WHERE ARMED MEN ROAM
Do armed men move freely about the mountain villages of Tuburan?
This seemed to be the case in the northwestern Cebu town, which is listed by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) as an election hotspot, after police investigations and testimonies of witnesses indicated that men identified with opposing political camps were openly lugging around high-powered firearms on the highlands of the town and hiding some inside their homes.
Luduvico Oroquero, a former village chief identified with Tuburan mayoral candidate Daphne Lagon, was arrested at dawn yesterday with a cache of firearms by operatives of the Philippine National Police’s Regional Special Operations Group (RSOG) after he was linked to Wednesday’s ambush-slay of Rene Cangmaong, a personal guard and supporter of the town’s reelectionist mayor, Democrito “Aljun” Diamante.
Chief Supt. Patrocinio Comendador, director of the Police Regional Office Central Visayas (PRO-7), admitted yesterday that the arrest of Oroquero “indicated that there is an armed group present in the town trying to sow violence.”
Tuburan is one of the eight areas in Cebu province on Comelec’s watchlist due to its history of election violence in 2013. A Quick Response Team (QRT) composed of Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) had been deployed in Tuburan, arriving just few hours after the ambush. “We have ordered intensified checkpoints and we are monitoring areas where possible eruption of violence might happen,” Comendador told Cebu Daily News.
Cangmaong’s death could possibly be the first election-related killing in Central Visayas, according to Comendador, as the incident has been linked to the political intramural in the town, but he said this matter still has to be validated.
Comendador, however, said this incident would not be enough for him to recommend placing Tuburan under Comelec control.
He said that before the killing happened, they had “been trying our best to address the issue” and “even ordered the change of command in the town to manage the security.”
Senior Insp. Leo Logronio was pulled out from the Cebu Provincial Police Office’s (CPPO) Provincial Intelligence Branch (PIB) and designated as Tuburan’s new police chief. But 30 minutes before he arrived at the town’s police station to formally assume his new post, the ambush that killed Cangmaong happened.
Logronio told CDN yesterday that they would do their best to arrest the members of armed groups operating in the mountain barangays of Tuburan.
Oroquero, the captain of Tuburan’s Barangay Monte Alegre from 1997-2010, was arrested at 3 a.m. Thursday by RSOG operatives led by Supt. Rex Derilo inside his home, where operatives found a carbine rifle, a shotgun, a .45 caliber pistol and several rounds of assorted ammunition.
He was arrested after one of the survivors in the ambush pointed to him as one of their about a dozen armed attackers, said Comendador.
Residents in the area, however, claimed that Cangmaong and his group were also often seen carrying high-powered firearms in the upland area. On the day of the ambush in Barangay Mag-antoy at noon on Wednesday, Cangmaong and his five companions were all armed and were on their way to “secure” a town fiesta, said the residents.
But responding policemen found no firearm on the crime site. Two of Cagmaong’s companions who were allegedly wounded in the same incident were also nowhere to be found.
The residents, who refused to be named for fear of their safety, alleged that Cangmaong had been harassing the voters of mountain barangays into supporting Diamante and his brother Danilo, the town’s vice mayor who is also seeking reelection.
Gov. Hilario Davide III, meanwhile, condemned the ambush that claimed the life of Diamante supporter and labeled it as a “politically motivated” killing.
He believed it was election-related because Diamante’s opponent, Daphne Lagon, would allegedly “spend money just to beat him.”
Davide said he hoped that it would be the “first and last violent incident” that will happen there.
Oroquero, interviewed at the RSOG office in Cebu City where he was held, admitted he is a Lagon supporter but denied he killed Cangmaong. He said there were witnesses who could attest he was attending a poll watchers’ meeting in another village during that time. He was willing to undergo a paraffin test to prove he did not fire any firearm on Wednesday.
But Oroquero declined to answer when asked by CDN where he got the firearms that were seized from his house.
Lagon, in a separate interview, acknowledged Oroquero as one of her political leaders but insisted that the man was innocent. She said she has the footage of a closed-circuit television (CCTV) camera to show that Oroquero was in her headquarter in Barangay Poblacion V when the alleged ambush occurred.
Belying charges of Diamante that she was behind the ambush, Lagon claimed it was Diamante who had been maintaining his own group of armed goons.
She said she asked her legal counsels to file a formal request before the Cebu Comelec to place the town under its control, as it would help the people to vote freely.
But Provincial Election Supervisor Eliseo Labaria yesterday said it would need to go through a process. He said only the Comelec en banc could decide whether or not to place an area under its control. The decision would be based from the recommendation of the Regional Joint Security Control Center (RJSCC), which is chaired by the Comelec regional director, and with the concurrence of the PRO 7 regional director and the head of the Armed Forces of the Philippines Central Command (Centcom).
He said an area placed under Comelec control would also mean that all activities of the concerned local government unit would have to be approved by the Comelec.
With elections just a few days away, Labaria said there was little chance that Tuburan could still be placed under Comelec control.
Lagon, in the interview, insisted anew that she has no private army and instead accused Diamante of allegedly orchestrating the ambush of his own supporters so it could be blamed on her camp.
She said the circumstances surrounding the ambush were very questionable, including the fact that Cangmaong was found wearing a bonnet and dressed in a military camouflage.
Lagon said her two political leaders from the mountain barangays of Libo and Mag-alwa were also harassed at dawn on Thursday by men who were wearing PNP and camouflage uniforms.
But Diamante yesterday claimed Oroquero was a known member of the about 15 to 20 “goons” allegedly maintained by Lagon and who have been allegedly harassing his supporters in the mountain villages of Tuburan.
Diamante claimed Lagon’s goons were allegedly led by Eduardo Sacamay, a former communist rebel leader who allegedly recruited other former New People’s Army rebels to join the group.
Lagon admitted she went around campaigning in the company of security men she hired from a private security agency but only because, she said, she wanted to be protected from the goons allegedly employed by Diamante.
Vice Mayor Diamante maintained Cangmaong and his companions were not armed goons. Dadita Cangmaong, Rene’s sister, also insisted her slain brother was a “good man” who worked hard as a market guard employed by the municipal government to feed his wife Marites and their seven children, aged eight to 22 years olds.
Meanwhile, tension also rose in Poro town on Camotes Islands after the house of a supporter of One Cebu mayoralty candidate Jay Estrera was strafed at dawn on Wednesday.
Raul Mabulay Gorgonio, 63, told police that he and his family were sleeping inside their house in Barangay Esperanza when they were awakened by the sound of an arriving motorcycle that was followed by a burst of gunfire, said Insp. Andres Alpas, Poro police chief.
He said investigators found three bullet holes at the upper wooden panel of Gorgonio’s house that went through the galvanized roofing but they failed to find any empty shell.
Alpas said Gorgonio claimed he has no known enemy but has been openly supporting the candidacy of Estrera, who is challenging reelectionist Mayor Luciano Rama Jr. Alpas said the strafing might have been done just to threaten Gorgonio since all the bullet holes were at the upper portion of the house.
The case was the third strafing incident on Camotes Islands since April.
Last month, the houses of supporters of San Francisco Mayor Aly Arquillano were strafed — that of Moises Wenceslao, located in Sitio Puertobello, Barangay South Poblacion, which was riddled with bullets at dawn of April 8 by two men on board a motorcycle; and that of Himensulan Barangay Captain Reynaldo Maranga, 49, strafed by two armed men also in motorcycle at dawn of April 9.
No one was hurt in both incidents.
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