Calbayog barangay chiefs mull resignation amid threats of killings

SAMAR, Philippines – Several barangay officials in Calbayog City have expressed the desire to resign amid the spate of killings by private armed groups targetting their fellow officials and their supporters.

On November 15, led to the death of Barangay San Jose Chairman Roberto Gacelos and his driver. They were brutally killed by unidentified armed men 100 kilometers away  from a police detachment in Barangay Villahermosa.  

Ironically, a police detachment in Villahermosa was set up just before that in a bid to boost security in the area.

Gacelos was a known supporter of Mayor Ronaldo Aquino.

Five days after that incident, Joe Patrick "Joepat" Mateo Lentejas, a staff at the City Mayor’s Office, was ambushed by goons while driving his red Mitsubishi Mirage near his house in Barangay Matobato in the city.

Both Gacelos and Lentejas had been receiving death threats.

A village official, who refused to be named, told Rappler that several of them had wanted to quit their elected posts, worried about the worsening security situation in Calbayog.

"I don’t know why all these senseless killings are happening in our city, and I don’t know for how long we will continue to live in fear," the official said.

"Gusto man namon makabalik sa mamurayaw na pangukoy. Nangaro kami sin bulig sa mga otoridad nga ma undang na ini nga pamatay," the official added. (We want to go back to our peaceful and happy life. We are appealing to our authorities to do something to stop these killings.)

Officials of the 157 barangays of Calbayog cite similar attacks that have happened in their areas since last year. The killers have been mainly targeting local leaders and supporters of Mayor Aquino.

According to village officials, private armed groups and paramilitary forces have been responsible for the spate of killings and serious violations of human rights not only in Calbayog but in nearby towns as well.

They called on the government to beef up security in the area, and for the police to maintain heavy presence.

In October 2016, Task Force Cagasmas was formed by the army’s 803rd Brigade and the police to track down the Montealto, Belleza, Managaysay groups, which are believed to be operating in Calbayog City and in the towns of Sta Margarita, San Jorge, Gandara, and Matuginao – all in the first district of Samar.

Meanwhile, Calbayog Mayor Aquino urged the village officials to continue to work and help one another in preventing further attacks.

"It is so shocking and sad. My heartfelt condolences to the families that have lost their loved ones. But I want you not to give up this battle," Mayor Aquino told barangay officials. "Let us not be discouraged from serving our city." –