Philippine Mayor, Police Officers Killed in Alleged Mis-Encounter

Marielle Lucenio and Nonoy Espina
Manila/Bacolod, Philippines
Philippine Mayor, Police Officers Killed in Alleged Mis-Encounter The bullet-riddled van of slain Calbayog city Mayor Ronaldo Aquino is seen in Catbalogan, in the central Philippines, March 8, 2021.

A mayor in the central Philippines and his two aides were slain in what authorities alleged was a mis-encounter with police that also left at least two officers dead, officials said on Tuesday.

Police were on a routine patrol in Calbayog city on Monday when the security detail of Mayor Ronaldo Aquino fired upon them, according to an incident report by the police seen by BenarNews.

“They had suspicions and opened fire,” on the police, regional police commander Brig. Gen. Ronaldo de Jesus told reporters, referring to the mayor’s security detail.

“Our forces just retaliated.”

The violence resulted in “the death of police Captain Joselito Tabanda” and one of his deputies, and the wounding of another officer, according to the incident report.

The state-run Philippine News Agency (PNA) said three policemen were killed in the violence.

The incident also resulted in “the death of Hon. Ronaldo Portares Aquino, city mayor of Calbayog city” and two others, including his driver, the incident report said.

Aquino, who was with the Philippine opposition, was on his way to attend a family gathering when the shootings occurred, the police said.

Videos of the incident shared on social media showed the mayor’s bullet-riddled van and panicked residents scrambling away.

A colleague and friend of Aquino, House of Representatives member Edgar Mary Sarmiento, said the attack on the Calbayog city mayor appeared to have been “well planned.”

He urged the justice department to investigate the incident because he believed the local police had been compromised.

“It is painful for me that they’re saying it was a shootout. It is clear according to witnesses that the mayor's vehicle was shot first,” Sarmiento told a Manila radio station.

“Those who carried out the ambush, it is painful to say … but they were in uniform, they were members of the police,” he said.

The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) will investigate the incident that resulted in the deaths of Aquino and others, Department of Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra told PNA on Tuesday.

The case “will be referred to the NBI for the simple reason that the other party is the Philippine National Police,” Guevarra said.

Monday’s alleged mis-encounter incident was the second such one involving the police since June 2020, when nine officers were jailed for their alleged role in the killing of four army intelligence specialists in the troubled south. 

The officers were dismissed from the service, but were set free in January on a technicality. A manhunt is underway for them.

Killings related to political rivalries are common in the Philippines, especially in the provinces.

Four of Mayor Aquino’s supporters were slain during the 2019 mid-term polls, and at least one other mayor of Calbayog, Reynaldo Uy, was slain in 2011 while he was in office.

Vice President Leni Robredo, a leader of the opposition, lamented Aquino’s death and said the public appeared to have become desensitized by the numerous killings in the country under the Duterte administration.

“It should not be treated as normal that mayors, community organizers, lawyers, judges, journalists, children, and even victims of the drug trade are outright murdered in our streets or in their homes,” Robredo said Tuesday.

“We must connect the dots between these gruesome deaths and see the web that enables and emboldens these killings - impunity, the normalization and incitement of violence, and the kill, kill, kill rhetoric coming from the highest offices.”

Over the weekend, police and military forces killed nine people in separate raids in areas around Manila that, according to officials, targeted suspected communist rebels or communist sympathizers.

Those slain during the Sunday raids were vocal critics of the Duterte administration, human rights groups alleged.

The country’s national human rights commission is investigating the case.

On Tuesday, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights office said it was “appalled” by the “arbitrary killing” of the nine activists. It said it was informed by the government that the killings were a result of legitimate operations.

The U.N. rights commissioner, in a report in June last year, said there was a “serious lack of due process in police operations, and near total impunity for the use of lethal force by the police and the military,” spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani said in a statement.

“We urge the police to take urgent measures to prevent the use of excessive force resulting in loss of lives during law enforcement operations,” Shamdasani said.

“We also call on the government and members of the security forces to refrain from rhetoric that may lead to violations, and instead make public commitments to uphold human rights and the rule of law.”

 Jeoffrey Maitem contributed reporting from Cotabato City, Philippines.

Roger Owen
Roger Owen says:
Mar 09, 2021 09:48 PM

Welcome to the Philippines.

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