Three suspects in strafing case caught; Garcia smells ‘drama’
Three men were arrested by Dumanjug police in relation to Friday’s strafing of a vehicle owned by the vice mayoral candidate of the Liberal Party-Cebu for Dumanjug town.
One of the suspects still at large, Nilo “Tating” Quirante, is a former policeman with ties to Dumanjug Mayor Nelson Garcia.
Senior Inspector Arvi Arbuis, Dumanjug police chief, said law enforcers are still pursuing five suspects, including Quirante.
Mayor Garcia, who’s seeking reelection next year, said he will ask the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to look into the incident which he claimed was staged by his rival, Vice Mayor Efren Gica.
“For me, all of this is purely drama,” Garcia told Cebu Daily News in a phone interview yesterday.
Gica said Quirante ran in Garcia’s council slate but lost and became the mayor’s consultant.
Last Friday, 18-year-old Dexter James Aniñon, who reportedly served as a lookout in the shooting up of the Mitsubishi Pajero, was arrested by the Dumanjug police, a Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team and the Provincial Police Safety Company.
At 5:40 a.m. yesterday, police arrested in Quirante’s home, Joselito Quirante Gicale, 35, and Samuel Villagonzalo, 31, both of barangay Pawa, Dumanjug town.
Gov. Hilario Davide III earlier deplored what he called attempts on the life of Gica and his men while they were doing community visits in Dumanjug.
A grenade was lobbed at the parked black Mitsubishi Pajero of LP vice-mayoral bet Rainero “Rene” Asentista. It did not explode. The vehicle was also strafed with gunfire.
The police chief said the suspect Villagonzalo tried to pull out and fire his .45 pistol at him before being eventually subdued after a brief chase.
Police said they found one grenade and eight packs of shabu in Villagonzalo’s possession.
“After we disarmed Villagonzalo, he ran but I was able to chase and hold him down after a brief scuffle at a hilly area,” Arbuis said in a phone interview.
Items recovered from Gicale were one firearm, six small packs of shabu, a long-bladed bolo and drug-sniffing paraphernalia.
Arbuis said the suspects were positively identified by witnesses.
Messages on Villgonzalo’s cell phone indicated a link to the strafing incident and may have referred to Vice Mayor Gica.
One text message sent to Villagonzalo’s cell phone from a certain Amar read: “dili pa gyud patyonon kay nakalakaw man (It’s not his time yet to die because he already left).”
Arbuis said Gicale and Villagonzalo worked for Quirante and that Quirante was on the police watchlist for involvement in the drug trade.
“It is difficult to name names as of now. We can’t jump to conclusions. High profile individuals are involved. What we need now is proof,” Arbuis said.
Villagonzalo’s phone was submitted to the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group 7) to recover deleted texts.
Mayor Garcia said the strafing was staged by Gica to gain public sympathy and have the town declared under Comelec control.
Garcia said he knew Quirante since the ‘70s, but that their relationship was professional as Quirante is a former policeman. Quirante’s wife, Norma, heads Dumanjug town’s department on water works.
He said he heard that Quirante has been living in Davao and that “e comes back to Dumanjug every now and then.” Garcia said.
Vice Mayor Gica said he will wait for results of the police investigation.
“It’s not for (Garcia) to say whether the incident was staged or not. It’s for the police,” Gica said.
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