Army, PNP launch hunt vs killers of village chief in South Cotabato

November 12, 2009 9:32 pm 

GENERAL SANTOS CITY, Nov. 13 -– Police and military forces in South Cotabato have launched pursuit operations against a group of suspected bandits who were tagged as behind the killing of an official of Barangay Upper Sepaka in Surallah town in a daring ambush at the outskirts of the village Thursday afternoon.

Senior Supt. Nilo Wong, South Cotabato police director, said a team of police operatives and troops from the Army’s 27th Infantry Battalion (IB) moved late Thursday towards the mountainous boundary of Surallah and Lake Sebu towns to track down the suspected Sipot Gang members who ambushed and killed Barangay Upper Sepaka chair Romeo Cabra near the village at around 3:45 p.m.

He said Cabra and his driver were reportedly on their way back to Barangay Upper Sepaka aboard a motorcycle when they were waylaid by at least two gunmen upon reaching the vicinity of Sitio Modon.

Wong said the barangay chair died due to three gunshot wounds on his head and body while his driver, who was not immediately named for security reasons, only sustained minor injuries.

“He (Cabra) was the main target of the attack and it appears that the suspects had planned and prepared for this for some time,” the police official said.

Wong said they received reports that the suspected gunmen were allegedly led by a certain Tata and Oliver, but cited that they have yet to validate such information.

According to local sources, Tata was reportedly a son of Commander Jojo of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) while Oliver was the rebel leader’s son in-law.

The duo was earlier tagged as among those behind the operations of the notorious Sipot Gang, which figured in an encounter with members of the Citizen Armed Forces Geographical Unit (Cafgu) in the area last month.

The clashes, which triggered the evacuation of residents from Barangay Upper Sepaka, left three Cafgu members and two suspected gang members dead.

The bandit group gained notoriety as “Sipot” gang as they usually wipe out all belongings or valuables as well as farm animals from houses that they ransack. “Sipot” is a Hiligaynon or Ilonggo word for wipe out.

“We can’t conclude yet if this is related to the previous incidents there but it was confirmed that barangay chairman Cabra earlier received several death threats from certain groups,” Wong said.

The police official said that aside from the pursuit operations, which was spearheaded by the 1205th police provincial mobile group, he directed investigators from the South Cotabato and Surallah police to conduct a deeper probe on the killing.

He said they also provided security for the victim’s driver, who might have identified those behind the attacks.

Lt. Col. Joshua Santiago, 27th IB commander, said he has assigned a company of troops led by 1st Lt. Joel Wayagwag to investigate the killing and hunt down the suspects.

He said their investigation is currently focused on the victim’s surviving driver, who might reportedly provide them with some leads regarding the identity of the suspects.

Santiago admitted that they initially received reports that the group of certain Tata and Oliver were behind the attacks but said they could not confirm them yet.

“We don’t want to make any conclusion about that (report) as might just complicate the matter,” he said in an interview over radio station Bombo Radyo Friday morning.

He also refused to blame the incident on the group of Commander Jojo, whom he also cleared of any involvement with the Sipot Gang.(PNA)

FFC/AVE

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