Ex-VP’s wife wounded, 2 aides killed in Misamis Oriental
CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY , Philippines — New People’s Army (NPA) gunmen blocked the convoy of the wife of former vice president Teofisto Guingona Jr. on the outskirts of Gingoog City, Misamis Oriental on Saturday, and opened fire when the convoy did not stop.
In the hail of bullets, the Hi-Lux pickup truck carrying Gingoog Mayor Ruthie Guingona rolled over. The wounded mayor was trapped for five hours in the bullet-riddled vehicle before she was rescued early yesterday and airlifted to Manila.
Mayor Guingona’s driver Nestor Velasco and his brother Tomas died at the scene. The mayor’s security escort, Special Police Officer 3 Roland Dimerito, and a civilian identified as Leo Cante were wounded.
NPA spokesman Jorge Madlos apologized to the families of the victims, claiming the rebel group did not intend to kill civilians.
Mayor Guingona, who is on her third and final term, had attended a village beauty pageant in Barangay Alagatan where she campaigned for her daughter Marie, who is seeking to replace the mayor under the administration Liberal Party (LP).
The NPA guerrillas fled after a 10-minute gunfight with the mayor’s police escorts, according to Chief Superintendent Generoso Cerbo, Philippine National Police (PNP) spokesman.
The attack came less than a month before local elections in May. NPA guerrillas often take advantage of election seasons to raise funds, by demanding protection money from candidates who want to campaign in areas under their control.
Malacañang condemned the attack.
“Whatever the reason, violence should not be resorted to against any official now that the election is drawing nearer,” deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said.
Valte said the PNP is pursuing the gunmen.
Sen. Teofisto “TG” Guingona III said yesterday his mother was in stable condition in a Manila hospital.
“(She was) wounded and trapped inside the vehicle that fell on its side due to grenade explosions,” he said. “My mother was rescued at dawn today. I am relieved that she is now safe and in stable condition.”
Senator Guingona slammed the NPA for the attack on his mother who is in her 70s.
“The New People’s Army has fired upon an elderly and innocent woman who is already bowing out of politics,” he said.
The assailants were identified as members of the NPA’s Guerrilla Front 4B of North Central Mindanao Regional Command.
Madlos said the NPA had tried to prevent Mayor Guingona and her supporters from going through Barangay Binakalan but the convoy did not stop. He claimed the convoy opened fire, prompting the rebels to fire back.
“We feel sorry about the incident, but Guingona was warned last week not to bring an armed security escort with her while on the campaign trail,” Madlos said in a radio interview yesterday.
Regional military spokesman Maj. Leo Bongosia said Mayor Guingona suffered abrasions in various parts of her body and her foot was apparently grazed by a bullet.
Troops from the Army’s 58th Infantry Battalion along with the local police responded at the scene and managed to drive away the rebels before rescuing Mrs. Guingona and her team. The troops rushed them to the hospital.
A military helicopter airlifted Mrs. Guingona from a hospital in Gingoog City, where she was initially treated, to Cagayan de Oro City for further medical treatment.
Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesman Col. Arnulfo Burgos said the attack only showed the NPA are no different from other armed groups that use force and violence to intimidate and coerce people to take sides.
Burgos said the attack on the mayor showed the criminal nature of the NPA despite their projecting themselves as pro-people.
“The AFP strongly condemned yet another attack by the NPAs that resulted to the death of two individuals and the wounding of Mayor Ruthie Guingona of Gingoog City and one policeman,” Burgos said.
Senator Guingona pointed out that the armed men in his mother’s convoy were policemen authorized to carry guns.
His fellow senators Franklin Drilon, Gregorio Honasan and Loren Legarda condemned the attack and urged authorities to bring the perpetrators to justice.
“My thoughts and prayers are with the Guingona family as well as with the relatives and friends of those killed and injured in the incident, and with the peace-loving people of Gingoog City who are outraged by this barbaric attack in the heat of the May 2013 election campaign,” Drilon said.
Drilon assured the Guingona family and the residents of Misamis Oriental that “the full force of the law will be applied to identify and bring the perpetrators of this crime before the bar of justice.”
“My thoughts and prayers are with her and her family and friends,” Honasan said.
Legarda, for her part, said, “I am shocked and so sad and pray for her recovery and I condole with the family of her bodyguard and a staff who selflessly protected her.”
The United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) condemned the ambush and expressed hope that the perpetrators will be brought to justice.
“Vice President Jejomar Binay, former President Joseph Estrada and Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, together with the coalition candidates, are in solidarity in condemning this brazen act,” UNA campaign manager Navotas Rep. Toby Tiangco said.
“As Filipinos, we take care of our elderly; not hurt them. No matter what the circumstances are, we don’t shoot at women,” Tiangco added.
Tiangco said they are praying for the speedy recovery of Guingona and offered condolences to the families of the slain aides.
Senate candidates of UNA also denounced the attack.
Juan Miguel Zubiri challenged authorities to immediately arrest the gunmen.
“I strongly denounce any form of political violence and unnecessary loss of lives during the election season. This is such a barbaric act,” Zubiri said.
UNA candidate Richard Gordon, who chairs the Philippine Red Cross, expressed concern that the NPA spared no one, including women.
He noted that Mayor Guingona is part of the Red Cross, whose ambulance crew helped airlift the mayor to Manila and retrieve the fatalities from the ambush site.
“We need to stand down in this country and start thinking about what kind of people we have become,” Gordon said. “We need to stand down and start thinking about how we can live in an organized civil society where we can talk about our problems without hurting one another with our words and without using violence as a way to secure power.”
– With Delon Porcalla, Christina Mendez, Jaime Laude, Edith Regalado, Alexis Romero