DEADLINE met. Two of four gunmen identified. Mastermind and motive still to be determined. No one has been arrested. Ruben Feliciano is not a suspect. Crime solved with the identification of the gunmen but case is far from closed.
In a nutshell, that is the progress report on the special police investigation on the Jan. 22 ambush of San Fernando Mayor Lakambini Reluya and company.
Police Regional Office (PRO) 7 Chief Debold Sinas presented Wednesday, Feb. 6, the findings of the Special Investigation Task Group (SITG) to journalists in a Powerpoint presentation. With Sinas at the case presentation was Cebu Provincial Police Office (CPPO) chief Manuel Abrugena.
Philippine National Police (PNP) Chief Oscar Albayalde had given Sinas and Abrugena two weeks to solve the crime. That deadline was Feb. 6.
A reenactment of the ambush and interviews with eyewitnesses helped the SITG trace how it happened.
The SITG report was presented in diagrams and sketches, and this was what happened on Jan. 22:
On the highway of Linao, Talisay City at 5 p.m. on Jan. 22, Tuesday, a white Innova blocked the Grandia van that had on board Mayor Reluya, her husband Ricardo nicknamed Nonoy, two bodyguards and the town’s tourism officer.
The Reluya couple were seated behind the driver. One bodyguard was seated beside the driver and the other at the rear seat, and the tourism officer was seated behind the Reluyas.
Three men got off the Innova and started shooting at the Grandia.
One bodyguard, Giovanni Perez, saw the faces of the gunmen and identified them when he was shown pictures of them from the rogues’ gallery.
Two of the gunmen were identified to be Jerome Labitad and Felix Abacajan Jr.
Abacajan tried to open the driver’s door and was heard saying, “Birahi pa,” or shoot some more.
Labitad was heard replying, “Gahi, dili maabli” (It’s locked. I can’t open it).
Labitad and Abacajan continued shooting at the Grandia. By then, the driver Allan Bayot, Nonoy Reluya and tourism officer Ricky Monterona were dead.
Perez, who was in the rearmost seat of the Grandia, tried to shoot back.
Silence, then a few seconds or minutes later, Perez heard another vehicle sidle up to the Grandia and men saying, “Birahi pa” and “Gahi, di maabli,” and then they were gone.
At the presentation, Abrugena said two other gunmen have yet to be identified. There are no leads on who could be the brains behind the ambush.
But Feliciano, a businessman who is running against Lakambini Reluya for the San Fernando mayorship come May 13, cannot be linked to Labitad and Abacajan in the absence of evidence even if Reluya has named him to be behind the attack, Abrugena said.
On Monday, Feb. 4, Feliciano presented himself to the CPPO for an investigation with the goal of clearing his name. He has denied involvement in the attack because he was “a God-fearing man” and would let the law take its course.
Sinas, for his part, said the crime is solved with the identification of the two gunmen, but the case is not closed.
Police investigators are waiting for the results of the ballistics tests and cross matching on the empty shells found at the ambush scene and at the house of Labitad. They will continue with the investigation until they can identify the two other gunmen and the mastermind and arrest them, Sinas said.
Labitad eluded arrest during a raid in his house early this month.
Mayor Reluya is recuperating from her wounds and has taken a leave of her public duties and will resume her functions as mayor next month. (MPS from reports of AYB of SuperBalita Cebu and Ivan Gregory Tan/ USJR Communication Intern)