By: Jazmin Bonifacio
Calbayog City – Calbayog City residents expressed fears over the unrelenting terror sowed by members of Private Armed Groups (PAGs) in Samar, which City Mayor Rolando Aquino believes as a major threat to the city’s security.
In an interview, Calbayog City Chief of Police, Supt. Marlon Cuimno revealed that records from the police show that just last week, six (6) barangay officials and local leaders of Liberal Party were shot dead by unidentified members of private armed groups.
Barangay Payahan Chairman Darwin Z. Tan was the latest victim. He was murdered morning of September 9, 2016 while he was about to send his son to school. Mayor Aquino in an interview said that reports of killings in Samar only occur during election period then. But this year the spate of killings has become a daily news in the city. The Mayor also believes that the private armies are also related to the narcotics problem in the country. “PAGs commit serious human rights violations against their political opponents perpetuating a climate of fear and repression,” he added.
Feedback from the Joint Peace and Security Coordinating Council Meeting last April 24, 2015 at Camp Lukban, Maulong, Catbalogan City revealed that while there is admission that major PAGs no longer exist following the surrender of arms by the notorious Montealto Group believed to be backed by a prominent political personality in the province, splinter armed groups still operate in the interior villages of Calbayog that are the current main concerns of the police and the Armed Forces. According to reports from the AFP, these groups cannot be operating without the support of politicians. Among the splinter groups identified and believed to still have with them a number of firearms, are the following: Montealto (few remaining), Montealto-Belleza, Montealto-Moloboco, Montealto-Pasacas, Yrasga and Genesis Oquendo.
Climate of Fear
Mayor Aquino disclosed that since, February 2016 to date, close to 500 individuals coming from Barangays Naguma, San Jose, Cagbanayacao, Esperanza and Tapa-el fled from their villages to the city proper out of fear for their lives as perpetrated by the politician-backed armed groups.
Men, women and children who have lost their loved ones in the spate of massacres, strafing and shooting allegedly perpetrated by PAGs tell horrors of killings in their villages. The torture and killings described by families and relatives of the victims include hacking and even beheading of the victims after shooting them to death.
Interviews with victims, witnesses and others with direct knowledge of abuses, including those who fled Samar said they were afraid for their own and their families’ safety. They also mentioned the fear of being seen by any member of the armed groups assisting families of other victims and testifying in court.
“It’s expected that something is going to happen in our place, because there is friction,” Annalyn Golotero, the widow of Brgy Kagawad Pedro Golotero of Brgy Gabay who was shot to death by PAGs last Sept. 4, 2016. Kagawad Golotero was once with the Nacionalista Party, but switched to Liberal Party so he can run for the village chairman. “Pinapatay nira an diri nira kapartido ha politika,” (They kill everyone who are not politically aligned with them) Annalyn said. “Katapos nira patayon akon mister, diri na ako sa ira makig sarangkay sa NP ngahaw,” (After what they did to my husband, I don’t think I can be friends with the NP anymore), she added.
Supt. Cuimno said that the Montealto, Managaysay and the rest of the politician-backed private armed groups feed anxiety to the people of Samar. However, despite the rampant killings and human right abuses, no members of the PAGs have been held to account for the extrajudicial executions committed. The Samar police failed to investigate or solve many of these murder cases, which are carried out by such organized private armed groups that often have high powered firearms.
Appeal to the Chief PNP
Believing that the killings dilemma can no longer be solved on the regional level of the police force, Samar 1st District Representative Edgar Mary S. Sarmiento appealed to Chief PNP Director General Ronald ‘Bato’ Dela Rosa on the occassion of the PNP Chief’s visit in Region 8 to help resolve the killings brought by the PAGs in Samar. In his letter, dated September 6, 2016, Congressman Sarmiento asked assistance from Chief PNP Dela Rosa to conduct an impartial investigation regarding the abuses and subsequently arrest, disarm and disband the paramilitary groups in Samar.
Sarmiento cited several of PNP Calbayog’s record on cases of multiple murder and frustrated murder filed against suspects Arnold Belleza, Boboy Diaz Tomnob, Gilboy Diaz Tomnob, Eday Diaz Tomnob, Imboy Tomnob, Roy Managaysay, Jimmy Managaysay, Richard Hordacas and Edar Balintino before the City Prosecutor’s Office in Calbayog City last Sept. 18, 2015 in relation to the proliferation of the PAGs.
Sarmiento also said in his letter that he is wondering why the local police cannot arrest the identified suspects even with comprehensive intelligencers. “I am passing along this cry for help I received from my fellow Calbayognon and Samarnon. This is about persecution of people from the 1st district of Samar. They are being persecuted for just being a Liberal,’ Sarmiento stated. “It is alarming and disturbing that the armed groups continue to cast fear to the people of the 1st district of Samar and the only way for it to change is to enforce the full force of the law. Apprehension/neutralization is the key to all known PAGS,’ he added.
He also appealed to the Chief PNP that politics be set aside should an investigation be conducted by the police. Several unresolved cases of extrajudicial killings were also noted in Calbayog’s nearby towns such as Sta. margarita, San Jorge, Gandara and Matuguinao.
It can be remembered that former Samar representative and DILG Secretary Mel Senen Sarmiento then deployed PNP Special Action Force troopers in the district supposedly to take control of the problem. Mel Sarmiento is the brother of now congressman Edgar Sarmiento.