GINGOOG City Mayor Ruthie de Lara Guingona is now safe after a five-hour ordeal, as she laid trapped in her vehicle when communist rebels ambushed her convoy in a remote village Saturday that left two of her aides dead and two others wounded.
Dr. Jesus Jardin, medical director of the Capitol University Medical City, said the mayor is in good and stable condition though her emotions are still high.
Senator Teofisto “TG” Guingona III, who flew Sunday morning to Cagayan de Oro, said her mother is safe and underwent surgery on Sunday evening to remove the bullets and shrapnel in her body’s right hemisphere.
He said her mother suffered fracture wound on her right arms, gunshot wound on her right buttocks, and gunshot wounds on her right ankle.
Marie Guingona, TG’s sister and mayoralty candidate of Gingoog City, stood silent beside TG when Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro had a one-on-one interview outside a private hospital in the city.
Mayor Guingona’s husband, former vice president and Foreign Affairs secretary Teofisto Guingona Jr., is scheduled to arrive today, April 22.
“We strongly condemn these acts of violence by the New People’s Army (NPA). They alleged that they fired upon my mother because my mother breached a policy of bringing arms in their checkpoint. The persons that were carrying the arms are members of Philippine National Police,” Guingona said on micro-blogging site Twitter.
The NPA rebels, he said, fired upon her elderly mother who is already bowing out of politics, ending her last term as mayor of Gingoog City on June 30.
Killed during the ambush were civilian bodyguards Nestor Velasco and his brother Bartolome. The brothers shielded Mayor Guingona from the hail of bullets.
“The fatalities were loyal employees of long standing in our family’s home in Mindanao. My heart grieves for them and their families,” TG said.
Also wounded in the ambush were Police Officer 3 Rolando Benemerito and another civilian bodyguard Leo Cañete.
Benemerito suffered from gunshot wounds in the head, while Cañete suffered gunshot wounds in his shoulders and arms.
Sesinio Retuya, another driver of the Guingonas, said when they reached the ambush site around 5 a.m., the military was already there securing the place.
The ambush site was at least 10 kilometers from the highway.
Retuya said the lead car, where Guingona and her escorts were riding, was riddled with bullets.
“There were holes in the windshield and on the sides of the cars, shards of glass were all over the place,” Retuya said.
The mayor was airlifted from a hospital in Gingoog to Cagayan de Oro by the Philippine Air Force’s Tactical Operations Group 10.
The NPA-North Central Mindanao Regional Command (NCMRC) apologized to the Guingonas, the Velasco families, and the people of Gingoog for the unfortunate incident.
The NPAs recognized former vice president Guingona’s significant contribution to the Filipino people’s anti-dictatorship struggle and his steadfast nationalist standpoint on various issues.
“We look upon Senator TG Guingona’s pro-people standpoint. Thus, we are deeply saddened by this unfortunate incident. We take responsibility for this,” Allan Juanito, the spokesperson of NPA-NCMRC, said in the statement.
“We condole with the families of the Velasco brothers who were killed in the incident and we will exhaust all efforts to contact their families to extend our indemnification and lend needed medical assistance to the wounded,” Juanito said.
The rebels said the incident was not an ambush. Guingona’s convoy happened to pass by the NPAs roadblock late in the evening on Saturday.
The NPA rebels returned fire when Guingona’s armed escorts fired first upon reaching its checkpoint in Barangay Capitulangan where the lead vehicle of Guingona’s convoy rammed against the roadblock the NPAs mounted, said Juanito.
He said the said NPA unit was carrying out orders from the regional command to implement the revolutionary policies regarding the conduct of elections, to flag down candidates and campaigners who carry firearms and armed escorts during their campaign sorties in guerilla zones when doing their campaign rounds without proper coordination with the concerned revolutionary territorial committees and commands.
Since April 15, NPA units in the different fronts of NCMR have launched coordinated checkpoints to implement the said policy.
Three of these checkpoints were put up in Gingoog City and among those held at a checkpoint in Barangay Samay were four of Mayor Guingona’s campaigners.
Juanito said the campaigners were informed of the said polices. “Responsible cadres in the area personally contacted Mayor Guingona through phone on April 17 and reminded her to avoid bringing armed escorts during campaign sorties.”
Rising NPA attacks
The rise of the NPA attacks has been an affront to the capability of the armed forces to protect the public from atrocities committed by the NPA rebels.
In the last three months of the year, the NPA attacked what the Army calls “soft targets,” those who cannot defend themselves.
In January this year, Lieutenant General Jorge Segovia, commander of the Eastern Mindanao Command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), said the observed violence in the first three months is a pattern of the NPA coming out of the annual Christmas ceasefire.
On February, the NPA attacked and torched simultaneously agricultural companies’ properties and equipment in Bukidnon, killing one security guard.
Last week, the NPA torched heavy equipment in Claveria, Misamis Oriental, a banana packing shed in Libona and five chicken coops of the GAMA farms in Talakag town, both in Bukidnon. The said attacks occurred on the same day.
On Good Friday during the Holy Week, the NPA killed Civilian Auxiliary Forces Geographical Unit (Cafgu) members in an encounter in Butuan City.
Major Leo Bongosia, 4th Infantry Division spokesperson, said the AFP does not tolerate terroristic acts and that their mandate is to protect the people and the communities they are bound to serve.
“We are doing our best to serve that mandate but it can be strengthened with the support of the community and the Filipino people,” Bongosia added.
Bongosia said the 4th ID has deployed soldiers to conduct hot pursuit operations and arrest the perpetrators of the attacks.
Meanwhile, Bongosia said the public should not lose confidence (in the military) “for we are still capable and able to serve and protect the Filipino people.”
Despite the incident, the NPA vows to continue putting up checkpoints in the implementation of revolutionary policies and to ensure the peaceful conduct of election campaigns in guerilla zones.
“We wish to reiterate our warning to all candidates who are campaigning in guerilla zones to avoid carrying firearms or armed escorts to avoid the repeat of the similar incident in the future,” Juanito said. (Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro/Sunnex)