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Task group formed to investigate killing of Calbayog mayor by police personnel

Franco Luna - Philstar.com
Task group formed to investigate killing of Calbayog mayor by police personnel
Screenshot shows the city of Calbayog in the province of Samar.
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MANILA, Philippines — National police leadership has formed a special investigative task group to probe the death of Calbayog City Mayor Ronaldo Aquino at the hands of provincial police.

Aquino—then 58 years old and serving his third and final term as the city's mayor—was with three bodyguards when they were ambushed as they were on the way to attend the birthday party of his son in Brgy. Lonoy, Calbayog on Monday evening.

The task group will be led by Police Col. Edwin Wagan, who serves as Deputy Regional Director for Operations for Police Regional Office 8, the Philippine National Police said in a statement issued through its public information office. 

"Details of the incident remain to be sketchy as initial findings of investigative units are yet to be fully consolidated by the newly-organized SITG," the statement reads, referring to the ambush-slay as an "unfortunate incident." 

Speaking in an interview aired over DZMM TeleRadyo earlier Tuesday morning, Rep. Edgar Sarmiento (Samar 1st District) said that it was masked but uniformed police personnel who carried out the murder. 

The House lawmaker belied earlier claims by Police Gen. Debold Sinas, PNP chief, that it was the mayor's camp that fired first. 

"Why [is the police] turning the narrative around? I don't understand that...I am asking for help. I can't get justice from the Philippine National Police," he said in Filipino, addressing President Rodrigo Duterte. 

READ: Lawmaker contests 'shootout' tag in ambush-slay of Calbayog City mayor

What police knows so far 

The PNP in its statement conceded that a joint group composed of members of the Integrity Monitoring and Enforcement Group and Provincial Drug Enforcement Unit was "conducting Red Teaming inspection on the operational readiness of PNP units in the area" before they were involved in the shootout.

It added that all the personnel's firearms will be subjected to forensic examination.

They, however, reiterated their stance that the mayor and his aides, which also included a "police close-in security" on board, "fired at the unmarked vehicle of the IMEG-PDEU group that was traveling in the same direction along the road."

It is unclear why they would have done so. 

"There was an exchange of gunfire between the two groups that resulted in casualties on both sides. The mayor, his police escort, and his driver died, with one civilian employee wounded. At the other vehicle, two police personnel also died and 1 more wounded. The IMEG-PDEU group denies that Mayor Aquino was a subject of their operations or that he was targeted. The SITG shall confirm the veracity of this statement," police said. 

"PNP personnel involved also claimed they were initially unaware of the passengers on board the vehicle that fired upon them. It was only after the firefight that the said vehicle was identified to be owned by Mayor Aquino. The same remains to be validated."

In 2011, then-Calbayog City Mayor Reynaldo Uy was also shot and killed by unknown gunmen.

The case remains unsolved to this day. 

This comes just two days after what progressive groups call Bloodbath Sunday, when nine activists and labor organizers were shot and killed by joint police and military forces who were supposedly serving search warrants for illegal explosives. 

PHILIPPINE NATIONAL POLICE

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