Abra mayor’s kin tag Crisologo; cops eye NPA in slay
- Artemio Dumlao, Rene Alviar, Teddy Molina () - October 31, 2002 - 12:00am
The old story of political clan leaders murdering each other inside churches gained currency anew yesterday as the brother of assassinated Tineg, Abra Mayor Clarence Benwaren accused their political archrivals of involvement in the killing.

In an interview with dzPA station in Bangued, Abra, Lenin Benwaren accused Tineg Vice Mayor Edwin Crisologo of being behind his brother’s assassination during a wedding ceremony inside the San Isidro Church in Calauan, Laguna the other day.

Nobody could have done it but the one with whom we are in conflict," Lenin said in Ilocano, adding that Crisologo was even invited to the wedding where his brother was assassinated.

Even Malacañang said the incident appeared to be a "political killing" and President Arroyo has already ordered Interior and Local Government Secretary Jose Lina to resolve the case.

"Secretary Lina is taking a very keen interest here because this is a political killing. We cannot allow these kinds of political killing to go on at this time. Gone are the days where political leaders are assassinated," said Presidential Spokesman Rigoberto Tiglao.

Tineg residents, however, laughed off Tiglao’s remark and said political killings are very much a part of politics in remote areas of the country.

It was not the first time the name Crisologo was implicated in a political assassination.

Former Ilocos Sur congressman Floro Crisologo, father of incumbent Quezon City Councilor Vicente "Bingbong" Crisologo, was assassinated in the late 1960s while he was hearing Mass inside St. Paul’s Cathedral in Vigan, Ilocos Sur.

The Floro Crisologo assassination remains officially unsolved but Ilocos Sur residents believe that the killing had something to do with tobacco excise taxes and was masterminded by ranking political and military leaders.
Retaliatory attacks?
But the Tineg vice mayor denied that he was involved in the killing and said that many people had a motive to assassinate Benwaren, including the communist New People’s Army (NPA).

"Adu met ti pinapatay da (They also had many people killed)," Crisologo said, charging that Benwaren was known to have maintained a private army.

Crisologo said his wife and children have already received death threats through text messages and accused Benwaren’s supporters, who have supposedly been spotted "casing" Crisologo’s house in Bangued, of sending them.

One of the text messages read: "Agsaganaka ta sumaruno ka ti di mabayag (Get ready, you will die shortly)."

"They even threatened to kidnap my four children," Crisologo said as policemen stood guard in front of his house in Bangued and in Baguio City. Benwaren also maintains a house in Baguio where his remains were brought yesterday morning.

Meanwhile, Cordillera police director Chief Superintendent Victor Luga dispatched two regional mobile force squads from Camp Dangwa to augment police forces in Bangued to prevent armed hostilities in tension-gripped capital town.

Tineg residents said clashes between Benwaren’s supporters and residents identified with Crisologo were not uncommon.

Crisologo said four of his supporters were killed in three incidents this year and accused the Benwaren camp of instigating the killings. On July 12, Benwaren, his brother Lenin and 10 Tineg officials were ambushed while they were on their way to the town hall.

On Sept. 12, NPA rebels attacked Benwaren’s private camp in Sitio Vera in Barangay Alaca-Tapayen and burned down two houses and three shacks being used by his bodyguards, some of them soldiers.

The Agustin Begnalen Command owned up to the attack, claiming it was part of the "revolutionary movement’s efforts to punish the Benwaren warlord family."

The NPA accused the Benwaren couple and Levin of masterminding politically motivated killings in Tineg and other parts of Abra.

Police are eyeing "a greater possibility" that the NPA may be behind the assassination on Tuesday of Benwaren at a church wedding in Calauan.

Southern Tagalog police director Chief Superintendent Enrique Galang said this was gleaned from evidence taken from the body of the suspected assassin, identified as Edberto Amoncio, and the testimonies of Benwaren’s policeman-bodyguard and driver.

The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), however, warned the police against jumping to the conclusion that the NPA was behind Benwaren’s assassination, saying the authorities should first gather evidence to bolster that charge.

NBI agents, led by National Capital Region executive officer Romulo Asis, were sent to Calauan to help police gather evidence on the assassination.

While Galang refused to discount the possible involvement of Benwaren’s political rivals in the assassination, he said the three cell phones and the site sketches taken from Amoncio, who was killed by pursuing policemen, point to the NPA.

Galang said Amoncio, 26, of Samar Avenue in Diliman, Quezon City, is believed to be the gunman and sketches of the Calauan church and the area of the wedding reception in Barangay Masiit were also found in his possession.

Police also recovered a plan to kill the mayor, including a budget of P50,000 allocated for the board and lodging of the supposed killers.

Galang also noted that intelligence reports indicate Benwaren was among three well-known personalities in the Cordillera region who are supposedly on a liquidation list of the NPA’s Cordillera-based Agustin Begnalen Command.

Galang theorized that the Agustin Begnalen Command may have asked NPA rebels operating in Southern Tagalog to carry out the liquidation plan.

Calauan police chief Superintendent Henry Azuten said they have filed murder charges against seven people, one of them a woman, for the assassination but only Ceman Manalang, the driver of the liquidation squad, was named in the charge sheet.

Manalang, a resident of Paciano Rizal in Bay, Laguna, told police he did not know any of his supposed accomplices and was merely hired by the group to drive them to Calauan for P1,500 plus P200 for gasoline.
Grieving wife
Benwaren’s wife Soledad, for her part, urged the authorities to ferret out the truth behind her husband’s killing and appealed for sobriety among Tineg residents.

"This should serve as a wake-up call for the residents of Tineg to unite for peace and development instead of fighting each other," Soledad said, refusing to comment on the ongoing police investigation.

She said she and her husband’s relatives are still considering when to bring Benwaren’s remains to Bangued because of "cultural considerations" as her husband is a Tingguian tribesman while Soledad is a Kinali tribeswoman.

Benwaren, 37, was shot with a caliber .45 automatic pistol in the right temple at about 9:45 a.m. on Tuesday inside the church.

Azuten said the shooting took place while Benwaren and other guests were having their pictures taken following the marital rites.

He added that people inside the church scampered for safety as the assassin fled but policemen cornered Amoncio and Manalang as the suspects were running toward their getaway vehicle where their six accomplices were waiting.

In the Senate, Sen. Rodolfo Biazon, vice chairman of the Senate committee on national defense and security, urged police and military officials to investigate reports that "private armies" figured in armed clashes following Benwaren’s assassination.

"I thought private armies are already history and yet we are confronted with these reports. The government will have to deal with the adverse effects of their existence or there will be a general perception of lack of rule of law," Biazon said.

Biazon said he received reports that a large group of armed men, carrying high-powered rifles, ambushed Benwaren’s followers shortly after the mayor was killed in Laguna.

The police and military, he said, should dismantle the private armies to prevent the violence triggered by Benwaren’s killing from spreading outside Tineg town. – With Sammy Santos, Cecille Suerte Felipe

AGUSTIN BEGNALEN COMMAND ASSASSINATION BANGUED BENWAREN CALAUAN CRISOLOGO FLORO CRISOLOGO POLICE POLITICAL TINEG
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