MANILA, Philippines - During the New Year’s Eve revelry, residents of a village in Kawit, Cavite alerted police that a neighbor, two-term former barangay councilman Ronald Bae, had fired a gun.
The complaint was ignored, and for the next days the 41-year-old Bae, nicknamed Bossing, often seemed drunk, after his wife reportedly abandoned him.
At around 9:30 a.m. yesterday, Bae, armed with a caliber .45 Colt semi-automatic, went out of his house in Barangay Tabon and barged into his neighbors’ homes, picking out people and firing away, shooting even a pregnant woman and her five-year-old daughter.
Bae then walked about 20 meters along the narrow street to a nearby market and opened fire again, hitting taho vendor Al Orio, his younger brother Antonio, and fruit vendor Irene Funelas.
Witnesses said Bae’s household caretaker, John Paul Lopez, helped him reload his pistol.
By the time Bae returned to his house, at least 15 people lay dying or seriously wounded. When police arrived and ordered him to surrender, he again opened fire. He was shot dead in the ensuing gunfight.
As of last night, seven of the victims were confirmed dead; the rest were in critical condition in various hospitals.
A police search of Bae’s house yielded several grams of shabu or methamphetamine hydrochloride, liquor, and an expired license card and ammunition for an Armalite rifle.
The fatalities were identified as Rhea de Vera, 34, and the baby in her womb plus her daughter Monica, 3; Alberto Fernandez, 55, Gilbert Toledo, 44: Funelas, and Michaella Andrea Caimol, 7.
The elder Orio, 20, died while being transferred to the Philippine General Hospital in Manila, police said.
Still in critical condition as of last night were Ken Cedric Caimol, 3; Maricel Pajal, 27; Michelle Caimol, 2; Emelinda Aquepel, 41; Ricky Diola Dumip-ip, 17; Antonio Orio, 15; Kevin Magarago Vaillada, and Cheveri Jaminal Ayson.
“He was running swiftly and moving his gun,” Caimol’s aunt Maita Lacorte told AFP. “I told my children and grandchildren to run.”
Fernandez’s brother-in-law Lito Ronquillo said the victim was shot while standing in his porch. A bullet hole could be seen in a window above the porch.
‘My ninong shot us’
Cavite police director Senior Superintendent Alexander Rafael said the motive was not yet established but initial investigation showed Bae was drunk and high on drugs when he went on the shooting spree.
Bae and John Paul were reportedly in a drinking session since Thursday night. Together they went out of the house yesterday and started shooting their neighbors one after another.
Fernandez was the first person to be shot, according his brother-in-law.
He was followed by Toledo, pregnant Rhea de Vera, and her child Monica; Caimol; Funelas, and Orio.
“It was random. He would fire at anybody who crossed his path,” investigating police officer Arnulfo Lopez said.
Seven-year-old Caimol was shot in the chest while her siblings, three-year-old Ken Cedric and two-year-old Rachel, were wounded.
Ken Cedric was said to be the suspect’s godson. He later told his grandmother,“Binaril kami ni Ninong (My godfather shot us).”
Eric Esno was fortunate to have survived the attack. He said Bae shot him twice, one bullet hitting his motorcycle and the other grazing his helmet.
Bae then walked towards a nearby market, shooting more people before returning home, where police caught up with him and demanded his surrender, according to Lopez.
“He opened fire on the police. So a gun battle ensued which resulted in the death of the suspect,” Lopez said.
A manhunt had been launched for the accomplice John Paul, Lopez said.
Cavite Gov. Juanito Victor Remulla has put up a bounty of P100,000 for the immediate arrest of Bae’s household caretaker.
Remulla said the provincial government of Cavite would shoulder the funeral expenses of the victims.
Remulla blamed the local police for failure to accost Bae when he fired his gun as early as Dec. 31 and then on Jan. 2.
“Bae was reportedly a friend of the Kawit police chief. If they had acted on this when he started his indiscriminate firing, this would not have happened,” Remulla lamented.
“The information was that since Dec. 31 to Jan. 4 (Bae) did not sleep and merely drank liquor,” he added.
Remulla also noted that when he arrived at the crime scene together with the mayor and vice mayor of Kawit at 11 a.m., local police head Chief Inspector Joel Saniba and Cavite police provincial director Senior Superintendent Alexander Rafael were not around.
Neighbors earlier overheard Bae talking to John Paul about his misunderstanding with his wife in Pampanga. The suspect started a drinking session with John Paul Thursday night.
Police said Bae was also involved in a shooting incident last year and was also involved in a drug case. Bae, known as “Bossing” and “Robin Hood” in their community, served as barangay kagawad (village councilor) for two terms but lost his bid for barangay chairman in the 2010 elections.
Malacañang condemned the incident, saying the children were innocent victims of the shooting rampage.
“We condemn what happened in Cavite, especially since children have also been made victims of this violent shooting incident,” deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said.
Valte, however, refused to comment on reports the suspect was high on drugs.
“As of the moment, what we can say is that this incident will certainly fuel the efforts of the Philippine National Police (PNP) in their drive against loose firearms.
“We will defer comment until such time that that has been established. We’ll defer comment, when it is established that he was really using prohibited drugs at the time that the shooting had happened,” Valte said.
Yesterday’s shooting comes amid a debate over the country’s lawless gun culture, which was sparked by the death of seven-year-old Stephanie Nicole Ella, who was felled by celebratory gunfire on New Year’s Eve.
The shooting has triggered concerned citizens and officials to call for stricter enforcement of gun control laws.
Calabarzon police director Chief Superintendent James Melad said they are investigating how Bae was able to own a .45 caliber pistol. He noted reports that Bae was a former bodyguard of some politicians in the province.
“I instructed the provincial director to investigate why and where the suspect got his gun and who is the owner,” Melad said.
Kawit district police chief officer Jaime Rollon said firearms were common in the area.
“There are a lot of people with guns here. There are civilians with guns, even without official permits to carry. They can find a way,” he said.
Cavite is one of the 15 provinces considered as “high risk” in the coming May elections due to the presence of private armed groups and the number of loose firearms.
Police records showed Cavite has 7,783 unlicensed firearms, a huge chunk of the 552,338 firearms with expired licenses nationwide.
On proposals for the imposition of a total gun ban, Valte said this has yet to be discussed with President Aquino, but described as unfair and “unwarranted assumption” that he will not support it because he is a gun enthusiast himself.
“Both will have to be discussed with the President, given the way that commentaries have been going because of the recent incidents,” Valte said.
A gun ban is underway next month, in anticipation of the May 13 elections.
“I think that is an unwarranted assumption (that Aquino won’t back gun ban),” Valte stressed, pointing out that while Aquino is a smoker himself, he made sure Congress passed the sin tax reform law imposing higher taxes on cigarettes and liquor. – Delon Porcalla, Shiela Crisostomo, Helen Flores, AP