CEBU, Philippines — Authorities are now determining if a notorious gun-for-hire wounded in shootout with police operatives in Barangay Campo 8, Talisay City yesterday morning has been involved in the ambush that killed Association of Barangay Councils president and San Fernando town councilor Ricardo Reluya, Jr. and two others.
Jerome Labitad, however, managed to escape after a five-minute gun battle. Senior Inspector Alejandro Batobalonos, chief of the Provincial Intelligence Branch, said Labitad was with his uncle, Councilman Felix Abacajan of Barangay Maghaway, Talisay City, during the encounter.
The police were out to serve several warrants of arrest for murder and illegal drugs against Labitad. Batobalonos said they had been tracking the suspect in the mountains of Talisay City since Monday night.
He said Labitad noticed them as they were maneuvering and started shooting at them. Batobalonos said they were at a disadvantage position but managed to return fire.
“Lisud ang among posisyon mao to nga nakahigayon gyud sila og sibat. Pero sa sitwasyon atong Labitad maglisud siya sa iya kahimtang (we were at a disadvantage position that’s why they managed to escape. But Labitad was in a critical situation),” he said.
The police, however, seized the high-powered firearm allegedly used by Labitad which he left upon his escape.
Talisay City Police Station chief Supt. Marlu Conag said Labitad is the most wanted person in the city. He was allegedly working as hit man for some politicians. Abacajan, on the other hand, was allegedly part of the drug network of self-confessed drug lord Franz Sabalones.
Cebu Provincial Police Office director Senior Supt. Manuel Abrugena said they are looking at Labitad’s possible involvement in the ambush of Reluya Tuesday last week.
Meanwhile, despite barely escaping an ambush last week, San Fernando Mayor Lakambini “Neneth” Reluya will continue her bid for re-election in May.
“I am not withdrawing from seeking a fresh mandate despite the threats that I received,” Neneth said in a press statement released on Monday night.
She described “excruciating” the attack against her, her husband Ricardo, and four others on January 22, which ended the lives of Ricardo, Allan Bayot, and Ricky Monterona.
“I will continue the cause that Nonoy (Ricardo) and I, together with our advisers and stakeholders, in making San Fernando shine,” she said.
The Reluya couple’s Certificates of Nomination and Acceptance (CONA) came from the NP-Alayon based on the records of the Commission on Elections.
Provincial Election Supervisor Jerome Brilliantes said NP-Alayon can nominate a replacement for Ricardo, the president of the Association of Barangay Councils in San Fernando at the time he was killed.
Brilliantes said substitution is still allowed because disqualification and death are reasons allowed by law.
The replacement candidate, however, must have the same family name as the former candidate, in this case, Reluya.
Reluya’s son who serves as municipal administrator and daughter, a youth representative, may take over their father’s candidacy.
The head of Alayon, First District Rep. Gerald Anthony Gullas, said he will let the mayor make the decision.
“I will leave that decision to the mayor. Let’s give her some time to make that decision,” he said.
Reluya thanked those who sympathized and empathized with her and her family. She said the support she is getting is, to an extent, easing her pain, and is giving her courage to face the trials she is facing.
On Monday, the Provincial Board passed a resolution condemning the ambush.
“The 14th Sangguniang Panlalawigan of Cebu condemned in the highest terms the act of violence committed against the Reluyas and deemed it inevitable to request the Philippine National Police and other law enforcement agencies to conduct a thorough investigation on the incident so justice may be served to the grieving families,” the resolution reads.
Meanwhile, the National Bureau of Investigation – 7 confirmed it is conducting a parallel investigation into the ambush.
“Immediately upon the happening of the incident, NBI CEVRO have motu proprio started to conduct an investigation relative to the case,” reads the text of NBI-7 assistant regional director Dominador Cimafranca to The Freeman.
Cimafranca said they will be coordinating with the Philippine National Police, which has been given two weeks to investigate the incident.
So far, he said, the NBI has interviewed witnesses and gathered footages from closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras at the area.
Like the police, the NBI is looking into all possible motives, including politics, Cimafranca added.
The mayor’s group was on board a Super Grandia heading to Cebu City from San Fernando when their van was peppered with bullets while traversing N. Bacalso Avenue in Barangay Linao, Talisay City. — Gabriel C. Bonjoc (FREEMAN)