Biliran Rep. Glenn Chong
Mr. Speaker, I rise on a matter of personal and collective privilege to denounce in the strongest terms the attempted assassination of my father on the evening of Saturday, June 7, in front of one of our business establishments in Naval, Biliran, resulting in the deaths of two, and serious injuries of one, of my security escorts by armed men using high-powered firearms.
I rise today, mainly to shed light on who the perpetrators and the masterminds of this dastardly and cowardly act might be, demand justice, and give honor and tribute to the men who fell in the line of duty.
Mr. Speaker, based on the sworn and oral testimonies of witnesses, I reconstructed the events of that fateful evening. At about 7.30p, as my father disembarked from his vehicle and was on his way towards our building just a few meters away accompanied by a few of my security escorts and a staff, an old dark green Lancer with plate number NMK 996, escorted by two motorcycles, suddenly pulled from behind my father’s convoy and immediately opened fire with baby armalite rifles, hitting one of my security escorts. They ordered my men to lie down and then opened fire again hitting two other guards in separate places. One of the fatalities, Alberto Parilla, shielded my father from the bullets that were meant for him. He sustained several wounds and died shortly upon reaching the hospital. At about the same time, as my father reached the gate of the building he saw one of the attackers aim a baby armalite at him and ready to fire. As my father was staring at the man for a few moments a short distance away, his personal security suddenly embraced him and pushed him inside the building for cover. The suspect probably didn’t fire because the guard who covered my father was his fraternity brother. With my father safely inside the building, the gunmen opened fire again in his direction. Thereafter, they commandeered one of my father’s vehicles and sped away leaving their car and a motorcycle behind.
I called up my staff and got the wife of Alberto Parilla on the phone. She was crying while watching her husband slowly fade away and I was on the other end of the line crying with her while listening to the beeps and clutter of the emergency room knowing that one of my trusted men has left me at that very moment.
In the meantime, a suspect had been apprehended and brought before my father for identification by the police. He was positively identified by my father as the one who aimed his baby armalite rifle at him. Mr. Speaker, the suspect is SPOII Renato Saul, identified as an Administrative/Operations officer of the Biliran Provincial Police Office. He is currently detained on charges of Double Murder and Frustrated Murder.
At about 10.00p that evening, I received a call from my staff asking for an airlift of Antonio Barcelo who was then fighting for his life. I called several ranking officers of the AFP to secure a helicopter for him because the closest ones I knew were stationed in Tacloban City. However, before I finally got through, he died. His wife, my cousin, was there begging doctors to revive him, in the vain hope that somehow a miracle will happen. Before he died, one of my staff asked him who those people were. He clearly answered that they were CIDG personnel. Antonio Barcelo was a retired police officer and certainly knew police stuff. His statement is corroborated by the testimonies of people living in the same barangay where the CIDG contingent is stationed in Biliran, that the car used in the ambush was regularly used by the CIDG. I will surely miss the laughter and the conversations I had with him whenever we go around my district. And I will certainly bring enough cash with me from now on because my ‘personal ATM’ has left me for good.
Mr. Speaker, let me delve into the background of the political situation in my province prior to the attempted assassination of my father that evening, thus:
I. The Espina family resurrected itself back into the political landscape by transplanting themselves in the newly-established province of Biliran in 1995. Through the years, they successfully established a political dynasty that by 2007, they occupied the lone congressional seat, the governorship, two mayoral posts, and a local council seat, thereby establishing a political foothold that many thought so impenetrable and formidable given the relatively small political jurisdiction that is Biliran;
II. One fateful morning of 7 Sept 2006, our former governor and symbol of the local political opposition, Atty. Danilo Parilla, was shot at the back of the head while alighting from a ship in the port of Cebu City in front of his wife by a former convict acting as a bodyguard of then Mayor Gerardo Espina Sr. The late governor had a pending poll protest against Espina Sr. before the Comelec which was eventually dismissed on the same month because of his death.
A few hours after his death, Espina Sr. went on radio and maligned the name of the former governor… blaming him for his own death while defending the act of his former convict bodyguard. Not contented, he essentially repeated the same declarations on air the next day. What struck the public the most was Espina Sr.’s own public admissions that his bodyguard actually told him of his plans to harm Atty. Parilla. He never exercised moral suasion to stop his bodyguard nor warned Atty. Parilla of his impending death. He instead facilitated the request of his bodyguard for a loan, who was able to secure it from Espina Sr.’s gambling buddy.
