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By: Benjie B. Talisic and Jaive Agbon, Nestle L. Semilla June 20,2018 - 10:58 PM

Batomalaque third policeman killed in 10 days; PRO-7 denies murders part of internal cleansing

In a span of just 10 days, three Cebuano policemen on the so-called “narco list” of authorities were gunned down.

Although the killings came three days after President Rodrigo Duterte announced that illegal drugs had “contaminated” a lot of policemen in Cebu, the Police Regional Office in Central Visayas (PRO-7) was quick to dismiss insinuations that the murder was part of their internal cleansing.

“We will try to observe what the motives are and we will try to connect them later on. But definitely, the police have nothing to do with (two of these three cases). Let the public comment nonetheless,” said Chief Supt. Debold Sinas, PRO-7 director, in an interview on Wednesday.

The latest victim was PO2 Melchizedeck Batomalaque, who was shot dead by still unknown assailants on board a motorcycle outside his residence in Barangay Daanlungsod, Toledo City, about 50 km west of Cebu City.

The 37-year-old policeman had just stepped out of his house to buy something past 6 p.m. on Tuesday when the assailants drove by and shot him several times.

Batomalaque suffered multiple gunshot wounds on his head and body. He was rushed to the Toledo City Hospital but was declared dead on arrival by the attending physician.

Sinas confirmed Batomalaque was among the policemen who were on the “narco list” of President Duterte.

Batomalaque, he said, used to be assigned in the different police stations in Cebu province before he was transferred to the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao in 2016 due to reports that he was involved in the illegal drugs trade.

Since the war on drugs began on July 1, 2016, at least 200 policemen in Central Visayas, most of whom were assigned in Cebu, were relieved from their posts and transferred by Camp Crame either to the rebel-affected areas in Luzon or to Mindanao.

Then PNP chief, Director General Ronald dela Rosa, explained that the revamp was aimed to disrupt the supposed illegal drug activities in Cebu following reports that these policemen were receiving money from drug lords.

While the slain policemen didn’t have a good record, Sinas said a special investigation task group was formed to conduct an in-depth probe on the killings.

“As of now, we don’t have any leads yet. All we could say is that the suspects were on board a motorcycle,” he said.

Batomalaque was the third policeman who bit the dust in just 10 days.

Last June 10, Senior Insp. Raymond Hortezuela, who was assigned in the Negros Oriental Provincial Police Office (NOPPO), was fatally shot by fellow policemen after he allegedly resisted arrest during a drug bust in Barangay Tipolo, Mandaue City.

His death came three days after President Duterte described Cebu as “poor” due to illegal drugs.

In a speech during the inauguration of the Mactan-Cebu International Airport Terminal 2 last June 7, Mr. Duterte said the narcotics problem in Cebu was “severe” due to involvement of several policemen here.

“As I’ve said, one day I will take an action against all of you,” the country’s most powerful person said.

But Sinas maintained that Hortezuela’s death was a result of a legitimate police operation. Hortezuela, a native of Barangay Looc, Mandaue City, wasallegedly involved in the narcotics trade and was also on the drugs list of President Duterte.

But three days later, on June 13, an unidentified assailant shot dead PO3 Jonathan Tilos outside a fitness gym in Sitio Malbog, Barangay Poblacion, Alegria town.

Tilos, a member of the Ginatilan Police Station, was not in the “narco list,” but he was accused of being a drug protector.

Sinas stressed that the killings of the three policemen were isolated.

“They are definitely not related,” he said.

Sinas said part of their investigation was to know why Batomalaque was in Cebu.

“He was supposedly assigned in ARMM but was often seen visiting Toledo City,” he said.

Sinas said they had been monitoring Batomalaque after Director General Oscar Albayalde, Philippine National Police (PNP) chief, ordered them to go after policemen who had gone on AWOL.

“He was being monitored,” he said.

In his visit in Cebu City last Friday, Albayalde said they received reports that “several” of the policemen who had gone on AWOL were engaged in the illegal drugs trade and other unlawful operations.

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