Raid in militant transport leader's house yields ammo

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/13 November) — Joint Army and police operatives seized Friday night a cache of ammunition containing a rifle grenade and more than 2,500 live bullets of high-powered firearms as well as several alleged subversive materials in a raid on a house owned by a leader of a militant transport group based in the city.

Senior Supt. Cedrick Train, city police director, said the assorted ammunitions and subversive materials allegedly detailing links to a local unit of the New People’s Army (NPA) were recovered in a search at past 8pm Friday inside the house of Asher Villanueva alias Totoy in Purok 13, Laguna Subdivision in Barangay Lagao.

Villanueva, a tricycle driver, is vice president of the Transport Integrated for Restructuring of Economic Services (Tires), a local affiliate of militant transport group Pinagkaisang Samahan ng Tsuper at Operators Nationwide or Piston.

Villanueva, who is currently detained at the Pendatun Avenue police station here, immediately denied owning the seized ammunition and the supposed subversive materials.

“I’m just an ordinary tricycle driver. Those items were not mine and I don’t know where they came from or how they got them inside my house. They’re clearly planted to set me up,” he told reporters in the vernacular.

Train said in a radio interview that “this one of our major arms-related recoveries so far and we have started a comprehensive investigation to determine the possible sources of these ammunitions and what they’re really intended for.”

He said the raid, which was reportedly based on an earlier tip from an informant, was launched based on search warrant No. 10-81 issued by Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 35 Executive Judge Oscar Noel against Villanueva for violation of sections 1 and 3 of the amended Presidential Decree (PD) 1866 or the Basic Firearms law.

The search was joined by elements from the Army-led Joint Task Force GenSan, Police Regional Office 12’s Regional Intelligence and Investigation Division, the city police’s Investigation and Detection Management Section and the Directorate for Integrated Police Operations-Southwestern Mindanao and witnessed by two Purok officials from the area.

According to the initial inventory issued by the joint raiding team, the seized items include a live rifle grenade, 2,235 live bullets of M-16 Armalite rifle, 295 live bullets of M-14 rifle and copies of video materials and documents with marking of the NPA’s Valentin Palamine Command.

Police Officer 2 Alberto Alberto, who was assigned to conduct the inventory, said the bullets were stacked in several boxes with “government arsenal” markings.

Villanueva, who led several protest actions launched earlier this year by transport group Nagkahiusang Green Plate Alang sa Prangkisa (NAGAP), said he was watching television along with his wife Milo Jean and son Asher Jr. at past 8pm Friday when they suddenly heard a commotion outside their house.

He said they immediately got out of their house but was met by heavily armed soldiers and policemen, who directed them to drop face-down to the ground.

“They later told me to sit down and I saw some police and military men entering our house while they were asking me some questions. But I suddenly felt dizzy and fainted. I don’t know what happened next as I only regained consciousness at the Socsargen (county) hospital,” he said.

Villanueva’s wife Milo Jean said she has no knowledge about the recovered items and has no idea where they possibly came from.

But in an interview with reporters, she acknowledged witnessing the recovery of the ammunitions and other items inside their house.

Orlando Alon, one of the two council members of Purok 13 in Barangay Lagao who witnessed the search, affirmed in an interview that the seized items were all taken inside Villanueva’s house.

He said the raid was done in proper order, noting the raiders first showed Villanueva a copy of the warrant before they made the search.

But Larry Villegas, Tires-Piston chair, condemned the detention of Villanueva as he expressed serious doubts over the veracity of the raid on the latter’s house.

“This is nothing new to us. This is clearly a political harassment,” he said. Villegas claimed that aside from Villanueva’s work as a tricycle driver and an official of Tires-Piston and NAGAP, the latter never had any involvement with any other group, especially those that have supposed links with the NPA or other rebel groups. (Allen V. Estabillo/MindaNews)