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12 Abra mayor bodyguards yield to police
THE 2-day standoff between police and the heavily armed camp of Pilar, Abra Mayor Jaja Josefina Disono has finally ended after 12 armed bodyguards of the politician surrendered and turned over 14 of their firearms to Abra Police authorities.
The 12 who were said to be mostly retired military personnel will be subjected to a thorough investigation to determine who among them fired the shot at officers manning a checkpoint in the area triggering a gun battle that left one ex-Marine soldier dead.
The 12 were also said to be acting as unauthorized bodyguards of the vice-mayor.
The weapons will also be subjected to a ballistics test to determine if they have been used in last Tuesday’s incident and in the commission of other previous crimes in the province.
As of press time, the Abra Police are still checking the records of the surrendered long firearms with the Philippine National Police Firearms and Explosives Office.
The 12 surrendered following talks between officials of the Cordillera Police Regional Office headed by Brigadier General Ronald O. Lee and the camp of Disono led by their lawyer Raymond Fortun.
Prior to that, Fortun reportedly advised Disono to refrain from surrendering her bodyguards and weapons and just wait for the criminal charges to be filed against them by the police.
On Wednesday, police forensic investigators started looking for more pieces of evidence and other clues left by the gunmen who clashed with officers in Pilar, Abra before holding out inside the compound of the Disono.
Disono and her brother Mark Roland Somera in 2019 successfully ran for the vice-mayoralty and mayoralty post of Pilar in 2019 under the Nacionalista Party. Both are now seeking reelection on May 9.
Brig. Gen. Lee said that a heavily tinted Toyota Hi-Ace van used by the armed suspects is now being subjected to a forensic investigation.
Initially recovered inside the vehicle was a 9mm Striborg SP9A3 machine pistol with a magazine containing 20 live ammunition. The weapon is registered under the name of the vice mayor.
Lee also said that that the body of one Sandee Boy Bermudo, an alleged bodyguard of Vice Mayor Disono was also recovered inside the local politician’s compound.
The suspect was identified thru his identification card and a record check showed that Bermudo was recruited into the Philippine Marines in 2008 but went on AWOL (Absent Without Official Leave) status in 2014 and has been dismissed since then.
Brig. Gen. Lee said that the vice mayor has not requested the regional headquarters for a threat assessment which is a required by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) before an individual can be issued a gun ban exemption or an authority to employ a security personnel during the January 9 to June 8, 2022 election period.
Lee also denied the claim of the vice mayor that she and her brother were being subjected to political harassment and said that since last year, they have been receiving reports about the presence of some retired soldiers being employed as “bodyguards” by the two.
Philippine National Police (PNP) Chief General Dionardo B. Carlos has ordered a thorough investigation into the incident amid accusations by the vice mayor’s camp that they were being subjected to a political harassment.
The official said that prior to the setting of the checkpoints in the area, the Cordillera Police Regional Office and the Abra Police Provincial Office have already received information about the existence of armed groups in the area prompting them to intensify their gun checks in the area.
Fajardo said that Pilar, Abra has been included in the “Election Area of Concern” by the police due to previous election-related violent incidents in the municipality and this prompted the local police to adjust their deployment in the area to prevent further escalation of violence and to arrest the presence of partisan armed groups.
The official also called on the public, politicians included to simply comply with gun ban rules and immediately report any violations by the police.
Around 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, a gun battle erupted between policemen manning a checkpoint in Pilar, Abra and suspected members of a partisan armed group under the employ of the local mayor and vice mayor leaving one of the suspects dead, the Cordillera Police Regional Office reported.
Lee said that the gunfight took place in Bgy. Poblacion shortly after members of the Pilar Municipal Police Station and the Cordillera Regional Mobile Force Battalion who were conducting an on-the-spot checkpoint in the area were ignored by the occupants of a white Toyota Hi-Ace.
Brig. Gen. Lee said that the driver of the van sped off and in the process hit two members of the RMFB who were acting as rear security.
He said that officers onboard a mobile car pursued the fleeing vehicle but were fired upon by its occupants prompting them to retaliate.
The suspects later entered the compound of the vice mayor where they holed up.
Brig. Gen. Lee said the checkpoint was established to check reports that armed civilians in full violation of the nationwide gun ban are always accompanying the two local politicians.
“We have received reports that the armed suspects were either retired law enforcement officers or civilians from Mindanao who belonged to a group called ‘Blackwater’,” he said.