‘Drugs may be behind Belmonte ambush’
PAGADIAN CITY, Philippines—Zamboanga del Sur Gov. Antonio Cerilles urged the authorities to look into the possible involvement of drug syndicates in Thursday’s assassination attempt on Iligan City Rep. Vicente Belmonte.
The Iligan City lawmaker was on his way home from the Laguindingan Airport in Misamis Oriental when unidentified men in a yellow van blocked his two-car convoy and fired. Belmonte was wounded while his police escort, a close aide and driver were killed.
Belmonte had earlier said that politics and Iligan City politicians could be behind the ambush.
But Cerilles said that Belmonte, who chairs the House committee on dangerous drugs, had once told him about receiving death threats that could be related to his staunch drive against illegal drugs,
Belmonte coauthored the amendments to the Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, or Republic Act 9165, that were passed in March this year. The amendments prevent the dismissal of drug cases due to the failure of law enforcers to follow stringent legal requirements.
Meanwhile, Iligan City Mayor Celso Regencia, who said he felt alluded to by Belmonte’s comment, said he had no reason to do the lawmaker any harm.
“Congressman Belmonte is not my enemy,” Regencia said of the lawmaker who had professed his intention to contest the mayoral post in 2016.
In Cagayan de Oro City, Maj. Christian Uy, spokesperson of the Army”s 4th Infantry Division, said a suspect in the Belmonte slay try was arrested early Saturday morning.
Uy said the suspect, identified as Dominador Tumala, 62, was seen wandering around Barangay Liberty in Laguindingan town around 4:30 a.m. by locals who notified the authorities.
Uy said elements of the 58th Infantry Battalion and the Laguindingan police took Tumala into custody.
Although no firearm was recovered from the suspect, he tested positive for gunpowder when made to undergo a paraffin test, Uy said.
In an interview with the Inquirer, Tumala denied any participation in the ambush and said he was on his way to the airport to fetch his sister when the incident took place.
“It was my first time to be here and the ambush happened. Out of fear, I hid at the airport,” he said, adding that he later tried to ask barangay officials for help but was arrested instead.
“I was wandering (around) looking for food. I didn’t know Congressman Belmonte,” said Tumala, who said he used to be a militiaman in Osmeña town but was now a vendor.
But Misamis Oriental police director Senior Supt. Leonilo Cabug told reporters the police had strong evidence linking Tumala to the armed men who had fired at Belmonte’s convoy.
He said a cellphone seized from the suspect “provided incriminating evidence,” including an exchange of messages that included one directing Tumala to find a way out of the area.
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