Barangay killings haunt Antipolo as polls draw closer

MANILA, Philippines – A village leader was killed along Sumulong Highway last Wednesday, March 14, in supposedly another case of election-related violence in Antipolo City, Rizal.

According to a witness, who refused to be named, Morosi Homeowners Association president Rufino Merca went to his car to get his jacket when two suspects riding a motorcycle shot him dead.

"May meeting ang mga political supporters ni Kagawad Cerilo 'Bebot' Tenorio, at isa si Merca sa mga tatakbo sa ticket niya bilang kagawad. Hindi pa nagsisimula ang meeting no'ng nangyari 'yung pamamaril," the witness added.

(There was a meeting of political supporters of Councilor Cerilo "Bebot" Tenorio, and Merca was one of the candidates running under his ticket. The meeting had not yet started when the shooting happened.)

Merca's killing comes just two months before the barangay election on May 14. Some lawmakers, however, want the polls to be suspended again.

Video in 2016

In a video sent to Rappler, Merca was shown mentioning two names who, he said, would be the only suspects should he be killed.

He made the video in 2016 shortly after the killing of 69-year-old engineer Hermilo Balucan, then president of Puyat Homeowners Association, who was shot during a Christmas party.  

Both Balucan and Merca were supporters of Tenorio, who is running for captain of Barangay Sta Cruz against the wife of incumbent Barangay Captain Oscar Tamayao.

In the video, Merca says he noticed that he was being followed after Balucan's death.

"Hindi lang naman ito ang aking testimonya, sa mga anak ko sinabi ko na rin ito – na walang ibang hahabulin kundi si Kapitan Tamayao at isang tauhan niya sa Purok Sampaguita, walang iba kundi ang chairman na si Rico Picar," he said.

(This is not my only testimony, I also told my children this – that no one else should be a suspect but Captain Tamayao, and also one of his men in Purok Sampaguita, none other than the [sitio] chairman, Rico Picar.)

Picar also killed

Picar, chairman of a sitio in Barangay Santa Cruz, was also killed in a shooting incident last February 28. He was one of Tamayao's coordinators.

In a phone interview, Tamayao denied his alleged involvement in the killing of Merca.

"'Wag naman nila ibibintang sa akin. Ako nagtatrabaho lang ako sa barangay. Kasama ko 'yan noong unang panahon, kaso natalo. Masyado silang mapulitika," Tamayao said.

(They shouldn't blame me. I'm just doing my job here in the barangay. I worked with him a long time ago, but he lost. They're politicizing this matter too much.)

He added that their kids are classmates and have been in touch since the shooting incident, prompting him to provide assistance in reaching out to the Scene of the Crime Operatives (SOCO) to process the crime scene.

Consistent election 'hotspot'

Antipolo has been among the election hotspots since 2001.

Hotspots are areas considered by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) as areas of concern where election-related violence are either highly expected or likely to occur.

The Philippine National Police (PNP) has yet to release a list of hotspots for the upcoming barangay polls. It has announced the implementation of a gun ban from April 14 to May 21.

When police were pulled out of President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs, top cop Director General Ronald dela Rosa started a war against riding-in-tandem shootings, a common method used for murder. –