ASUNCION, Davao del Norte (MindaNews/ 28 May) – Mayor Reynaldo Navarro of Laak town in Compostela Valley province was killed in an ambush by motorcycle-riding gunmen along a highway under construction here shortly before 9 a.m. Wednesday.
Two of the assailants were killed by the mayor’s security escorts but three others managed to escape, witnesses said.
The 62-year-old Navarro, also Executive Vice President for Operations of the League of Municipalities of the Philippines (LMP), was ambushed along Km. 9, Barangay Sagayen, while on his way to Tagum City from neighboring Laak town at around 8:30 a.m.
Janice Ollave, Laak information officer, told MindaNews in a telephone interview that the mayor traveled with his driver and two bodyguards in a white Montero SUV backed up by a silver Strada pick-up with three security personnel and the driver.
Navarro was rushed to Tagum Doctors Hospital in Tagum City some 24 kilometers away where doctors tried to revive him, said Ollave.
But she could not say how many bullets the mayor received. “Basta marami daw” (We were told plenty), she said.
Wounded in the ambush were the mayor’s driver Timelito Pacanot, and police escorts PO1 Rey Leones and PO3 Glen Ochoco. The three are now out of danger, Ollave said.
The bullet-riddled Montero, now parked outside the municipal police station here, had 31 bullet entry holes and no exit holes.
Witnesses here told MindaNews Navarro’s vehicle was slowing down at the end of the concrete portion of a one-way lane as it was entering the gravel portion when three persons on board a TMX motorcycle approached them from the opposite side of the already cemented but still closed to traffic lane, and fired at the mayor’s vehicle at close range.
The mayor was seated on the right side, beside the driver, and the gunmen approached them from the right lane.
Storeowner Alma Soralta said the gunmen covered partly their faces. She said the motorcycle driver fled the scene, leaving behind the two gunmen who engaged the mayor’s back-up escorts in a shootout that she reckoned lasted “mga (around) 30 minutes.”
Soralta said one of the gunmen took so long to die. “He had amulets around his body,” she said in Cebuano.
“Daghan anting-anting” (he had so many amulets), according to four young boys who were watching a TV show in a hut some 50 meters away, and who rushed to the scene after the shooting ended.
The boys ran to a hilly area behind the hut when the shooting began and somebody shouted “Gyera! Gyera!” (War! War!)
Soralta said the gunmen were backed up by accomplices on board an XRM motorcycle, who also fled the scene.
Jim Silongan, who was drying his corn kernels on the cemented but closed to traffic lane some five meters from where the gunmen stopped to fire their guns on the mayor’s vehicle, suffered a bullet graze on his back. He said he jumped into the roadside ditch during the firefight.
From the Tagum Doctors Hospital where he was declared dead, the mayor’s body was brought to the nearby Rubio Memorial Services in Tagum City. But as of 1 p.m. the management of the funeral parlor said the mayor’s body was still in the morgue as they were still awaiting the arrival of members of the police’s Scene of the Crime Operatives for the autopsy.
Ollave said residents in Laak could not believe that their mayor is gone. Navarro served Laak and Compostela Valley province in various capacities.
According to Ollave, Navarro was a clerk at the Provincial Governor’s Office of Davao del Norte from 1975 to 1977, was district officer of the Population Commission from 1977 to 1987, appointed municipal mayor of San Vicente (old name of Laak town) from 1987 to 1988 and mayor from 1988 to 1998.
Navarro was appointed as the first Vice Governor of Compostela Valley province from March 27, 1998 to June 30, 1998 and elected Vice Governor from 1998 to 2001.
From 2001 to 2007, Navarro served as general manager of LS Properties Corporation, but from 2002 to 2007 was barangay chief of Bollukan, Laak, and became a member of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan. He was elected again as mayor of Laak from 2007 and was on his third term as mayor when killed.
Senior Supt. Samuel Gadingan, Davao del Norte police chief, told MindaNews at the municipal police station that they are still investigating who could be behind the killing of Navarro. He said pursuit operations against the three suspects who escaped are still going on as well as investigations to determine the identities of the two slain gunmen.
No group has come forward to admit responsibility for the crime.
Navarro’s killing came six days after Ka Aris Francisco, spokesperson of the NPA- Comval-North Davao South Agusan Sub-regional Command, issued a four-paragraph press statement maintaining that Navarro is a member of the “Big 4 logging lords.”
In the statement dated March 23 but e-mailed to media outlets at 7:21 pm on March 22, the NPA accused Navarro of “lying as logging is rampant in Laak villages” and attached video clips of logs on the roadside allegedly taken from villages in Laak.
The statement said Navarro had “attempted to absolve himself by saying that Laak was merely a transit point of trucks coming from the boundary of Agusan del Sur, site of logging operations,” and that village officials informed them of Navarro’s alleged “direct participation in the logging activities.”
“For as long as local reactionaries like Navarro continue to make big business out of the remaining forest resources, the NPA will impose measures to protect the environment and peasants, Lumads and masses who suffer from the effects of rampant logging. Fascist troops who continue to violate human rights of peasants while plundering the forests are legitimate targets,” the statement read.
Ollave said the mayor denied the NPA’s allegations.