Subsequent investigation reveals that on the night the ship left the port of Naval, Biliran, two motorized outriggers accompanied the ship, one on the port side and one on the starboard side. About 30 minutes into the voyage the outriggers left and about that time, a text message was received on the cellular phone of the assailant, stating verbatim… ‘ok, cebu ko banatan’ from two persons, namely ‘pawiks’ and ‘kyobots’… Mr. Speaker, ‘pawiks’ is a slang term for ‘opaw’ or bald while ‘kyobots’ is a slang term for ‘bayot’ or gay. Two members of this family rightly fit these descriptions… father and son. This particular message made it to the local papers in Cebu City. It does not require possession of a sophisticated and superior mental ability to decipher what this message actually mean. ‘Ok’ is an affirmation to something, but since we do not know what the assailant was affirming to, we look at the second part of the text which is ‘cebu ko banatan’ so we can at least decipher that the affirmation was directed at a command clarified by the text ‘cebu ko banatan.’ Someone was commanding him to get rid of Atty. Parilla and providing him with possible get-away means on both sides of the ship.
An officer of the ship personally related to me that he saw a man dressed in a white shirt hand to the assailant the firearm used in the murder just moments before he fired the fatal shot. Almost immediately after the arrest of the assailant, he had a well-known lawyer by his side to defend him. All these facilities made available to the gunman is totally beyond the assailant’s means.
Mr. Speaker, a good friend of mine made one curious observation regarding this case, taken in the light after the murder took place. About a month before the murder, Espina Sr. was heard on radio talking about elections taking place in the 3rd district of Leyte in May 2007, but curiously, he mentioned that there might not be elections in the lone district of Biliran which is just across the 3rd district. Admittedly, this fact alone will give one a range of possibilities based on pure assumptions. This makes one’s conclusion much less plausible. Then the murder happened and his subsequent act of doing a Pontius Pilate over the radio. Taken together, my friend’s analysis goes this way: Atty. Parilla was murdered to serve three purposes: cause the dismissal of the electoral protest against Espina Sr. because Atty. Parilla was poised to win the appeal thereby saving the family from severe embarrassment, eliminate the last opposition to the Espinas in the coming elections, and serve as a warning to other interested parties not to thread into Biliran politics. Without opponents, there is virtually no election. With nothing to spend for in that election in Biliran, they can focus their resources in putting another Espina candidate in the 3rd district of Leyte. Considering that the incumbent representative was barred from running, all the candidates then will necessarily have to start from scratch. And since there were about 4 interested candidates, a fifth Espina candidate makes the elections a little less expensive. Mr. Speaker, in short, Atty. Parilla stood in the way of political expansion. Under the simple process called SIMPLIFICATION, if the root cause of the problem is eliminated, one removes all the peripheral problems. Atty. Parilla, was a victim of SIMPLIFICATION!
Only the gunman has been charged for the murder in the lower courts. Unfortunately for us who wish to know the whole truth, the power to delve for the truth did not rest in our hands at that time, so we are left with just the bitter half of the truth. I wonder, and wonder rather loudly, what the PNP or the NBI in Cebu City then had done to investigate the political angle of this murder considering that vital pieces of evidence screams right at their faces pointing to others in complicity. Considering the events of Saturday, I ask the national police authorities to take a second, closer look at the case of Atty. Parilla. Let us look for the other bitter half. Honestly, it is not far to see… unless we choose to look with jaded eyes!
III. About 12.15 in the morning of 29 April 2007, while my convoy was traversing through Brgy. Madao in Kawayan, Biliran, in the heat of the election campaign, we were abruptly stopped near a police outpost by at least 6 armed men who identified themselves as police officers. They demanded a search of my vehicle… only my vehicle. When I asked for a search warrant, P/Sr.Insp. Dacut shouted back… ‘Walang kailangan ng seach warrant, order ‘to ni Mayor!’ They barked orders for us to disembark. Since all their firearms where drawn and ready to fire, we had no choice except to oblige. I alighted from my vehicle with an armalite-wielding police officer aiming it at my chest. Subsequently, a scuffle ensued and my chief of security grabbed one of the police officers and used him as a shield. A standoff ensued and after a short negotiation, the police officers agreed to put down their firearms and we showed them our firearms licenses and permit to carry. Mr. Speaker, the Mayor of that town is Rodolfo Espina. He was hiding along with his men inside the police outpost while watching me tread a very fine line between life and death! The two most senior police officers of the CIDG contingent, P/Sr. Insp. Dacut and SPOIII Mateo are now facing complaints before the RIAS for grave abuse of authority.
