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Lanao del Norte mayor dead in ambush

Investigators looking at politics, long-running feud with rival clan in attack on top municipal official
/ 12:55 AM December 31, 2016
 Mayor Mohammad Limbona          —Richel Umel

Mayor Mohammad Limbona —Richel Umel

ILIGAN CITY—The slaying of Mayor Mohammad Exchan Gabriel Limbona of Pantar town in Lanao del Norte province on Thursday night could be an offshoot of a long-running political feud, police said on Friday.

Limbona was driving a Ford Everest SUV (sport utility vehicle) on his way home from Cagayan de Oro City with his wife and daughter and two police escorts when armed men fired at their vehicle when it reached Sitio Paitan in Barangay Dalipuga here at 9:45 p.m.

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Limbona, 52, died while being treated at the Adventist Medical Center here. His security escorts, PO1 Russel Jay Paltingca, 27, and PO1 Saidamin Hadji Naim, 28, were wounded.

Limbona’s wife, Ginina, 27, village chair of Calanganan in Pantar, and his daughter, Sittie Aisa, were unhurt.

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Senior Supt. Leony Roy Ga, Iligan City police chief, said politics and a feud with another clan were among the angles police were checking as possible motives in the attack.

Police said Limbona’s family had been engaged in a feud with a local family that had been marked by killings and retaliations

Ga said Limbona was negotiating a curve in Paitan, a coastal sub-village here, when the armed men, on board another vehicle, attacked.

“The crime scene was so dark and no one witnessed the ambush,” Ga said, adding that the mayor’s vehicle might have slowed down at the curve, which gave the gunmen the opportunity to fire.

Chief Insp. Leslie Segualan, chief of the local police’s Scene of the Crime Operation, said they recovered 17 shells from M-16 rifle, a 9mm pistol and .38-caliber revolver from the ambush site.

Segualan said investigators had yet to say if Limbona’s escorts were able to fire back.

Jose Pantoja, Iligan information officer, said the city government and the city police have created a special investigation task group on Friday to look into the attack.

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“[Iligan City] Mayor Celso Regencia has also appealed to the family of Mayor Limbona not to carry out any reprisals in Iligan since the city has been peaceful, and also in the light of the celebration of the Yuletide season,” Pantoja said.

Limbona had been administratively dismissed by the Office of the Ombudsman in 2014 for his alleged involvement in the 2007 murder of Pantar Vice Mayor Hadji Abdul Rasid Onos.

Former Pantar Vice Mayor Mangondaya Tago, then a councilor, was installed acting mayor but Limbona refused to step down.

The Limbona and Tago families had been embroiled in a bitter political rivalry even before 2014, police said.

The Limbona family had been suspected to be behind the 2015 death of Rex Tago, a relative of the former vice mayor.

Tago’s relatives later retaliated and burned the house of Saipudin Paandaman Limbona, a relative of the slain mayor.

Limbona, a member of the Liberal Party, later said the conflict between Saipudin and Rex “was more personal and not related at all” to his political dispute with Mangondaya.

In March 2015, Omar Tago, Mangondaya’s brother, was murdered by three men who turned out to be Limbona’s relatives.

Limbona’s rivalry with Mangondaya became more violent as the filing of certificates of candidacy for the 2016 elections drew near.

Mangondaya eventually fielded his nephew, Jabar, against Limbona in the mayoral race. During the campaign period, supporters of Limbona and Tago got involved in shooting incidents and brawls.

Limbona, a security guard at the Mindanao State University in Marawi City before he entered politics in 2007, won the race. —RICHEL UMEL AND JIGGER JERUSALEM

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TAGS: ambush, Lanao, Lanao del Sur, Mayor Mohammad Exchan Gabriel Limbona, Pantar town
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