Gingoog Mayor Guingona survives ambush but 3 aides killed; NPA admits responsibility

UPDATED as of 3:25 p.m.

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/21 April) — Suspected New People’s Army rebels ambushed a four-vehicle convoy  bearing Gingoog City Mayor Ruthie Guingona, killing three of her aides and wounding a police officer and another civilian at a hinterland village in Gingoog City Saturday night.

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Mayor Guingona, wife of former Vice President Teofisto Guingona, Jr. and mother of Senator Teofisto Guingona III,  suffered a gunshot wound to her foot, bruises and contusions when NPA rebels fired at her Toyota Hilux pickup as they were making their way back to Gingoog City around 10 p.m. Saturday.

National Democratic Front Mindanao spokesperson Jorge Madlos admitted in an interview with DXIF Bombo Radyo Sunday morning that the New People’s Army was responsible for the ambush.

Army and police reinforcements were able to clear the ambush site and rescue Guingona  and her party at around 5 am Sunday .

“Ma’am Ruthie played dead all night as she waited for the police and army reinforcements to arrive,” Teddy Sabugaa, Misamis Oriental provincial administrator said.

Sabugaa said three of her aides died when they threw themselves on Guigona to shield her from the hail of bullets from the NPA rebels who were positioned on both sides of the road.

Mayor Guingona is completing her third term by June 30. Her daughter Marie is running under the Liberal Party for the post she is vacating.

Major Leo Bongosia, public information officer of the Army 4th Infantry Division said Guingona and her party which included Misamis Oriental provincial board member Jimmy Caina , earlier went to Barangay Alagatan which was celebrating its fiesta and a beauty pageant coronation.

Bongosia said Guingona and her party were returning to downtown Gingoog City Saturday night when the ambush took place at a hilly portion of Barangays Binakalan and Capitulangan at around 10 p.m.

“We think the rebels concentrated their fire at the Hilux pickup of the Mayor. The other vehicles were not touched,” Bongosia said.

Two of  the mayor’s slain aides were identified as brothers Tomans and Nestor Velasco. The name of the third victim has not been made available.

A police officer, SPO3 Roland Dimerito and another civilian identified as Leo Cante were wounded.

Guingona, who is in her 80s, was immediately airlifted to Cagayan de Oro as soon as  Army soldiers and policemen cleared the area and rescued her and her party.

Witnesses said Mayor Guingona was conscious when she was brought down from the Philippine Air Force helicopter in Camp Evangelista and whisked off to Capitol University Hospital Sunday. She was met by former Vice President Guingona and Misamis Oriental Vice Governor Norris Babiera.

NDF Mindanao’s Madlos told DXIF Bombo Radyo that the NPA decided to set up a checkpoint on the road Guingona and her party would be taking on their way back to Gingoog City after they noted there were several armed men in her party.

“She(Guingona) was warned already not to bring armed bodyguards inside our territories,” Madlos said.

Madlos said the NPA guerillas fired at the Toyota Hilux when Guingona did not stop at the checkpoint they set up on the road.

The New People’s Army has stepped up setting up checkpoints aimed at candidates campaigning in guerilla zones in Northern Mindanao.

“These checkpoints  also serve to ensure that despotic, anti-people and counterrevolutionary candidates and partylists will not be able to campaign freely within the guerilla zones,” the NPA said in a statement.

In a statement Sunday afternoon, Senator Teofisto Guingona III said the slain aides, brothers Nestor and Barolome Velasco were “ loyal employees of long standing in our family’s home in Mindanao. My heart grieves for them and their families.”

“Wounded and trapped inside the vehicle that fell on its side due to grenade explosions, my mother was rescued at dawn today. I am relieved that she is now safe and in stable condition,” Guingona said.

The NPA, he said, has “fired upon an elderly and innocent woman who is already bowing out of politics.”

“They alleged that they fired upon my mother because she breached a policy of bringing arms in their checkpoint,” Guingona said.

But he added that the persons who were carrying the firearms were members of Philippine National Police.

“We would like to remind everyone in this country that there is only one government of the Republic of the Philippines. There is only one President who is in-charge in executing the laws of this land. That is President Noynoy Aquino. He is the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. And most importantly,  he is the leader of this nation. No one else has the right to usurp the laws of this country,” the senator said. (Froilan Gallardo/MindaNews)