Philippines probes police shooting death of mayor & bodyguards in alleged ‘mistaken encounter’

The national crimes investigation agency is to investigate the controversial death of a mayor at the hands of the police service, which claims the official and his associates were killed in a shootout that started by mistake.

The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) – a body that was modeled on the early-years US FBI – will conduct an inquiry into the death of Calbayog’s mayor, Ronald Aquino, the Department of Justice announced on Tuesday. The elected official and three of his bodyguards were killed on Monday evening in a reported police ambush near the city he governed.

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The mayor’s van came under intense fire as the politician was travelling to his son’s birthday party, according to local media. The police claim the incident happened after a routine patrol came under fire from inside the vehicle, and the officers had returned fire. According to them, Aquino and two of his aides, including a police escort, were killed by officers, and two officers were shot dead by those traveling with the mayor.

“I can only assume that this was a mistaken encounter,” Brigadier General Ronaldo de Jesus, a regional police commander, said of the events. “They had suspicions and opened fire on our policemen and our forces retaliated.”

The version has been rejected by some people, including Edgar Sarmiento, who was a friend of Aquino and is a representative of Samar province, where Calbayog is located. He claims the police fabricated evidence at the crime scene to cover up a premeditated hit on the mayor.

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“It was well planned. After the van stopped, it was immediately hit. It’s good they were able to retaliate,” Sarmiento told the DZMM radio station. “We’re in a pandemic and things like this still happen.”

Aquino was in his late-50s and was serving his third and final term as the mayor. Violent crime is a major problem for Calbayog. In fact, another of its past mayors, Reynaldo Uy, was assassinated in 2011 in an alleged contracted killing by a rival politician. In 2019, when Aquino was running for re-election, his supporters were targeted in a series of deadly ambushes.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said the NBI had 10 days to submit their first progress report as part of the investigation into the mayor’s killing.

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