Murder charges filed vs bandits in Sarangani

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/3 Dec) – Police authorities in Sarangani province have filed murder charges against at least five suspected bandits who were tagged as behind the attack in a remote village in Malungon town last Monday that left a person dead.

Inset map courtesy of WikipediaChief Insp. Alvin Martin, Malungon municipal police station chief, identified the suspects as Tony Maligon, Toy Maligon, Tisoy Bitil, Eric Wata and Wil Saluli, who were allegedly members of a notorious bandit group operating in the mountainous tri-boundaries of Sarangani, Davao del Sur and South Cotabato provinces.

He said the five suspects were positively identified by several witnesses as among those who attacked a portion of Barangay Kibala in Malungon last Monday that led to the killing of a local resident identified as Merlinda Sumugat.

The victim was reportedly gathering firewood in the area when a group of armed men suddenly opened fire at her.

A police report said the bandits may have mistaken the victim, who sustained at least 10 gunshot wounds, as a soldier due to the military fatigue-type cap she was wearing.

“We’re currently tracking down their whereabouts and we have mobilized our barangay officials and civilian volunteers to help in the manhunt operations,” Martin told reporters.

Based on their initial investigation, the police official said they are seriously looking at three angles as possible motive of the attack.

He said they received reports that the family of the slain victim had been involved in a land conflict in Barangay Kibala in Malungon.

Martin said they are also considering politics and the crackdown launched by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, the Philippine Army and the Malungon police as possible motives.

On Tuesday, Malungon Mayor Reynaldo Constantino called on military and police units in the area to launch all-out pursuit operations against the bandits, who were also tagged as behind a separate strafing incident in Barangay B’laan.

A report from the Malungon police station said the bandits fired but narrowly missed a teacher and her husband who passed by B’laan aboard a motorcycle early Tuesday.

Constantino said the attackers were part of a group of bandits who did not heed the local government’s earlier calls to reform and lay down their arms.

He said at least 85 percent of the bandits in the area have responded to their call but a number of them decided to remain in the mountains and continue with their criminal activities, which includes armed robberies, cattle rustling and marijuana cultivation.

The mayor said their latest monitoring showed that at least 15 armed bandits are still operating in the town’s hinterland areas, specifically in Barangays Kibala, Alkikan, B’laan and Datal Bato. (Allen V. Estabillo / MindaNews)