Killed were Isidro Sarmiento Sr., running for mayor of Malita town, and son Danilo. They were reportedly killed over alleged hidden election returns and ballot boxes taken from the Commission on Elections (Comelec). They were shot just meters away from their house.
The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), which is part of the task force, is investigating Rep. Claude Bautista, a gubernatorial candidate, as a suspect in the killing after a witness has surfaced implicating the congressman and his bodyguards for the killings.
Bautista is the brother of the elder Sarmiento’s opponent, Gov. Benjamin Bautista. Sarmiento was reportedly trailing Bautista in the canvassing of votes.
Bautista admitted it was his bodyguard who shot the Sarmientos but supposedly in self defense.
Lawyer Renato Mandawe, NBI Southeastern Mindanao executive officer, told reporters the witness has filed an affidavit on his account of the incident.
Mandawe told MindaNews in a telephone interview that Bautista has agreed to meet for questioning with the police's Criminal Investigation and Detection Group in Malita. But Bautista's group backed out from the meeting.
Mandawe said Bautista's lawyer showed up and explained the congressman has invoked his constitutional right to remain silent.
Bautista is second district representative and gubernatorial candidate running against first district representative Douglas Ra Cagas.
Initial reports showed that at 3 p.m. Wednesday, Bautista and his bodyguards went to the house of the Sarmientos to confront them for allegedly hiding ballot boxes.
Quoting the witness, Mandawe said that an argument ensued between Bautista's party and the younger Sarmiento. Danilo was allegedly unarmed when shot at close range.
But Bautista said it was not so. The Mindanao Times reported Thursday that the congressman, in a television interview, said they were first fired upon by the Sarmientos, and thus his bodyguard only retaliated.
One of Bautista’s bodyguards was reportedly wounded. The NBI identified him as Tito Alipaopao, but Pito Alipaopao in police records.
Mandawe said the task force is currently doing investigations preparatory to filing a murder case against Bautista.
The canvassing of election returns was halted Wednesday in Malita due to the incident. Police told the media canvassing would be pushed through in Digos City.
Comelec spokesperson Melcar Unso, however, said the Board of Canvassers in Malita will resume canvassing in the town as the situation has reportedly "stabilized."
Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, the regional peace and order council chair, said that at this time, the situation should be handled by the Comelec. He said he would be willing to intervene and work to disarm the parties to the conflict once the Comelec seeks it.
Unso said they have already referred the case to the police as the investigation is already ongoing.