BAGUIO CITY—Recent killings are painting a different image of Apayao, known to have the fewest crimes in the Cordillera.
On Monday, police traveled for hours to a remote community in Pudtol town to investigate a crime scene there, said Chief Supt. Benjamin Magalong, Cordillera police director.
On July 21, Magalong said nine people shot and killed three men over violations of a lapat, a community agreement, over a fishing ban in parts of a river.
A certain Elevencio Matulot, managed to flee while the victims were being shot in Sitio Magabobong in Barangay Upper Maton.
Last week, four farmers suspected of killing two men early this month in Flora town surrendered to the Apayao police. The victims have been missing since July 3 until policemen recovered their dismembered bodies under a farm house in Barangay San Jose in Flora on July 15.
Apayao, in 2011, posted the lowest crime volume in 2011 (1.11 percent of the region’s crime volume) compared to Baguio City (63.09 percent). It was cited as the safest province in the region by the Philippine Information Agency that year.
However, the Cordillera police found discrepancies in its records and have since drawn up new data and a crime map, aided by a dedicated geographical information system, said Senior Supt. Ulysses Abellera, Cordillera police deputy director for operations.
Senior Insp. Jeffrey Vicente, Pudtol police chief, said Matulot, the survivor in the July 21 case, alerted them to the crime from his mother’s house in Kabugao town where he fled. Matulot is now under police protection.
Matulot said the nine men shot and killed Felix Matulot, 75; Jayson Acob, 29; and Rogelio Rupad, 39.
Matulot said he and the three slain men went to Upper Maton on July 19 to check their property and discovered that their side of the river, where a lapat had been imposed, had been disturbed by poachers.
He said the suspected poachers went to their property on July 21 and engaged in a heated argument with the three men. Matulot said he was near the river when one of the suspects fired at him. As he fled, Matulot said he heard three gunshots.
The police had to take a boat back to the crime scene, Magalong said. They discovered the bodies burned beyond recognition.
The desecration of a lapat is taboo to the Isneg in Apayao. A lapat is imposed on a section of the river where the spirit of a community member is said to dwell after his death. It takes up to a year before a community can resume fishing in that part of the river.
Senior Supt. Albertlito Garcia, Apayao police director, said the police are pursuing the following suspects: Dionisio Batalao Bernal, Tubban Luban, Beltran Francisco, Divina Dandan, Gerald Daluguis, Marcelo Luban, Alex Luban, Bryan Bernal and Charlie Igwad, all from Kabugao town.
Earlier this month, the Apayao police had sent out teams to search for Emerson Furagganan and Reynante Menor who disappeared on July 3.
The search teams, composed of policemen and relatives of the missing, were led to the farm of Felix Dagdagan Sr. in Barangay San Jose in Flora town, where they discovered a bag containing underwear near the area.
The police dug through the farm and unearthed three sacks containing body parts on July 15, and forensic examination confirmed they were the missing men.
Witnesses said Furagganan and Menor were killed by Felix Dagdagan Jr., Mariano Dagdagan, Oliver Caligan and Marcelino Dagdagan, due to a disagreement during a drinking spree. A fifth suspect, George Palacay, has yet to be arrested. Vincent Cabreza, Frank Cimatu and Villamor Visaya Jr., Inquirer Northern Luzon