Senator's mom hurt, 2 dead in NPA ambush

DAVAO CITY, Philippines (4th UPDATE) - Communist rebels ambushed the 4-vehicle convoy carrying Gingoog City Mayor Ruthie Guingona along a remote road in the same city in Misamis Oriental on Saturday night, April 20, injuring her and killing at least 2 others, police said.

PNP spokesman Chief Supt. Generoso Cerbo Jr. said the mayor was on her way home from a fiesta when they were fired upon by communist rebels at around 11 pm in Brgy Binakakalan.

Ruthie is the wife of former Vice President Teofisto Guingona and the mother of Senator Teofisto Guingona III. 

Her daughter, Stella Marie de Lara Guingona, is seeking to replace her as mayor.

Maj. Leo Bongosia, spokesman of the military’s 4th Infantry Division, said Ruthie's bodyguard and driver, brothers Nestor and Bartolome Velasco, died in the incident. A third person, who has yet to be identified, also reportedly died.

A cop, who is part of the security detail of Guingona, was also wounded, Bongosia said.

Senator Guingona III said in a statement his mother was wounded and trapped inside her vehicle, which fell on its side due to grenade explosions. She was rescued at dawn Sunday.

Ruthie sustained wounds in her arms and feet, according to reports. She is now safe.

"I am relieved she is now safe and in stable condition," said the senator.

NPA claims responsibility

The senator slammed the New People's Army (NPA), which claimed responsibility for the incident.

"The New People's Army fired upon an elderly and innocent woman who is already bowing out of politics," he said.

NPA-North Central Mindanao Regional Command spokesman Allan Juanito however claimed the rebel unit involved in the encounter was only acting "in self-defense."

Emphasizing what happened wasn't an ambush, he said it was the Gingoog mayor's aides who first fired their weapons at an NPA checkpoint.

"The lead vehicle of Mayor Guingona’s convoy rammed against the bamboo roadblock mounted by the red fighters while her escorts opened fire at the NPAs flagging down the convoy. The red fighters immediately returned fire in self-defense," he explained.

The NPA set up its own checkpoint operations in Mindanao ahead of the May polls.

It said this was to ensure "the peaceful conduct of elections" and was in accordance to "revolutionary policies," which include among others "prohibiting the use of firearms and armed escorts."

Senator Guingona however said the police in his mother's convoy were the only ones carrying firearms.

He added: "We would like to remind everyone in this country that there is only one government of the Republic of the Philippines. There is only one President who is in charge of executing the laws of this land... no one else has the right to usurp the laws of this country."

Gov't troops run after rebels

Bongosia said government forces were immediately deployed to secure the area. He said they are running after the suspects.

"Our forces are now conducting clearing and hot pursuit operations," Bongosia said.

"Joing AFP and PNP on pursuit operations," added Cerbo.

Guingona was on her way home after campaigning for Liberal Party candidates. - with reports from Karlos Manlupig/Rappler.com