Cagayan mayor killed in flag-raising attack

MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – A mayor of Cagayan province in Northern Luzon and 2 of his security personnel were killed in an early morning attack on Monday, April 21, according to the military.

Mayor Carlito Pentecostes Jr of Gonzaga town was killed when about 15 armed men attacked the municipal town hall at 7:30 am Monday while they were holding a flag raising ceremony, according to Major Emmanuel Garcia of the military's Northern Luzon Command (Nolcom) 1st Civil Relations Group (CRG).

Mining operations in the town may be the motive behind the mayor's killing, initial police reports say. The armed men allegedly left behind anti-mining leaflets at the municipal hall grounds after the shooting incident.

The words "hustisya para iti kaaduan, dusaen dagiti utek ti dayuhan a minas iti Cagayan"  (justice for all, punish the brains of the illegal mining operations by foreigners in Cagayan) were allegedly written on the leaflets.

Police engaged the armed men in a firefight but the latter escaped after killing the mayor. Pentecostes is a 2-term mayor of Gonzaga town. He ran under the ticket of former President Gloria's Arroyo's Lakas-Kampi in 2010 and then moved to Vice President Jejomar Binay's United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) in 2013.

"More or less 15 armed men clad in PNP uniform onboard two vans staged an attack at the town hall of Gonzaga, Cagayan, during the flag raising ceremony. The mayor including his two bodyguards reportedly died on the spot," reads a situation report from the military.

"Firefight ensued with the PNP personnel but the armed men withdrew immediately after killing the mayor. The armed men commandeered the police car as their means of escape. Pursuit operation now ongoing," it added.

The suspects also allegedly took 3 policemen-issued firearms – 3 Glock 9 mm  pistols. The PNP's 2nd Regional Public Safety Battalion, Gonzaga Police and Cagayan Regional Police are still in pursuit of the suspects.

"It looks like the New People's Army (NPA). That is where the evidence is pointing. It was their usual modus operandi, disguising in camouflage uniforms," regional police director Chief Superintendent Miguel Laurel told Agence France-Presse.

In January, the NPA raided a black sand mining firm in the province and burnt heavy equipment.

Mining issues 

In a police report, a certain Police Officer 3 Agustin of the Gonzaga Police Station said he heard the armed men say in Ilocano: "We're sorry sir, this isn't you're fault. This is the mayor's fault."

Pentecostes has been a vocal supporter of "responsible" black sand mining. A November 2013 Philippine Star report quoted him as saying: "We are for responsible mining. We don’t abuse our natural resources. We see to it that there is a balance between sustainable utilization of our resources and economic prosperity," 

In February 2014, however, the Mines and Geosciences Bureau stopped black sand mining in the province, according to a separate report from PhilStar. Pentecostes in the report said black sand mining operations had stopped in Gonzaga "as early as late [2013]." – with reports from Michael Bueza, Bea Cupin, and Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com