LAGUINDINGAN, Misamis Oriental (MindaNews / 14 December) —Authorities arrested on Saturday one of the suspects in the December 11 ambush-slay attempt on Iligan’s lone representative to Congress, Vicente “Varf” Belmonte, after residents informed officials of their presence in their village.
Senior Police officer 4 Gabino Sambaan Jr., Laguindingan police investigator said Dominador Tumala of Osmena town, Zamboanga del Norte, was arrested after he asked for water and food at a sari-sari-store in Sitio Pagangon in Barangay Gasi at around 4:30 a.m. Saturday. But the 60-year old Tumala denied the allegations.
Tumala was arrested some 40 hours after gunmen ambushed the two-vehicle convoy of Belmonte who had just arrived in Laguindingan Airport from Manila and was on his way home to Iligan City on Thursday when gunmen on board a Mitsubishi L300 van and other suspects hiding on the side of the Laguindingan AIprort Access Road fired at Belmonte’s convoy at around 2 p.m. Three of his escorts were killed while three others were injured, including Belmonte, who sustained minor injuries.
A manhunt is still ongoing for Tamula’s two companions who are belived to be hiding somewhere in farmlands with thick undergrowth in Barangay Gasi.
PNP Region 10 director Chief Superintendent Isagani Genabe Jr., and top officials of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) in Northern Mindanao brought Tumala to Iligan City immediately after his arrest.
NBI Iligan chief Alex Caburnay said Belmonte was able to identify Tumala as one of the M16-wielding gunmen who waylaid his convoy as they left for Iligan City last Thursday.
“Rep. Belmonte positively identified Tumala as the one who shot his aides in the other vehicle,” Caburnay said.
Investigators said Belmonte was able to survive by ducking under the hood in his Mazda pick-up vehicle.
Belmonte, who is completing his third term as Representative and is running for mayor in 2016 pointed to politics as the motive behind the ambush.
But police said they are not drawing any conclusion as investigation is still ongoing.
Senior Police officer 4 Gabino Sambaan Jr., Laguindingan police investigator said Tumala admitted he was a former member of the New People’s Army but denied he was involved in the attack on Belmonte.
Sambaan said Tamula told him he was going to Laguindingan Airport to fetch someone when he lost his way and found himself in Barangay Gasi.
Found in his wallet was a torn cedula or Residence Certificate and P1,200 in cash.
The store owner, narrated by Sambaan, told us she suspected something was wrong when Tumala, who asked for a glass of water, appeared disheveled. Her suspicion grew when Tumala drank five glasses of water,” Sambaan narrated.
Sambaan said that at around this time, the entire town of Laguindingan, which has a population of 21,000, was already aware that some of the suspects in the ambush might have been hiding in Barangay Gasi.
He said the store owner identified as a certain Enra offered Tumala a cup of coffee while she instructed her nephew to inform the soldiers and police manning a nearby outpost in Sitio Pagangon
A team of soldiers, policemen and tanods went to Enra’s store and arrested Tumala.
Supt. Rolando Estura, chief of the PNP Regional Public Safety Battalion said Belmonte’s assailants in the van may have left Tumala and his two companions who were on the roadside in their haste to escape.
Estura said Tumala and his two companions were left with no recourse but try to escape on foot toward Sitio Liberty. The L300 van was found burned in Sitio Liberty
Misamis Oriental Administrator Edmundo Pacamalan Jr., said barangay officials reported that the suspects were seen walking and asking for directions to Sitio Liberty.
“The barangay officials and residents insisted the suspects were hiding in their village. That is why we set up outposts around it,” Pacamalan said.
After Tumala’s arrest, Estura said they are continuing their search for the two remaining suspects.
Estura said the manhunt is concentrated on some 50 hectares of farmlands where there were four sightings of the suspects by villagers Saturday.
Hernan, a resident of Barangay Gasi said he saw a man with a backpack resting in an abandoned house while he was looking for his cow in Sitio Pagangon around 3 p.m. Saturday.
He said the man walked away fast, though limping, when he saw him coming. (Froilan Gallardo / MindaNews)