Marcos town ambush politically motivated?

CAMP JUAN, Laoag City, April 6– Ilocos Norte police provincial director Senior Supt. Jose Melencio Nartatez Jr. disclosed that at least three members of a gun-for-hire group operating in the province were tagged as the suspects who ambushed the group of  Marcos town Vice Mayor Jessie Ermitano last Tuesday night, April 4 at the border of barangays Ragas and Daquioag, Marcos town, Ilocos Norte.

Nartatez, who formed Task Force Ermitaño to probe the incident, said the identities of the suspects, who used three motorcycles during the ambush, were known based on the testimony of the vice mayor and the other two survivors in the ambush.

There’s a big possibility that the ambush incident was politically motivated, Nartatez said citing the related local elections in May 2016.

Meantime, Vice Mayor Ermitaño confirmed during a brief broadcast interview on Thursday, April 6 that one of the identified suspects yielded during a police pursuit operation in nearby Banna town.

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Photo courtesy of Dennis Gabriel Alipio

After inquest proceedings at the provincial prosecutor’s office in Laoag City, the suspect was later charged with murder, multiple frustrated murder, among others, it was learned.

“Haanna maisarang a direkta ti rupana kaniak idi agkita kami idiay Piskalya,” Ermitaño told reporters referring to the accused. “I knew him personally ever since I was engaged (in past years) in the buy-and-sell business of cattle”, he added.

Chief Inspector Lauro Milan, Marcos town police chief, said Ermitaño, who sustained superficial wounds, was rushed to the Mariano Marcos Memorial Hospital in Batac City, together with the two other wounded companions.

Reports said the driver identified as Lucky Rumbaoa, 21, nephew of the vice mayor, who absorbed the first volley of gunfire, was declared dead on arrival at the Doña Josefa Edralin Marcos district hospital here due to multiple gunshot wounds.

The reports added the vice mayor’s wounded bodyguard Ricky Florendo and Sanggunian Bayan staff Edralin Arellano were also confined at the hospital in Batac City.

When interviewed later at his residence, Vice Mayor Ermitaño said that his group was on their way home to the town proper after coming from a visit in Brgy. Elizabeth when two heavily armed men emerged from the darkness and sprayed bullets at the white Fortuner SUV (sports utility vehicle) they were riding in.

The critically wounded driver lost control of the vehicle causing it to swerve to the roadside hitting several trees and boulders. The SUV was riddled with bullets and suffered three flat tires.

At that juncture, the vice mayor said he grabbed his baby Armalite rifle, jumped off from the car and stripped his shirt to hide notice from the suspects.

When the two gunmen walked closer to the car with blazing gunfire probably to finish off all the victims, he traded shots with the ambushers for several seconds until the latter quickly withdrew and fled under the cover of darkness. He was unsure if he hit and wounded the suspects.

SOCO team found at least 40 empty shells of bullets for assault rifles at the crime scene.

While the police were still clueless on their investigation shortly after the incident, Vice Mayor Ermitaño quickly blamed politics or envy as the probable motive behind the assassination attempt on his life.

‘Politika wenno dakes nga apal ti gapuna ngem awan ti tudtodduek (It was due to politics or envy but I don’t pinpoint anybody), he said.

He recalled that since October last year, he already sensed that there was already a threat to his life due to the presence of suspicious-looking guys who were trailing his movement.

He later requested from the PNP higher-ups to provide him a police security escort but instead, he was advised to ask personal police security men in this town’s PNP whenever an urgent need for it arises.

Deeply concerned about the tragic incident, town Mayor Arsenio Agustin personally visited Vice Mayor Ermitaño in his residence after he was released from the hospital. The two are political allies and were party mates during the last May 2016 local polls. (Tri-media reports)