By Vanessa Almeda and Roel Catoto/MindaNews
SURIGAO CITY (MindaNews/13 August) — Surigao del Norte Governor Sol Matugas survived an assassination attempt after the flag-raising rites Monday morning but three security personnel who tried to shield her were injured, along with the gunman, a former barangay captain.
The attempted assassination occurred shortly after the 8 a.m. flag-raising rites at the Capitol grounds. The governor sought refuge from the drizzle at the entrance of the Bulwagn ng Katarungan (Hall of Justice) on her way to the Provincial Convention Center where she was to deliver her regular Monday sharing with Capitol employees when the suspect struck.
Police identified the gunman as Samuel Lapac, 69, a resident of Bernadette Village in Barangay Luna, where he was a former barangay captain.
In a telephone interview, Governor Matugas said, “I saw Lapac only a few feet away from me. He pulled his gun and fired a warning shot,” she said.
The governor said she dropped on the ground and his close-in security personnel shielded her.
Matugas said Lapac finished his first round of magazine on her bodyguards but when took out a second magazine and loaded it, he was shot by Mario Tokong, a security guard assigned at the Land Transportation Office, located also within the capitol compound.
“I’m so thankful to him that he immobilized Lapac and especially to my aides for their presence of mind at that time,” she said.
She said the two police officers will be sent today via private plane to a private hospital in Cebu City.
Taking the bullets
Police Senior Inspector Diomedes Cuadra, deputy chief of police of Surigao City Police Office, identified the injured security personnel as Police Officer 2 Jerson Guindulman, 35; P02Ronnie Goles, 34 and Raymar Aguilar Quinones, security guard at the Hall of Justice.
Quinones sustained gunshot wound on the back of his right shoulder; PO2 Gerson C. Guindulman who was hit on his right leg; and Ronnie Goles, who was hit on his chest, right upper arm and left side of his neck.
A Capitol employee who witnessed the incident but asked not to be named said Lapac, clad in white Barong Tagalog, was walking casually towards the governor and took out his .45 caliber handgun.
The source said someone shouted Lapac was armed, prompting the governor’s security escorts to shield her and take the first bullet. When the first security personnel dropped, the other escort confronted Lapac while the security guard at the Hall of Justice, who was the nearest to the suspect, eventually fired shots at him.
Lapac sustained two gunshot wounds on the back and right shoulder and is presently at the Caraga Regional Hospital but is under police custody.
Guindulman and Goles are confined at the Miranda Family Hospital and are reportedly in stable condition. The governor said she would have the two sent to a hospital in Cebu City on a private plane.
Quinones was rushed to Surigao Medical Center and was declared out of danger.
The Capitol source Matugas’ security aides initially did not mind Lapac since he is known in the Capitol.
Lapac was a former president of the defunct Mega Block, a group of village chiefsin Surigao del Norte and an ally of the Barbers family.
The Barbers and Matugas families are rivals in politics.
Lapac, however, reportedly experienced mental problems a few years ago, a report confirmed by Surigao del Norte provincial police director Sr. Supt Roel B. Obusan.
Obusan said Lapac was charged for illegal position of firearms last year but was released on bail “after his attorney filed a motion that the suspect was mentally impaired.”
“We are still trying to determine the motive behind the assassination attempt and investigate further if there are others involved in the crime,” he said.
Police Chief Supt. Carmelo Valmoria, who took over the post of Caraga PNP regional chief also on Monday morning, immediately ordered the formation of a Special Investigation Task Force.
“I have ordered a composite task group headed by Deputy Provincial Director for operation Supt. Ruben Andiso to immediately conduct an investigation into the matter and instructed to augment the security of the governor,” Valoria said. .
As of press time, the provincial capitol office has yet to release any formal statement into the matter but police reports suggest that the governor was not harmed in the attempt on her life.
Despite the assassination try, the governor has continued working.
“I’m still feeling tense but okay now. I don’t want to cancel my meetings today,” she told MindaNews.
She said she is aware Lapac is an ally of their political opponent but she declined to say if the slay try was politically-motivated.
“I’m just doing what’s best for Surigao. I just don’t know anyone who has that anger against me,” she said.
The governor said she will have more security guards now.
“I told my husband, Francisco, I want more security guards because of this incident,” she said.
Francisco Lalo Matugas, former governor, is the 1st District representative to Congress. (Vanessa Almeda and Roel Catoto/MindaNews with a report from Erwin Mascarinas)