Kin of 2021 Calbayog ambush victims losing hope, fear for their lives

Jazmin Bonifacio

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Kin of 2021 Calbayog ambush victims losing hope, fear for their lives

WAITING FOR JUSTICE. The families of Calbayog Mayor Ronaldo Aquino's and three other men killed in Calbayog, Samar on , Mach 8, 2021 now fear for their safety after nine dismissed cops on trial for the killings were freed on bail on March 17. (Jazmin Bonifacio)

Jazmin Bonifacio

Human rights advocates say the Aquino case could fit the pattern of other political killings in Samar that still lack closure

TACLOBAN, Philippines – “Wara na gud ini paglaum dinhi.” (We have really lost hope.)

After nine dismissed cops walked out of the Tacloban City Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) facility on March 17, Ann Sario, the widow of a police security escort who died with Calbayog Mayor Ronaldo Aquino on March 8, 2021, expressed fears for her family’s safety.

“Nabaraka na ako sa amon seguridad adi akon mga anak,” Sario told Rappler on March 18. (I am very anxious about the security of my family, including my children.)

“Mag nano ako sini? Diri na ako maaram kun magnano ako. Diri ko kruyag magtangis kay adi sira, mahadlok na liwat sira.” (What will I do now? I don’t know what do do. I do not want to wail because that could just frighten my children.)

Ex-cops Harry Villar Sucayre, Shyrile Co Tan, Dino Laurente Goles, Julio Armeza Jr., Neil Matarum Cebu, Edsel Tan Omega, Niño Cuadra Salem, Julius Udtujan Garcia were released on the strength of a release order issued by Judge Janet Cabalona of the Calbiga RTC Branch 33.

Justice limbo

Private prosecutor Alma Uy said they had not been informed of a newly assigned judge after Judge Maricar Lucero of RTC Branch 31 inhibited from the case on March 9.

Lucero approved the dismissed cops’ bail petition on March 7, setting P120,000 bail for each accused, a day before the victims’ families commemorated their second death anniversary.

Ann’s husband, Master Sergeant Rodeo Sario, driver Dennis Abayon and bystander Klint John Paul Yauder were also killed in the Calbayog 2021 ambush.

SECOND DEATH ANNIVERSARY. Family and friends commemorate the second death anniversary of Calbayog mayor Ronaldo Aquino, who died from injuries sustained during on March 8, 2021 ambush. The attack also killed his driver, a police escort, and a bystander. (Jazmin Bonifacio/Rappler)

Rights advocates say the grant of bail for the ex-cops fits into a pattern of cases of Samar political killings languishing in justice limbo.

Human rights advocate Judah Aliposa pointed out that killings didn’t start with the current administration.

“It goes back to the late 80s, early 90s and it’s really the government that’s responsible, whether it’s the Duterte regime, or the past Aquino regime, or the Macapagal-Arroyo regime, or the Estrada regime. Because all of them have really not been able to give a solution to this problem in Samar.” Aliposa said in an interview on March 17.

Other killings

Before the assassination of Aquino, Calbayog mayor Reynaldo Uy was gunned down on April 30, 2011, in the municipality of Hinabangan.

It took five years for the mayor’s daughter, Rosa Jessica “Aika” Uy-Delgado, to file a complaint on March 22, 2016, against then-Samar 2nd District Representative Milagrosa Tan and several others.

The suspect in the killing who bared the alleged involvement of Tan confessed while in detention for the killing of an engineer, in an unrelated case.

Tan, the first female governor of Samar province, died on November 30, 2019, before the Uy  case prospered. Earlier in 2019, the Sandiganbayan convicted her of eight 8 counts of graft. Her daughter, Sharee Ann Tan, is Samar’s incumbent governor.

In 2004, five men gunned down Tarangan mayor Anieto Olaje in a cockpit just a few kilometers from Catbalogan.

His successor mayor Francisco Montero was also killed in a Catbalogan ambush just 36 days after Olaje’s assassination.

Matuginao mayor Carlos de la Cruz died in 2009 after assailants shot at him in front of his residence Catbalogan. A nephew was also badly injured in the attack.

Impunity in Samar

While Aquino was a local chief executive, most killings targeted “ordinary people,” Aliposa said.

He likened impunity in Samar to “an untreated wound.”

“If this won’t be resolved, this problem will escalate,” Aliposa warned.

DEFENDANTS. Some of the nine cops on trial for the March 8, 2021 ambush slay of Calbayog Mayor Ronaldo Aquino at the first day of bail hearings on October 5. Jazmin Bonifacio/Rappler

Political scientist and University of the Philippines Visayas Tacloban College (UP Tacloban) professor Ladylyn Lim-Mangada, told Rappler that many others have been killed due to their political beliefs.

” As a Catholic and democratic state, citizens should have zero tolerance for all forms of deceit, falsehood, and death, Mangada said.

“Samarenos should build a culture of debate and dissent to give the common good a chance to flourish, not just the interests of the moneyed political dynasty,” she told Rappler. –

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