BLANCO KILLING: Witnesses in hiding
Two employees of the Ronda municipal government who witnessed the killing of Mayor Mariano Blanco III have gone into hiding.
The two workers, both holding temporary status as job order (JO) employees, have not reported for work since September 5, the day that Blanco was killed.
Both have also left their homes and their families to hide, said newly installed Ronda Mayor Rocky Gabatan.
Gabatan said that the wives of the two men, who are public school teachers, are also mum on the whereabouts of their spouses.
“Murag nahadlok gyud to. Wala na magpakita. Maoy sulti sa tag tungod (nga) wala na sa ilaha (They seem to fear for their safety. They haven’t seen them since. That is what their families told us),” Gabatan told Cebu Daily News in a phone interview on Sunday.
Blanco was assassinated by at least four still unidentified armed men who barged into the town hall at around 1:30 a.m. on Wednesday.
Blanco’s death came seven months since his nephew and town’s vice mayor, Jonah John Ungab, was also killed by a motorcycle tandem as he was about to leave the Palace of Justice in Cebu City on February 19, 2018.
Mayor Blanco, who was on President Rodrigo Duterte’s list of alleged narco-politicians, died from the multiple gunshot wounds on his body.
Based on the accounts of the two JO employees, who were hired as municipal property custodians, the group of armed men arrived on board a white van.
Four armed men then pointed their guns at them and instructed them in Tagalog to drop to the ground.
The two witnesses narrated to the police that they later heard bursts of gunfire coming from the office of the mayor located on the second floor of the municipal building.
After the armed men left, they then rushed to the mayor’s office and saw the bloodied Blanco still seated on a wooden bench in front of the television.
The two witnesses, whose identities were being withheld for security reason, reportedly could not recall if the armed men were wearing masks or not because the whole incident happened so fast.
Two policemen who were then at the municipal police station that was only about four meters away from the town hall also failed to respond to the shooting alarm.
These two policemen were among 11 policemen from the municipality, including the town police chief, who have since been relieved from their posts pending investigation for security lapses.
Gabatan said he asked the two workers, through their families, to come see him so that they could be accorded proper protection by the police and receive help from the municipal government.
He said that their testimonies are also vital in the ongoing investigation into Blanco’s murder.
“Kami mismo nangita mi para kon unsa makakuha mi or makatabang mi sa ilang sitwasyon (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 in Central Visayas (CHR-7) visited Ronda town, located about 88.6 kilometers south of Cebu City, to conduct a separate investigation into Blanco’s death.
CHR-7 Chief Investigator Leo Villarino said they were also looking for the two workers because their testimonies are vital to their ongoing investigation.
However, Villarino said, he could very well understand why the two men opted to go into hiding, following “threats” to their lives,
Villarino, however, did not elaborate on the threats faced by the two witnesses.
“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,” Villarino said in a phone interview with CDN.
Villarino said that if the two would decide to cooperate in the CHR investigation, Villarino said he is committed to ensure their protection.
“If they are really under threat, we will put them under our witness protection program,” he said.
Gabatan said that the two JO employees, who were each paid P150 for working the 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. shift per day, will not be paid for the days that they skipped work.
But he said they would would be welcomed back to the municipal government should they decide to report for work.
“Pwede sila makabalik nako apan sa time nga wala sila mo duty wala gyud silay sweldo nga ihatag nako (They can come back and report for work but they will not be paid for the days that they were absent),” he said.
Meanwhile, Gabatan said that the municipal government was preparing for the necrological service for Blanco starting at 12:30 p.m. on Sunday.
The mayor’s body will be transferred to the municipal hall from his home for a short necrological service and public viewing during this period.
At 2 p.m. of the same day, his body will be transferred to the Our Lady of Sorrows Parish Church for his burial Mass.
Blanco will be buried at the Ronda Catholic Cemetery later in the afternoon.
Gabatan said they expected Capitol officials and Liberal Party allies led by Cebu Gov. Hilario Davide III to pay their last respect for the slain mayor and to attend his burial.
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