EDITORIAL - Another ambush

The Philippine Star

Another day, another murder, or an attempted one. Last Wednesday night, the target was the mayor of Datu Montawal town in the new province of Maguindanao del Sur. Ohto Caumbo Montawal was being driven southbound in a Toyota Hi-Ace van along the Roxas Boulevard service road in Pasay City when two men approached the vehicle and opened fire. The gunmen escaped.

Montawal was hit in the hip and left arm but survived. It was the third attack on a local government executive within just a week. On Feb. 17, gunmen ambushed the convoy of Lanao del Sur Gov. Mamintal Alonto Adiong Jr. in Bukidnon. Adiong survived, but four of his companions were killed.

Two days later, Mayor Rommel Alameda of Aparri in Cagayan and five companions were killed in an ambush in front of an elementary school in Barangay Baretbet, in Bagabag town, Nueva Vizcaya. Witnesses said the gunmen were in police uniform, but the Philippine National Police said the suspects were not PNP members. A white Mitsubishi Adventure used by the gunmen, with government license plates later found to have been stolen from a junked truck owned by a state university, was later found torched in Solano town.

Government officials aren’t the only targets of gunmen. Also on Feb. 19, New Zealand tourist Nicolas Peter Stacey was shot dead as he tried to defend his Filipina girlfriend during a robbery in Makati. The suspect, John Mar Manalo, surrendered to the Pasig police early yesterday following the release of his image caught on surveillance video. Police said Manalo has a standing arrest warrant for robbery with violence issued by the Malolos City court in Bulacan in September last year.

Armed violence targeting politicians usually spikes during election campaigns. But the country held general elections only nine months ago. Police together with local governments must enhance measures to prevent armed lawlessness and keep the public safe.

The attack on a foreign visitor is equally worrisome, especially as the country reopens for tourism. Personal safety is one of the top concerns of anyone considering a trip overseas. No matter how attractive a travel destination may be, the possibility of a violent attack can scare away prospective visitors. The Philippines already suffers from a reputation as the region’s homicide and kidnapping capital.

Whoever is the target of armed attacks, the perpetrators must be caught and quickly meted punishment. We have seen it often enough: if killers and other lawbreakers get away with their crime, impunity sets in, guaranteeing more attacks.

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