Another assassination! “My Calbayog, what has happened to you?”
It was a common anguished cry heard and aired over cyberspace within hours and throughout the night, Monday, March 8, 2021. Within hours from sundown, following the assassination that 5:30 pm, filling the internet from and to Calbayog town folks, families, kin and friends throughout our world-wide diaspora, was the shocking news of the bloody murder of our beloved and respected Mayor. Within hours, I was likewise informed of the sad happening via ‘facetime.’ I was stunned numb momentarily until I could gather my wits.
To all of us, the pain becomes personal. Calbayog is, after all and otherwise, one joyously carousing, caring and sharing extended family given to smiling sentiments and good humor wherever we maybe.
It was just two days earlier that I had sent a Facebook shout-out “Hooray!’ for Mayor Ronaldo P. Aquino, again congratulating him for his continuing extraordinary performance as Calbayog City’s chief executive.“Onald,” as he was called by townfolks and friends, was serving the last of a three-term incumbency limit as mayor. He is duly credited for the outstanding and unsurpassed progress Calbayog has achieved, so proudly enjoyed by all of us who call Calbayog home!
Quite disturbingly, “again!” I said of our grief and sorrow. Ten years earlier, in 2011, Calbayog had suffered a similar fate. Another mayor, Dr. Reynaldo Uy, Onald’s immediate predecessor, was also assassinated while attending a public gathering in another town some 130 kilometers south of Calbayog. To this date, Dr. Uy’s murder remains unsolved, cold!
In both instances, the suspect(s) and motives were from outside the civilized and friendly confines of our hometown. Notably, it has been commonly deduced that the killings were of an intra-Samar province political rivalry. That seemed to have been the source of our curse.
I watched TV clips of our congressman, Edgar Sarmiento, in tears decrying the stupid attempt of the National Police Chief Debold Sinas mischaracterizing, without aid of facts, the bloody incident to be a “shoot out ” in a misencounter among policemen! That line seems to have become a standard knee-jerk reaction of the police lately. The Philippine National Police (PNP) cannot be trusted, begged Congressman Sarmiento. As a consequence, the Justice secretary has directed the National Bureau of Investigation to oversee the case.
I also had the opportunity to pore over a private video reportage taken and posted on Facebook. The 52-minute-long coverage showing the local SOCO or Scene of the Crime Officers in action, gathering evidence in and around an abandoned ambush vehicle, an SUV (Toyota Innova bearing Plate number ZBM 392). Reportedly, there was another lead vehicle that was able to get away after the skirmishes, the one that waylaid the Mayor’s van. This SUV may have been parked earlier, lying in wait, over the Labuyao bridge in Barangay Lonoy of Calbayog, scene of the bloodshed.
Let me describe what I saw plus bits of information coming from dozens of eyewitnesses, along with some personal observations.
The SUV was parked on the right side of the narrow highway bridge, facing north, abandoned. Along the right side of this vehicle, laying on the ground was the dead body, black bonnet-hooded, reportedly identified by his ID card as “SPO3 Romeo Cobocob Laoyon, Badge #189565…..GHQ/WSamar, Designation: Intel Operative.” A high-powered submachine gun lay by his side. Another suspected assailant was wounded and reportedly rushed to the nearest hospital, identified as PSOsg Neil Matarum Cebu. He is expected to live. Also recovered from the SUV were two additional car license plates, cellphones and a bulletproof vest. The wallet from the dead person contained calling cards. He was finger-printed and paraffin-tested on the spot.
On the bridge, several meters forward to the left of this SUV, also facing the north albeit askew was the mayor’s van. It had diagonally crashed against the concrete bridge guardrail, having crossed the median after being gun-riddled on its left side. The mayor, the driver and one bodyguard were all slain inside the Toyota van. A fourth passenger, another bodyguard, survived and is now in the hospital. He is expected to live and become a star witness.
Not covered by the SOCO video, but reported hours after: Under the bridge in proximate distance to the abandoned Innova and dead body, was another dead body. He was positively identified as PCapt. Joselito Tabada, police chief of Gandara town, 40 kms south of Calbayog. Town folks surmise that Tabada may have been the leader of the planned ambuscade.
A sequential scenario of the ambuscade seems to indicate that the mayor’s back-up security detail following him minutes after, seeing the mayor’s van stalled upon the guardrail and seeing the positioned Innova with armed individuals standing by, engaged them in a retaliatory firefight. Having been surprised by the mayor’s second vehicle and thereafter wounded, Tabada may have attempted to escape by jumping over, evidently succumbing to wounds while lying in the mud underneath. The photo I saw so indicated.
Subject to confirmation, there seems to be providence at play with the aforementioned mayor’s back-up security vehicle and the role it will play piecing together the elements of the case.
Monday afternoon, Mayor Aquino had just come from playing tennis in the city, which was his regular sports activity. From there they were motoring northwards to the family beachside resort, Villa Marcelina, to celebrate his son Mark’s birthday. The mayor asked the back-up vehicle to stop by and purchase some fresh fish and snacks along the way. Hence, the second vehicle was left behind for a couple of minutes.
That delayed lapse saved them from the first bursts of gunfire, only to witness within moments the instant aftermath of the mayor’s ambush. Thereupon, in retaliatory action, they took on the positioned armed police around the SUV.
That SOCO scene will provide incontrovertible facts of police complicity!
I believe this assassination to be an ‘open-and-shut’ case, even as we pray for justice. A well-earned peace will finally have a chance to descend upon and embrace our beloved hometown.
Calbayog is once again in mourning. The outpouring of sympathies and condolences have been overwhelming. It is an incalculable measure of the love and esteem we hold Mayor Ronaldo P. Aquino in our hearts.
Goodbye, Mayor Aquino. Godspeed!
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Tomas 'Buddy' Gomez III began his professional media career in ABS-CBN's (previously Chronicle Broadcasting Network) DZQL-Radio Reloj in 1957, after which he spent 25 years with the Ayala Group.
In 1986, the then Pres. Cory Aquino appointed him Consul General to Hawaii and later served as her Press Secretary.
During the Ramos administration, he was chairman and president of state-owned IBC-13 Network.
After government service, he became an ‘OFW’ in the U.S., working as front-desk clerk and then assistant general manager of a hotel. He also worked as a furniture and antique restoration specialist.
He is now retired and lives in San Antonio, Texas.
Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.