IV. In September 2007, my father initiated a complaint before the Office of the Ombudsman-Visayas against incumbent Gov. Rogelio Espina for unexplained wealth arising from the construction of the multi-million-peso Biliran Garden Resort in 2004 which is owned by his family’s EspiMin, Inc., and which includes as incorporators thereof his young children. The case is handled by Atty. Gabino Velasquez. The day after the ambush on my father, he received a call warning him in English… ‘Don’t push through with the cases against the Espinas… or else…’ There are other cases of large anomalous transactions that beg to be investigated and for which a request for investigation was made before the Office of the Ombudsman-Visayas way back in 2006. The request was made based on documents smuggled out of the provincial capitol and the municipal hall of Naval, Biliran by brave nameless employees who could not anymore bear such anomalies. While I do not wish to occupy much of the time of this august chamber, allow me to mention just the tip of the iceberg and show what is actually at stake in Biliran that the Espina family finds it imperative to resort to the extreme: (a) cash advances totaling 25,831,301.23 for CY 2004 alone in the Municipality of Naval under Espina Sr. were made contrary to the provisions of RA 9184, COA Circular 97-002 and BIR RR 6-97 and out of this amount 13,892,780.00 were drawn two to three months before the elections of 2004; and, (b) the Municipality of Naval under Espina Sr. booked as asset a Hospital and Health Center worth 21,167,235.11 when in fact no such facility exists in the municipality, this huge amount disappeared in the balance sheet of the municipality in CY 2005.
V. Lately, I discovered by accident a loan proposal of Gov. Rogelio Espina from the Municipal Development Fund Office of the Department of Finance for 80 million pesos under the PROLEND and another 40 million pesos under the KfW loan facilities. I expressed opposition to this loan proposal in an 8-page letter sent to the Chairman of the MDFO Policy Governing Board mainly on three grounds: (a) the processing of these loans have been attended by lies and deceit grossly inconsistent with the policies promoted by the loan facility and gravely injurious to the people of Biliran; (b) they require significant increases in local tax rates and base values at a time when our people is reeling from the adverse effects of price increases in food and fuel; and, (c) a previous similar transaction involving loans from the PNB-Naval amounting to 35 million pesos which Gov. Rogelio Espina used to buy just 4 pieces of equipment – 2 6-wheel dumptrucks, 1 bulldozer, and 1 excavator – all for 35 million pesos.
VI. With respect to this 35 million pesos loan, the documents purportedly show that they were brand new but actual physical inspection of the equipment, including testimonies of those actually present at the time of delivery, disputes the documentary assertion. I strongly believe that these equipment were grossly overpriced by between 15 to 20 million pesos. The chattel mortgage contract was signed on 16 February 2004 or less than 3 months before the elections. A few months after the consummation of the loan, a building permit was issued for the construction of the multi-million Biliran Garden Resort. The Office of the Ombudsman should take an honest look at this transaction if it is really serious in the performance of its mandate.
Mr. Speaker, at about 4.00p in the afternoon of that fateful day, I received a text message from one of 6 people clearly identified with the Espina family who frequently and heavily hit me on radio every other day stating that ‘ur misery has already begun’… rightly, that night was one of the most miserable and excruciating night for me… I was hurting deeply while I crafted this speech until the morning of the next day. I wanted to dedicate that miserable and hurtful night and my efforts to the memory of my fallen men who never saw another beautiful day in their lives with their families.
