New police report says Calbayog mayor slain in gunfight with narcs
Updated @ 2:13 a.m., March 10, 2021
TACLOBAN CITY, Leyte, Philippines — Gunfire coming from the vehicle carrying Mayor Ronaldo Aquino of Calbayog City triggered a shootout between his group and police antinarcotics officers, resulting in the death of the mayor and five other men, a police spokesperson said on Tuesday.
“The first shots came from the vehicle where Mayor Aquino was on board,” said Lt. Col. Maria Bella Rentuaya, information officer of the Police Regional Office in Eastern Visayas.
She said Aquino and his party “were thinking that the vehicles behind them were tailing them.” The vehicles behind the mayor’s car carried officers from the Police Drug Enforcement Unit (PDEU), she said.
“It was not an ambush incident but a shooting incident. There was a firefight (between the mayor’s group and the PDEU),” Rentuaya said.
But she declined to explain why the PDEU officers were following the mayor late on Monday afternoon.
Rentuaya said a task force headed by Police Col. Edwin Wagan, deputy regional director for operations, had been formed to conduct a “thorough” investigation.
In Manila, Police Brig. Gen. Ildebrandi Usana, spokesperson for the Philippine National Police, said details about the incident remained “sketchy” as investigators were still gathering information on how members of the Samar PDEU and the local PNP Integrity Monitoring and Enforcement Group ended up in a shootout with Aquino’s security personnel.
He said the PNP had ascertained that the police personnel engaged in the shootout were inspecting “the operational readiness of PNP units in the area.”
Usana said Aquino was not a subject of police operations and that the officers were just traveling in the same direction as the mayor.
He said the officers involved in the shootout claimed they were unaware that the mayor was in the vehicle that fired on them.
Aside from Aquino, also killed inside the mayor’s Toyota Hi-Ace Van were his driver, Dennis Abayon, and bodyguard, Staff Sgt. Rodeo Sario. A City Hall employee—Mansfield Labonite—was wounded.
Clint Jan Paul Yaunder, another City Hall employee, was killed by a stray bullet inside a passing car driven by his father who was unscathed.
Killed inside the PDEU vehicles were Police Capt. Joselito Tabada, chief of the Provincial Anti-Drug Enforcement Unit, and Staff Sgt. Romeo Laoyon of the provincial intelligence group in Samar. Tabada was also chief of the Gandara municipal police station.
Staff Sgt. Neil Cebu, who was assigned to the K9 unit of the Samar police office, was wounded.
Not on Du30 list
Aquino, 59, who was in his last term and one of the stalwarts of the Liberal Party in Samar, was not on President Duterte’s narcolist.
An initial police report said Aquino was on his way to the family-owned Villa Marcelina to attend the birthday celebration of his son, Mark, following a tennis game at the Calbayog Sports Complex in Barangay Capoocan at past 5:30 p.m.
He and his group were traveling through Barangay Lonoy when they noticed two vehicles behind them. The group got suspicious and fired at the vehicles, triggering the shootout, according to the police report.
Rep. Edgar Mary Sarmiento, a political ally of the slain mayor, rejected the police version of the incident and vowed to get justice for Aquino.
Could be politics
He appealed to President Duterte and Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra to let the National Bureau of Investigation handle the probe “since uniformed personnel who are supposed to be the protectors of peace and order were involved in the shooting incident, which led to the death of a fellow public servant, no less than the local chief executive of Calbayog City.”
Gov. Reynolds Michael Tan said that while his family and Aquino were political rivals, he also wanted the Department of Justice to lead the investigation “and make immediate and necessary crackdowns on the series of horrifying killings that has plagued Calbayog and the rest of the first district of Samar for years, leading up to this most unfortunate incident.”
Aquino, then a vice mayor, first served as mayor of Calbayog in 2011 after then incumbent mayor Reynaldo Uy was killed while attending a fiesta celebration in Hinabangan town, also in Samar, on May 1, 2011.
Uy’s killing remains unsolved.
“It was clear what the witnesses were saying that the mayor’s vehicle was shot first,” Sarmiento said.
Sarmiento believed that the killing of Aquino “all boils down to politics.”
Vice President Leni Robredo, national chair of the LP, condemned the killing of Aquino and called for a “clean, competent and independent” investigation of his death.
“It should not be treated as normal that mayors, community organizers, lawyers, judges, journalists, children and even victims of the drug trade are outright murdered in our streets or in their homes,” Robredo said in a statement.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said Malacañang also condemned the killing “because the right to life is the most important right.”
“It might be the beginning of killings due to politics at a time when the elections are near,” Roque said in a press briefing. “And political violence has no place in a democracy.”
Calbayog Bishop Isabelo Abarquez of Calbayog also denounced the mayor’s killing and appealed for a “thorough investigation.”
“The right to lie is a gift for everybody and no one has the right to take it,” he said.
—WITH REPORTS FROM JEANNETTE I. ANDRADE, LEILA B. SALAVERRIA, NESTOR CORRALES AND JODEE A. AGONCILLO
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