“They’re robbers, not rebels”– Velasquez

QUEZON PROVINCE— Four persons including a public school lady teacher were killed,  while a lady doctor and a bus conductor were wounded after a group of armed men boarded a passenger bus in the poblacion of San Francisco town and engaged in running gun battle with police and Army troops Wednesday afternoon.

Initial report made by Lt. Col. Dennis Perez,  commander of the Army’s 74th Infantry Battalion disclosed that the armed men were communist rebels who commandered the bus to use it in raiding a municipal police station somewhere in Bondoc Peninsula.

But Senior Supt. Ericson Velasquez, the Quezon police director sang a different tune. He said the armed men were plain robbers and that they boarded the bus simply to rob its passengers, but failed to do it as they were alerted by the police mobile car that suddenly tailed them.

Earlier reports said the armed men boarded the bus at around 1:00 p.m. in the poblacion of San Francisco.

A resident spotted them and quickly informed the police through mobile phone, the report said.

Elements of  San Francisco police and nearby police station of Mulanay town gave chase and a running gunbattle ensued for more than an hour, the report said.

A police checkpoint set up by the police in Mulanay was rammed and over run by the bus as the suspects opened fire at the policemen manning the checkpoint, it said.

As the bus was approaching the headquarters of 74th Infantry Battalion at Bgy. Ajos in the adjacent town of Bgy. 1, Catanauan where in a B-150 armored personnel carrier was positioned in the middle the road, the suspects ordered the bus driver to look for another way until the bus smashed into a tree and an exchange of gunfire ensued resulting to the death of four persons, the report said.

Velasquez identified them as bus conductor Joel Cavanes, 36 of Catanauan, Quezon;  Teodora Tolentino, 52, of  Bgy. Hagakhakin, Gumaca, Quezon; Joely Pines, 45. of  Bgy. Ilayang Tayuman, San Francisco, Quezon; and Cherry Gil Maaliw, 23, a public school teacher of  Bgy. Sampaloc 1, Sariaya, Quezon.

Velasquez  said two of the suspects identified as Dante Cada and Wilmer Alvasan, both residents of Bgy. Ibabang Iyam in Lucena City were arrested shortly after the gun battle. He said Cada sustained a gun shot wound in the left leg, and was brought to a hospital. He said one of those who managed to escape was identified as alias Brando/ Digs.

According to Velasquez, the bus driver Victorino Bico and bus passengers Arnel Velasco and Fortugaleza Ujastro were unharmed.

In a radio interview, Velasquez disclosed that based on the informations and facts they gathered, it appears that the suspects were bandits and not New People’s Army rebels as earlier reported.

“With all due respect to our partners in the military, those armed men, most likely are not rebels but notorious robbers and we have basis to say this”, said Velasquez.

The suspects upon boarding the bus quickly introduced themselves as NPA rebels, according to the bus driver and passengers who luckily survived in the trading of bullets, when interviewed by the authorities.

Based on the blotter of Lucena City police station, Cada, one of the two arrested suspects was complained by his neighbor Niño Paraiso, 29, a security guard, on the night of Nov. 29. In his complaint, Paraiso alleged that Cada pointed a cal. 45 to him  and had if fired upward three times. Upon learning the incident, elements of Lucena City SWAT team tracked him down but in vain. Randy Nañadiego

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