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Two witnesses in Cebu mayor’s slay missing

Relatives say workers who saw gunmen fear for safety, now in hiding; police offer protection
/ 05:18 AM September 11, 2018

CRIME SCENE Bloodstains are found on and near a wooden bench where Ronda Mayor Mariano Blanco III (left) was sitting when he was gunned down by armed men who barged into his office at the town hall. —TONEE DESPOJO / CEBU DAILY NEWS

CEBU CITY — Two municipal employees of Ronda town in southern Cebu, who reportedly witnessed the killing of Mayor Mariano Blanco III on Sept. 5, have gone into hiding.

They have also left their homes and their families, according to newly installed Ronda Mayor Rocky Gabatan.

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Gabatan said the wives of the two men were also mum on the whereabouts of their spouses.

“They are apparently scared. They are gone, according to their families,” he told the Inquirer by telephone on Sunday.

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Blanco was killed by four armed men who barged into the town hall around 1:30 a.m. on Sept. 5, just seven months after his nephew and Ronda vice mayor, Jonah John Ungab, was shot dead while leaving the Palace of Justice in Cebu City on Feb. 19.

Blanco was on the list of suspected “narcopoliticians” but he had strongly denied his involvement in illegal drugs.

Town hall attack

The two missing employees, who were hired as municipal property custodians, were in the town hall when a group of armed men arrived in a white van.

Four men then pointed their guns at the employees and instructed them to drop on the ground.

The two witnesses told police that they later heard gunfire coming from the office of the mayor on the second floor. After the armed men left, they rushed to the office and saw the bloodied Blanco.

The witnesses, whose identities were being withheld for security reason, would not say if the armed men were wearing masks or not “because the whole incident happened so fast.”

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Two policemen, who were at the Ronda police station 4 meters away, also failed to respond to the shooting.

They were among 11 Ronda policemen, including the town police chief, who had been relieved from their posts pending investigation for alleged security lapses.

CHR probe

Gabatan said he asked the two workers, through their families, to see him so that they could be given protection by the police and receive help from the town government.

“We are also looking for them so we can get more information or help them deal with the situation they are now in,” he said.

On Friday, personnel of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) in Central Visayas visited Ronda town, 88.6 kilometers south of this city, to conduct a separate investigation of Blanco’s death.

Leo Villarino, CHR chief investigator, said he could understand the two men had opted to go into hiding, after the alleged threats they received.

“We understand that their concern is their safety. We will wait for them to surface. If they can contact us, we will assure them that we will be talking to them with confidentiality,” he said.

“If they are really under threat, we will put them under our witness protection program,” he added.

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TAGS: Jonah John Ungab, Mariano Blanco III, narcopoliticians, Rocky Gabatan, slain mayor
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