Rubout likely in Ozamiz gang leaders’ death

As he belies Calabarzon cops’ gunbattle claim

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NBI investigation on killed Ozamiz gang leader. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines— Philippine National Police chief Director General Alan Purisima said the two leaders of the notorious Ozamiz robbery group could have been intentionally killed, refuting his men’s claim they were shot dead amid a firefight.

The remark came in the wake of President Benigno Aquino III’s strong warning during his address to the nation Monday to hold liable any policemen and officials involved in the killings of Ricky Cadavero and Wilfredo Panogalinga Jr. on July 15.

The Calabarzon police claimed that motorcycling gunmen attempted to spring the two men while they were to be brought to a police camp in Dasmariñas for an inquest. Apparently as policemen and the gunmen traded gunfire, the two tried to grab their police escorts’ sidearms, prompting the officers to shoot them.

But investigation showed there was no gunbattle that occurred during the alleged rescue bid in San Pedro, Laguna, Purisima said.

“There was no firefight during the incident,” Purisima said.

Asked by reporters if the killing was a rubout, he said: “It appears to be like that, but we are completing the pieces of evidence so that it can stand in court.”

He said the findings of the investigation, being conducted  by the team of Police Director Catalino Cuy, were backed by witnesses’ statements.

Purisima has relieved 15 police officers involved in the incident, including Calabarzon regional director, Chief Superintendent Benito Estipona and Calabarzon Regional Special Operations Group chief, Superintendent Danilo Mendoza.

They were placed under restrictive custody at the PNP’s national headquarters in Camp Crame, Quezon City.

“I have already approved the pre-charge evaluation of those involved in the Cadavero, Panogalinga case because it appears that there have been violations,” the PNP chief said

Cadavero and Panogalinga escaped from prison in 2012, and were recaptured in a safehouse in Dasmariñas, Cavite, on July12. Illegal weapons and explosives charges were filed against them.

Their police escorts were supposed to turn them over to the Bureau of Corrections for incarceration at the New Bilibid Prison  in Muntinlupa City after a news conference at PNP headquarters in Camp Crame, Quezon City.

But the officers did not turn over the two men to the prisons bureau.  In front of the bureau’s offices, they changed vehicles and drove to their camp in Dasmariñas, supposedly to put the two men through a police inquest.

Reacting to Aquino’s remark regarding the incident, Purisima said the PNP would not tolerate unlawful acts.

“If it would be proven that what happened was a rubout as they say, we will apply the full force of the law,” Purisima.

Aquino in his State of the Nation Address warned: “Whoever masterminded all of this: prepare yourselves. I am close to learning who you are.”

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