initial X-ray at New Era General Hospital showed that the bullet went through the solon’s back and did not hit any vital organs.
Benaldo’s office has been sealed off to protect the crime scene.
St. Luke’s Medical Center said the family of Benaldo wanted the public to respect its privacy.
A source said it was up to the family if a medical bulletin on Benaldo’s condition would be issued.
“The family is asking for privacy. The hospital cannot disclose his medical condition because of patient confidentiality,” the source said.
Security remained tight in the hospital, with media men only allowed at the lobby.
Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. yesterday also appealed to the public to respect the privacy of Benaldo and stop speculating on the motive behind his suicide attempt.
“Right now the incident continues to be thoroughly investigated, and I hope that we all respect the privacy of the family at this time and avoid any speculation. Benjo has not disclosed his reasons for what happened and may do so at the right time,” Belmonte said in a statement. “What is important is that he is alive and in recovery, which we all are grateful for.”
One of Benaldo’s colleagues in the House, Marikina Rep. Miro Quimbo, was among those who loudly speculated in several media interviews that Benaldo had probably been affected by his failed reelection bid and his much-publicized spat with his wife. Quimbo, who claimed to be a close friend of Benaldo, sent out an Instagram photo of Benaldo via Twitter while being transferred to another hospital on Thursday night.
“He (Benaldo) sustained a gunshot wound in the chest, which indicates he attempted to take his own life. He is now in stable condition and was transferred to St. Luke’s hospital with his wife by his side. He personally assured me he was all right and gave a thumbs-up sign to me to this effect,” Belmonte said.
Belmonte said he had ordered House sergeant at arms Gen. Nicasio Radovan to make a full report on the incident in coordination with the Quezon City Police Department.
Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez said the House probe should focus on why Benaldo was allowed to bring his gun inside the Batasan complex.
“I don’t know whether it is in our rules but all persons entering the House, including congressmen and their bodyguards, should have their firearms deposited in a safe place. Nobody should be allowed to bring guns in the House,” Rodriguez said in a phone interview.
Rodriguez noted that a person’s permit to carry firearms outside his residence has limitations and that Congress should be one of the places where firearms should be absolutely prohibited.
But Quezon City Rep. Winston Castelo rejected moves to impose a total gun ban policy in the House.
Castelo admitted that a gun ban was in place in Congress but “this policy has been rarely enforced because certain members of Congress face actual security issues brought about by their advocacy and the political rivalry in their respective constituencies.”
“Quite a number of our lawmakers face unavoidable security threats because those are part of their jobs. A no-gun policy may become counterproductive at the end. It would be better to leave the issue to the better judgment of every lawmaker, to his sense of responsibility and accountability,” Castelo said.
Castelo said the Benaldo suicide attempt was an “isolated incident.”
“So far, no one has been accused of any gun-toting activity. Everybody is completely responsible with his firearm,” Castelo said. “In most cases, a lawmaker’s security detail carries guns even inside the premises of Congress. But people would not readily feel it because they are trained to hide those firearms so that they would not create any atmosphere of fear.”