Three of the killers who massacred a group of innocent civilians while riding a Cobra truck in La Liberated town have been positively identified by survivors of the bloody ordeal.
This came after four of the massacre survivors were placed in the custody of the Philippine National Police outside of La Libertad.
The survivors are now in a police safehouse. They have already issued statements to investigators. According to one of the survivors, he positively identified three of the gunmen who straffed the cargo truck they were riding.
The names of the identified suspects have been withheld by authorities pending further investigation.
A survivor said the killers already identified were "locals".
This reporter was able to personally interview the witnesses, whom he will not name for security reasons.
Politics has been eyed as the probable motive for the massacre. The victims of the straffing were innocent civilians who were at the wrong place at the wrong time.
There were telltale signs that politics was the motive.
One of the survivors said that he had previously seen the three identified suspects in the company of a local politician.
Another survivor recounted that right after they were shot at, two other gunmen, who were not yet identified, came over to her and told her “pasensiya na, si kapitan ang among tuyo.”(Sorry. It is kapitan whom we are after)
One of the seven killed was Ledio Baylon, a barangay captain of Barangay Aya, La Liberted.
Target: Barangay Captain
From the statements of the witnesses, it can be gathered that it was the barangay captain who was the lone target, and the other innocent civilians killed and injured were merely collateral damage.
The civilians who were killed and injured were mostly poor farmers, residents of Barangay Aya which is one of the farthest barangay of La Libertad.
They boarded the cargo truck, which was used as a service vehicle to transport residents for free.
Some of the victims came from a two-day forestry seminar in barangay San Jose undertaken by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
Unfortunately, the barangay captain, the lone target, was also on board the said vehicle.
Barangay captain Ledio Baylon was a respected leader in barangay Aya. He was a supporter of Jocylen Sy Limkaichong, the incumbent mayor of La Libertad.
According to one witness, a resident of barangay Aya, barangay capatain Baylon delivered all the votes of his barangay to Jocelyn in the previous election. The opponent got zero, said one witness.
For this coming elections, there has been an increase of registered voters of barangay Aya, now numbering 660, and likely, barangay captain Baylon would have once again delivered these votes for Limkaichong and her partymates.
He was killed so that he will no longer be able to deliver those votes, said the witness.
According to one witness, he had seen three of the identified suspects in the company of a local politician in La Libertad who has lost in previous elections, and is reportedly running again in the May polls.
The witness said he once saw the suspects with the local politico while undergoing barangay visitations.
There is however, no evidence of any direct link between the suspects and the politician in the massacre.
The politician, the witness said, is a now-you-see-now-you-don’t figure in the town. He surfaces when elections are coming, the witness said added.
Armed to the teeth
What baffles investigators was the way the massacre was executed.
The killers were reportedly using a grenade launcher, 9 MM, 45 caliber, Danao-made machine guns.
Investigators based these on the bullet shells recovered in the scene of the crime.
They recovered a total of 119 empty 9 MM shells. These excludes the other guns used, one investigator said.
They apparently had one target only, yet it looked like the perpetrators were engaged in a gunbattle.
Not the handiwork of NPAs
Investigators also said reports have been circulating that the massacre was the handiwork of the communist rebels New Peoples’ Army (NPA).
However, investigators are not taking this very seriously, as this could be an effort to mislead the investigation.
It was even reported that leaflets have been circulated around town trying to pin the blame to the NPA.
But one of the survivors debunked this NPA angle saying those aboard the truck were not enemies of the NPA.
One witness said,,“Wala mi gi-kontra sa mga NPA sukad,” (WE have never been enemies of the NPA ever since)
In rejecting the NPA angle, the witness noted that the massacre was committed near the town poblacion.
The massacre was executed in barangay Manluminsag which is just three barangays away from the poblacion.
If the NPAs were really behind the killings, then they would have done their act in Barangay Aya, not in barangay Manluminsag which is near the poblacion.
Barangay Manluminsag is the third barangay from the poblacion, after barangays Talyog and Manbulawon.
There were warnings
One of the witnesses recounted that just prior to the massacre on March 9, there were subtle warnings made by a certain person whom she postiviely identified..
The witness said that one person she recalls said, “Sa Marso daghan matumba. Inig buto, kuwarta,”(In March many will fall. Upon explosion, there’s money).
The same witness also recounted that just prior to March 9, she was aboard the truck on the way home.
The witness overheard another person whom she named, talking in his cell phone.
The witness heard the person saying they could not carry out their activity because they were in a cockfight.
After the three suspects have been identified, probers confirmed that these suspects are still at large.
They are from the area, as relayed by one witness.
Investigators said they will file the cases in court as soon as the probe is finished.
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