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Iloilo crime gang leader, 4 others nabbed in Negros

CEBU, Philippines — No blood was shed in the arrest of Iloilo's most notorious criminal gang leader, and his four cohorts, at Barangay Poblacion in Hinoba-an town of Negros Occidental on Thursday afternoon.

The suspect, 62-year-old Arturo Balume Sr. alias Master Pedik, of Barangay Bato in Sara, Iloilo, was arrested 5:30. p.m. along with his wife Honey Grace, his son Arturo Jr., 27, and wife Pamela, 23, and the latter's brother, Ryan Cainglet, 29.

The elder Balume has been tagged as the leader of the Balume Criminal Gang and was believed to be a sub-group member of the late drug lord Melvin Odicta operating in Iloilo province, Iloilo City, Capiz, and Negros Occidental. Aside from illegal drugs involvement, the group has been known to be engaged in gun-for-hire activities.

Joint elements of the Regional Intelligence Division 6 (RID-6), the Iloilo Police Provincial Office (IPPO), and the Negros Occidental Police Provincial Office (NOPPO) collared Balume Sr., by virtue of an arrest warrant for two counts of murder (under Criminal Case Numbers 2017-8232 and 2017-8233), issued by Judge Rogelio Amador of RTC-6 Branch 66, Barotac Viejo, Iloilo.

The same arrest warrant was also served against Arturo Jr. alias "Turing," and the three others, who were present during the arrest, were also taken by the police.

The double murder case stemmed after Balume Sr. and his group were accused in the killing of Ronaldo Estandarte and Robert Magarso on May 8, last year at Barangay Pani-an in Balasan, Iloilo.

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Estandarte, a resident of Purok 3, Barangay Tacbuyan, Estancia, Iloilo, and Magarso, a resident of Barangay Arac, Passi City, were known supporters of Melina Requinto, a defeated mayoralty bet of Estancia town. On April 25, 2017, an arrest warrant was issued against the Balume group.

Senior Superintendent Marlon Tayaba, Iloilo Police provincial director and the one who led the arrest operation, said all of the five suspects will also be charged with violations of Republic Act 10591 (Comprehensive Firearms and Ammunition Regulation Act) and RA 9165 (Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002), as firearms and shabu were seized during their arrest.

Tayaba said the suspects were caught in their possession 10 sachets of shabu worth P83,000, a .38-caliber revolver loaded with six ammunition, a .45-caliber (Colt) pistol with seven ammunition, and a Nokia mobile phone.

PRO-6 records showed the Balume Criminal Gang has 16 core members but seven were already neutralized. Balume Sr. was allegedly used to be a bodyguard of former mayor Neptali Salcedo of Sara, Iloilo, while his group served as a private armed group, allegedly for Mayor Rene Cordero of Estancia, Iloilo.

The police had categorized Balume Sr. as a high-value target (HVT) level 3 because of his association with Odicta. He was reportedly sourcing his drugs supply from the National Bilibid Prison and Mindanao. Two years ago, the younger Balume was arrested in Estancia town for illegal possession of firearm, but was later freed after posting bail.

Before they were collared, police have been operating against the group for over a year already.

Tayaba said they looked for Balume in his reported properties: a beach resort in San Dionisio, Iloilo; gamefowl farms in Sara, Iloilo, and in Nabas, Aklan; a farm in San Rafael, Iloilo; and a quarry business in Hinigaran, Negros Occidental.

Balume was also monitored to be frequenting several areas in Himamaylan City, Bacolod City, Sipalay City, and the towns of Hinoba-an, and Hinigaran, all in Negros Occidental.

Balume Sr. denied the accusations imputed against him, and of leading the ambuscade against Requinto's supporters. He also denied that the drugs and firearms seized allegedly from their possession, and then further claimed no knowledge about his alleged association with Odicta.

Balume only admitted to one allegation: He used to be on the payroll of the Estancia municipal government, and it was about five years ago when he only received a P240 daily wage for working at the town's fishing port.

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