Unsolved killings sowing fear on the island

Last week, a concerned citizen reached out to the Tribune to express the fear being felt by many Catandunganons uneasy over the recent shooting incidents that have gone unsolved.

“Katatakot na ang mga pangyayari dindi sa Catanduanes,” he said, wondering why the Philippine National Police has yet to inform the public of any leads in their investigation, much more bring justice to the families of the victims.

For several years now, the public has been horrified by fatal shootings executed by riding-in-tandem gunmen.

“Onsehan sa droga” at the time was the reason commonly brought up by the police every time a known drug personality was gunned down by the unidentified suspects.

Businessman Larry Que was the first, and most prominent of them, shot in the back of the head at San Isidro Village while entering a car insurance office in December 2016.

Some politicians quickly manipulated the incident to insinuate that local politics was behind the murder although at the time a key witness to the shabu lab case swore that Que was involved in its operation along with the Chinese chemists.

Then on Dec. 6, 2019, capitol employee Marcus Daxenos Besa was shot in the head while sitting in his car near his home by an Armalite-wielding gunman on board another motorcycle driven by an accomplice.

Less than two months later, on Jan. 21, 2020, Councilor Zaldy Idanan, a drug surrenderee, survived an ambush while driving home from Caramoran poblacion. There were no clues to the identities of the riding-in-tandem suspects.

On Feb. 8, 2020, another of the Besa brothers, Samuel Jr., 34, was on board his black Kawasaki Rouser bound for the family home at Salvacion when one of two unidentified suspects on board a motorcycle shot him several times using a firearm of unknown caliber.

Then on Sept. 30, 2020, contractor Jesus Albaniel, a close associate of the Caramoran councilor, was on board his tricycle then being driven by a friend when two men on a motorcycle tailed the vehicle and then fired at the engineer several times.

Last March 31, 2021, two brothers – Jaime and  the Pantila – who are abaca strippers were shot to death along the national road in Progreso, San Miguel. There were reports that both, or one of them, are members of the New People’s Army.

Four months later, just last July 23, heavy equipment operator Sandy Tesorero was on his way home together with a fellow worker when their way was blocked by unidentified men riding-in-tandem at Buenavista, Viga. Tesorero was shot nine times for a still unknown reason, although there were reports he might have incurred the ire of relatives of three other women with whom he had had relations aside from his wife.

The police also floated the possibility that the NPA had something to do with the incident, as he worked on a multi-million bridge project which is normally targeted for collection of revolutionary tax.

Until now, none of these killings have been solved.

The police have not provided the public of any update on the investigation, prompting the citizen to ask what the Catanduanes PNP is doing with its intelligence funds.

“Bagi na kita Masbate, dai na nin pagkakaiba,” he commented, referring to the island province known for lawlessness in the past.

In the case of the victims who were known to have links with the illegal drug trade, it is easy and convenient to cite “onsehan sa droga” as the motive for their deaths.

It could be true, but locals who deal in drugs generally don’t engage in violence and are often working for themselves.

Then there’s the lingering suspicion that the police itself has a death squad targeting drug pushers,

But the last three victims of wanton killings were not even remotely connected to illegal drugs.

In the light of the heightened effort of the military and the local government units in finally ridding the province of armed insurgents, were the Pantila brothers and Tesorero “collateral damage” in the now 50-year campaign against the CPP-NPA-NDF?

The revolutionary movement has not issued a statement on their deaths and neither is the Catanduanes police doing much to pin the blame on anyone.

What are the public to do except to fearfully hope that they would not be the next victims in an undeclared war?

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