From ambush to shootout | Inquirer Opinion

From ambush to shootout

/ 04:08 AM March 16, 2021

The Calbayog City police chief has been relieved for the gruesome killing of Mayor Ronald Aquino on March 8, but the incident still raises troubling questions about the behavior of the police in a string of horrific killings that shook the country last week.

Aquino, a stalwart of the Liberal Party in Samar who was on his last term, was killed along with his police security detail, his driver, two anti-narcotic cops, and a civilian killed by a stray bullet from the incident, just one day after the “Bloody Sunday’’ operations in Calabarzon in which nine activists were killed while police were supposedly serving warrants.

The Calbayog killings were first reported, per eyewitness accounts, as an ambush — then the police changed the narrative from ambush to a “shootout.’’


The initial police findings said that unidentified gunmen opened fire on the mayor’s van as it was traveling along Barangay Lonoy in Calbayog around 5:30 pm. The mayor was on his way to a family resort to attend the birthday celebration of his eldest son Mark.


The following day, Lt. Col. Maria Bella Rentuaya, information officer of the Police Regional Office in Eastern Visayas, revised the story to say that the first shots came from the mayor’s vehicle, thus triggering a shootout with officers from the Police Drug Enforcement Unit (PDEU). Philippine National Police chief Gen. Debold Sinas amplified that claim: “Based on our initial findings, our police who were passing by were shot at by the mayor’s escorts. They didn’t know that policemen were inside (the vehicles), the police just fired back.’’

But this new twist on the police’s “nanlaban’’ spin is full of holes. Why were anti-narcotics police tailing Aquino’s vehicle in the first place? The mayor was not on President Duterte’s narcolist.

According to PNP spokesperson Police Brig. Gen. Ildebrandi Usana, the PDEU and the local PNP Integrity Monitoring and Enforcement Group were just traveling in the same direction and were inspecting “PNP operational readiness’’ in the area,

Who’s buying that line? Not Samar 1st District Rep. Edgar Mary Sarmiento, who stressed, “It was clear what the witnesses were saying that the mayor’s vehicle was shot first.’’ The police were already waiting for Aquino’s vehicle at Laboyao Bridge before the shooting incident, he added, and that videos showed the police going back to the mayor’s vehicle to make sure he was dead. The cops wore bonnets and were armed with a M-203 grenade launcher. “Talagang handang-handa,” concluded Sarmiento.The son’s mayor would reveal that his father sustained at least 21 shots in just the lower half of his body.

A week after the killing, the PNP has yet to present evidence of its contention that the incident was a shootout and not a brazen hit job involving policemen. Unable to trust the police, Sarmiento has called for an impartial investigation by the National Bureau of Investigation, saying he “cannot get justice’’ from the PNP.

The mayor’s ambush wasn’t the only outrage to emanate from the Calbayog police. Its intelligence chief Lt. Fernando Calabria Jr. was discovered to have written the Calbayog City Regional Trial Court asking it to provide a list of lawyers representing alleged communists. PNP officer in charge, Lt. Gen. Guillermo Eleazar later sacked city police chief Lt. Col. Neil Montaño for the killings, and Calabria for his “reckless behavior.’’ Eleazar called the police profiling and witch hunt of lawyers of progressive groups an “unprofessional method of information-gathering.’’


In just the past two weeks, the PNP has seen its already checkered record breaching even more appalling depths, first with the “shootout’’ (that word again) with members of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency where two officers were killed, then the massacre of Calabarzon activists, and now the Calbayog ambush.

While its name was being associated with a succession of bloody incidents across the country, the PNP meanwhile preoccupied itself with a ridiculous drive to ban public displays of affection among citizens, allegedly as a measure to prevent COVID-19 transmission.

“What is happening with our PNP? There are more immediate and pressing matters other than running after couples,’’ Puwersa ng Bayaning Atleta party list Rep. Jericho Nograles demanded. The PNP, he said, should focus on cleansing its ranks of scalawags.

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That is asking for the moon. What did the PNP spokesperson say in the wake of the shocking pointblank killing of mother and son Sonya and Frank Gregorio last December by their swaggering cop neighbor, Jonel Nuezca? “I guess what Nuezca did is something that will not even trigger any change at all in the PNP, because we have had many changes that have already been initiated,” said Usana. No change at all: That should be the PNP’s new slogan, replacing the much-violated, evidently useless “to serve and protect.”

TAGS: Editorial

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