BAYOG, Zamboanga del Sur (MindaNews/21 April) — A former soldier who reportedly went on AWOL (absence without leave) has been tagged as suspect in the April 16 strafing incident that killed the barangay captain and secretary and injured a kagawad (councilor) in gold-rich Barangay Depore here.
Sr. Inspector Daniel Pel-ey said the suspect, Edison Acosta of Dipolog City, was identified through the motorcycle the gunman and his accomplice abandoned a few kilometers away from the crime scene.
He declined to divulge other details about Acosta, except to say he is a former soldier who went on AWOL and that they are preparing to file charges against him.
Pel-ey said the motive behind the killing of the barangay chief has likely to do with the Cease and Desist Order (CDO) issued by the Mines and Geo-Sciences Bureau (MGB) against illegal logging in Western Mindanao, including gold-rich Sitio Balabag in Barangay Depore. Balabag is currently contested by both TVI Resource Development (Phils). Inc. which holds a Mineral Production Sharing Agreement (MPSA) over 4,779 hectares and the Monte de Oro Small-Scale Miners Association (Mossma) which claims it has prior rights over an area ranging from 20 to 80 hectares within TVI’s MPSA.
The CDO was issued by MGB OIC Regional Director Albert Johann Jacildo on April 13 but released on April 16. It was received by the mayor’s office here on the same day.
Pel-ey said a copy of the CDO was in the possession of Arado when he was killed. “Bloodstained,” he said as he showed MindaNews Arado’s copy of the CDO, a small portion of the back stained with blood.
“Dito na kami nag concentrate” (we are concentrating on this), he said, but added “although may mga nagsasabi rin na politics” (although some also said this has something to do with politics).
He said Arado had just come from a meeting in Rainforest, a resort owned by the head of TVI’s Community Relations Office.
“This station is eyeing the strong support of the barangay chairman Arado to TVIRD mining company as the possible motive of incident,” Pel-ey’s report to the provincial police office, said.
Arado’s wife, Rosalinda, told MindaNews at their residence on Friday that her husband never mentioned anything about death threats and that she is not aware if her husband had enemies who wished him dead.
The Arados live some 15 meters in the interior from the roadside store of Margie Butalid in Purok 3 where the crime happened.
Arado’s son, Rene Boy, who was in a huddle with his father and other barangay officials afternoon of April 16 in front of the roadside store, said he initially thought the motorcycle-riding men in hooded jackets from the direction of Bayog poblacion, slowed down to seek shelter from the rain until he saw the man behind the driver pull out a gun and fire at his father and continued firing as they sped away.
Mancao told reporters at the Zamboanga del Sur Medical Center Wednesday night that they were initially discussing a solar dryer project and later, politics when the rains poured at around 5:30 p.m. Rene Boy puts the time at around 4:20 p.m. He said they had been discussing for about 20 minutes when the gunmen came.
Mancao, who was facing the store, his back to the road, recalled the downpour was heavy. “It was very foggy,” he said.
Police investigation showed that the motorcycle, with plate number 7648, was registered to one Edison Acosta of Sta. Filomena, Dipolog City in Zamboanga del Norte. It was abandoned in Purok 5.
Recovered from the crime scene, according to the police report, were two spent shells of cal. 9MM “and the weapon used was allegedly an Ingram.”
Mancao narrated having heard about seven to eight shots fired, the first hitting the Arado’s body, the next Arado’s head. He said the bullet that hit the left side of his torso hit Navarro’s head.
Arado died instantly while Navarro died inside the ambulance, en route to the provincial hospital in Pagadian City, some two hours away from Bayog.
Mancao told reporters he could not say if Arado was a recipient of death threats. “Kung kabalo ko naa siya threat, likay na ko daan” (If I had known he was facing threats, I would have avoided his company).
Mancao said what he remembers as a controversial resolution involving Arado was a resolution filed by the barangay captains of barangays Depore, Pulangbato and Dumalinao urging a stop to small-scale mining operations in Balabag.
“Sa mga barangay captains to pero ang Depore wa muhimo ug resolution para pagkontra sa Mossma (Monte de Oro Small-Scale Mining Association) kay sa among grupo ako ra man usa ang murag pro TVI. Ang unom puro man na sila pro-Mossma so ang resolution dili gyud matigayon kay naa man ko kontra pirmi” (This was among the barangay captains but Barangay Depore didn’t pass a resolution against Mossma because in our (council), I am the only pro-TVI. The six others are pro-Mossma so the resolution could not pass because I was always met with opposition).
“Ang gihimo sa TVI, diri sya nagrequest sa mga barangay captains na maghimo resolution sa ila nang grupo” (What TVI did is to request the barangay captains to pass a resolution coming from them), he said.
Asked about a resolution passed by the barangay in September 2011 urging a stop to small-scale mining in Balabag, Mancao replied, “ah, naa gyud? Wa gyud ko ka kuan ana” (there is? I don’t remember that).
Mancao said what he remembers is that a reporter from Zamboanga City interviewed him and he saw himself on TV urging President Aquino to shut down the illegal mining operations in the area.
He said in the barangay council, only he, the barangay captain, secretary and treasurer are “pro-TVI.”
He said the barangay council has eight members – seven elected and the Sangguniang Kabataan chair. He said of the eight, only he is “pro-TVI” and the SK chair who is the son of the barangay captain.
But documents handed over to MindaNews by the Provincial Governor’s Office showed that Barangay Depore is one of three barangays that allegedly passed resolutions in 2011 and 2012 urging a stop to small-scale mining operations in Balabag. The resolutions were endorsed to Governor Antonio Cerilles through Resolution 2K12-671 passed by the Sangguniang Panlalawigan on February 23, 2012 “for the immediate closure of the illegal mining activities/operation” in Balabag.
Cerilles in turn forwarded the SP resolution to MGB’s Jacildo on March 13, 2012, reiterating the “immediate issuance of a stoppage order” of “illegal mining operations” in Balabag because “it causes great environmental damages in the area.”
Barangay Depore’s Resolution 20, allegedly passed on September 5, 2011, urged the “stoppage of small-scale mining operations in Sitio Balabag, Depore, Bayog, Zamboanga,” claiming Balabag Hill is now “crisscrossed with underground tunnels which are very dangerous to human lives in case of cave in or when strong earthquake occurs.”
The resolution added that Balabag Hill is a landslide-prone area with “recorded landslide incidents that buried at least 10 small scale miners” and that they are recommending a stop to small-scale mining “to prevent tragedies and calamities.”
Except for the Sangguniang Kabataan councilor, all seven elected councilors – the six described by Mancao as “pro-Mossma” – and Mancao who described himself as “pro-TVI” and who said on April 18 that the barangay could not pass a resolution against small-scale mining operations because he was a minority — were certified to have been present during the passage of the resolution, according to the excerpts of the minutes of the regular session on September 5, 2011.
Arado and Navarro certified to the “correctness of the resolution.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)