Cop fatality ‘target’ of Negros Occidental ambush-A A +A
Tuesday, January 29, 2013
BACOLOD CITY -- An official of the Negros Occidental Police Provincial Office (Noppo) said Monday that the policeman slain in the La Castellana ambush on Sunday was the main target of the suspected communist rebels.
Killed in the ambush allegedly perpetrated by the New People’s Army (NPA) rebels was Police Officer 1 Richard Canja, who was believed to be the first to be hit in the first volley of gunfire. He was further finished off by the assailants at close range.
He died due to bullet wounds in the head, said Senior Superintendent Celestino Guara of Noppo.
Other fatalities were Barangay Peacekeeping Action Team (BPAT) members Ulysses Tamayor, Jonathan Mateo and Ramir Complesa; and civilians Virginia Ordonez and Lito Lucban, all of Barangay Cabacungan; civilian driver Ricky Dingcong; and barangay tanods Mario Ricablanca and Tiotimo Esplegera of Barangay Puso.
Nine others were wounded in the attack, including Police Officer 3 Constantino Villegas and Police Officer 2 Jeffrey Alvarez, who were both assigned at the Cabacungan police detachment alongside Canja.
Guara said Villegas, Alvarez and the other wounded victims are now in stable conditions.
He said Canja, a resident of Barangay Puso, was targeted because he organized the BPATs, which conducts anti-insurgency activities in the area after he joined the Philippine National Police (PNP).
According to him, Canja’s family had been courted by the revolutionary movement for support but they turned it down, and this might have irked the NPA rebels.
“Maybe, the rebels thought that since they could no longer penetrate Barangay Puso, their last course is to eliminate Canja and the BPAT members,” Guara said.
He said the rebels might want to send a strong message to those who want to join the BPAT and fight against them, thus the killing of Canja and the BPAT members.
He also revealed that Scout Rangers in the area received reports a week before the ambush regarding a plan to assassinate Canja in the area.
Guara clarified, however, that they are not yet concluding that the ambush was indeed committed by the NPA, as they are still determining if there are other armed groups operating in the area that might be responsible for the incident.
The victims were on board a canter truck used by the policemen and the BPATs who were requested to secure the benefit dance as part of the fiesta celebration of Barangay Puso.
Canja, together with the other victims, were on their way down from Puso, an upland barangay in La Castellana town, when they were waylaid by the gunmen who hid in the surrounding sugarcane fields and opened fire at them.
The ambushers reportedly shouted, “Mabuhay ang NPA” before they withdrew from the area.
Canja and other fatalities died on the spot.
Guara said that most of the civilians killed and injured in ambush merely hitched a ride with the BPAT and the police officers so they could be dropped off near their houses along the way.
He said combined elements of the PNP and the Philippine Army conducted hot pursuit operations against the attackers.
Guara said he was directed by PNP Regional Director Agrimero Cruz to create a special task group to probe the incident.
He said the special task group is composed of the Scene of the Crime Operatives, La Castellana Police Office, Noppo, Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) and the Army’s 11th Infantry Brigade.
Cruz, who arrived in Bacolod Sunday to check the crime scene, said the PNP will give assistance to the victims.
He condemned the killing, pointing out that several innocent civilians were killed. “This kind of action can only be done by hopeless people.”
Governor Alfredo Marañon Jr. also condemned the attack, saying it was “beyond human reasoning.”
"It appeared that it is not a kind of an atrocity carried out by the New People's Army, so I want the police to dig deeper into it. It's very brutal and it includes innocent civilians. It is beyond human reasoning," Marañon said.
Malacanang also expressed its condolences to the victims’ families and ordered the police and military to coordinate with each other with regard pursuit operations.
"We condemn the assault on civilians who should not be parties to this heinous act," Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said.
He said authorities are verifying whether the NPA rebels were behind the attack.
The communist rebels have pulled out of peace talks after the government refused to heed their demands to free jailed comrades who they claim are covered by the joint agreement on safety and immunity guarantees. (Sun.Star Bacolod/With Jill Beltran/Sunnex)
Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on January 29, 2013.