LA Union residents called on the Philippine National Police (PNP) to immediately hunt down the leader and financier of an alleged assassination squad, following the arrest of suspecte of the killing of a farm caretaker in Bacnotan town last week.
“Local residents are very nervous about what is happening in the province. We are afraid that the political killings in 2018 might happen,” said Francisco Dacanay, a resident of San Fernando, La Union.
PNP Chief Gen. Guillermo Eleazar said several suspects linked to the group are now under the custody of La Union police. He said they are investigating if the suspects are members of a gun-for-hire group.
“Patuloy ang imbestigasyon kung totoong assasination squad. Very good may mga nahuli na,” Eleazar said in an interview over radio station DWIZ.
Several ex-military and police personnel were arrested on June 23, 2021 following the killing of Cristito Morate, a farm caretaker in Barangay Ballogo, Bacnotan, La Union on June 22, 2021.
The 49-year-old victim was shot dead over a right-of-way dispute with a member of the group. La Union police said the suspects reportedly shot the victim in the head and fled to San Juan town.
In a report by Bombo Radyo La Union, Police Major Gerardo Macaraeg Jr., chief of the San Juan Police Station, said several suspects were eventually arrested while trying to flee aboard a pickup truck following the discovery of their safe house in a resort. The group were renting four rooms in Vilas Buenavista Hotel and Restaurant in Barangay Ili Sur, San Juan
The arrested suspects were identified as Alan Alegria (alias Major Allan Rashid Ortega), an enlisted and active member of Philippine Marines; dismissed Patrolman Rogie Ege; Jomar Magpali, brother of dismissed PCol. Winston Magpali; and Police Master Sgt. Adonis Bayan, a member of Revitalized-Pulis Sa Barangay.
Ege is an AWOL member of the Philippine National Police-Special Action Force and a security guard of World Cup Security Services assigned at Aureo Resort and Hotel.
CCTV monitoring helped the police track down the suspects.
Macaraeg said the suspects allegedly tried to flee aboard an orange pick-up truck from San Juan and were cornered at a checkpoint by authorities in Barangay Lingsat, San Fernando City. Confiscated from the suspects’ vehicle were high-powered firearms, ammunition, bullet vests, two-way radios, cellphones, back packs and other items.
Authorities filed a murder case against the arrested suspects and for illegal possession of firearms and ammunitions.
Police said they will zero in on the mastermind of the crime and the real motive, adding that the vehicle used by the suspects was registered to a resident of Dagupan City, Pangasinan.
Authorities are also monitoring safe houses allegedly used by the suspects in Aringay, San Juan, Caba and Naguilian. Other members of the group are still at large.
A series of high-profile political killings occurred in the province in 2018. These include the unsolved killings of Balaoan Vice Mayor Alfred Concepcion on Nov. 14; Sudipen Mayor Alexander Buquing on Oct. 1; and former Second District Rep. Franny Eriguel on May 12.
Senator Panfilo Lacson, a former PNP chief, said in 2018 that the killings could indicate that some politicians were hiring armed groups ahead of the 2019 elections.
Residents of La Union are worried that the assassination squad may resurface again and hurt more victims ahead of the 2022 elections.