LAST Tuesday’s incident in Pilar, Abra has turned up into a “protracted battle” between the Philippine National Police (PNP) leadership and a mighty local politician who has cried political harassment and upon the advice of her top-notch lawyer refused to surrender her armed bodyguards and weapons.
On Wednesday, police forensic investigators started looking for more pieces of evidence and other clues left by the gunmen who clashed with police officers in Pilar, Abra before holding out inside the compound of the local Vice Mayor Jaja Josefina Disono.
Disono and her brother Mark Roland Somera successfully ran for the vice mayor and mayoralty post of Pilar in the 2019 elections under the Nacionalista Party.
Both are seeking reelection on May 9.
As of press time, a standoff continued in the area as the vice-mayor, upon the advice of their lawyer imported directly from Manila, Atty. Raymund Fortun, refused to surrender the armed suspects as well as their weapons.
The suspects were said to be retired soldiers or policemen acting as unauthorized bodyguards of the vice mayor.
The vice mayor’s refusal to surrender the occupants of the vehicle and their weapons has triggered a number of questions on how police may storm the compound and arrest the gunmen due to a “hot pursuit operation” without being charged in court.
Questions were raised since there is the possibility that similar incidents in other far-flung parts of the country may be repeated and the armed suspects being chased by the police would just go inside the compound of their political bosses, lock the gates and merely wait for their lawyers to arrive and question the legality of any effort to arrest them or search their place for weapons.
Under Rule 113, Section 5 of the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure on warrantless arrest, a peace officer or a private person, “may, without a warrant, arrest a person when, in his presence, the person to be arrested has committed, is actually committing, or is attempting to commit an arrest.”
It is also known as an in flagrante delicto or “in the very act of wrongdoing” arrest.
In the Pilar incident, officers involved in the checkpoint, which was ignored by the suspects, could have arrested them in a “hot pursuit” operation since they already have personal knowledge that the accused had committed a criminal offense.
Cordillera Police Regional Office Director Brigadier General Ronald O. Lee also said that the vice mayor has not requested the regional headquarters for a threat assessment which is required by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) before an individual can be issued a gun ban exemption or an authority to employ security personnel during the January 9 to June 8, 2022 election period.
Brig. Gen. Lee 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 Chief Gen. 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 political harassment.
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.
Brig. Gen. Lee reported to Gen. Carlos 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. 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.
The slain suspect will undergo a paraffin test while the recovered weapon will be subjected to a ballistics examination to determine if it was used in the Abra policemen shooting.
PNP spokesperson Col. Jean Fajardo said local policemen have already cordoned off the compound although they are not expecting the vice mayor anymore to surrender the occupants of the van as well as their firearms.
“We received the information that the demands made by the Cordillera police won’t be met anymore by the vice mayor’s camp. Instead, they sent words that their lawyer will just answer whatever case will be filed against them by the police,” Fajardo said.
The official said the local police are after the occupants of the van who ignored a checkpoint, struck two policemen acting as rear guards, and fired shots that shattered the windshield of a police car before its driver sped off inside the vice mayor’s compound.
“The Cordillera Police has asked the vice mayor to yield the occupants of the van and their weapons but they were informed that there won’t be any surrender upon the advice of their lawyer,” the PNP spokesperson said.
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.
The incident has also prompted the local police to adjust their deployment in the area to prevent further escalation of violence and 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 Barangay 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 van.
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.
The official said he has ordered the compound cordoned off by the local police while efforts are underway to convince the other suspects to peacefully surrender.