On hindsight, Mr. Speaker, I still vividly remember the day when a political figure in my region first brought up the idea that I should slide down to the position of governor way back in November 2006 in Tacloban City. After I bluntly turned down the offer, the Espina family attacked me viciously on radio and print media in Biliran, Tacloban and Manila culminating in an ethics complaint principally based on the fact that I hold my district office in the municipal hall of the capital and for not paying rent, power, water and communications. Six days before the ambush, a lieutenant of Gov. Rogelio Espina, his chief of hospital, came to see my mother and suggested that I should consider running for governor. My mother flatly rejected the offer. Six days later, two of my guards are dead and 1 seriously wounded. I cannot just take their word at face value. My family was once their biggest political supporter right from the start of their political resurrection from oblivion. But we were betrayed about 6 times as I knew in the course of that political friendship. I learned a very hard lesson. If your enemy hints of fear in your eyes, only the ignorant will not take advantage.
Lately, Mr. Speaker, 2 prominent personalities in Biliran have signified their intention to run for governor in 2010. They have started preliminary political activities about two weeks ago and Gov. Rogelio Espina has expressed fear about this development. I am obviously the root cause of this new political problem since I shattered their once so impenetrable and formidable political stronghold. Along with the rest of the problems my political existence has brought forth upon them, I have become the new target of SIMPLIFICATION! Once the root cause of the problem is eliminated, all the rest of the peripheral problems will follow. But it would be too obvious, risky and messy to exterminate me while the political repercussion is too fluid to predict. Removing my father would mean killing me softly. It is less obvious and far less risky but substantially achieving a double effect. He is my only partner in this tumultuous political voyage where destination is never charted beforehand and certainly not by the captain. He takes care of my district and my constituents while I am here working among my esteemed colleagues. If he were lost, I would be lost as well. That is probably their thinking. They could be right, or they could be horribly wrong! One thing I know is that to catch Gerry, you have to think like Gerry!
Mr. Speaker, I lay down all these facts and circumstances in the hope that any serious and impartial investigation by the police into the attempted assassination of my father will take all these into account in order to establish the motive behind the attack and to justify my charge that the members of the Espina family are behind the attack on my father. We know no enemies… EXCEPT THEM!
Mr. Speaker, while I thank PNP Chief Razon and PNP Gen Cabalquinto for heeding my request for the relief of the Provincial Director on whom I have absolutely no faith in, I call on the national police authorities to exert more efforts at finding the rest of the suspects, investigate thoroughly, and act swiftly in order that justice will be obtained for my family and my fallen men and for the ax to fall on those on whom it must necessarily fall. And please, Gen Razon, don’t let the CIDG investigate this case because members of the CIDG are themselves suspects in this case.
For every crime that remains unsolved, especially those with political color, it increases the incentive and audacity of the perpetrators to commit it again while correlatively dampening the spirit and will to fight on the part of the victims. This assumes greater significance in the context of far-away and small polities. If political crimes occur with seeming impunity in generally peaceful regions, there is real danger of a spillover to other political jurisdictions within that region. This is a real danger to the over-all peace and stability of the country at large. I also ask the national media to help bring forth cases like this to the forefront of public attention and discussion in order to act as an effective deterrence to the commission of crimes that flaunts brute force or displays utter disrespect of the law by lawmen themselves acting for the interest of others. Your interest in the over-all peace and stability of this country is as imperative as your interest in the promotion of press freedom.
Mr. Speaker, as a victim of this crime, and as a member of this legislative body, I maintain my respect and allegiance to due processes and legal formalities however many a constraints there are along the way. I will follow the law and live by it. But if brute force or raw power is continuously flaunted against me and the people of Biliran at large, I will not assume responsibility for the acts of men who I do not control if they take the law into their own hands. Last night a SWAT team had to be deployed to the hospital where Jose Casas is undergoing treatment because of new threats. My lawyer and my co-anchors on radio have received threats. As a rule, I do not force people to toe my line, I simply convince them. But even my convincing power will certainly lose currency among men who can see and feel continuing oppression, especially if they are directly involved.
Mr. Speaker, I never publicly divulged all these before even when I had all the opportunity I have. I worked silently here. But with what happened last Saturday to my father and my men, I feel I have no choice except to lay bare all these as a hedge against future attacks against me and my family. If in case my luck runs out, and I fall by an assassin’s bullet, look no further than the Espinas… I trust the authorities will never look at them with jaded eyes by then. To my fellow Biliranons, I will continue to fight for your rights and freedom to live in peace. If my blood is shed to keep you free and emancipated, I would have not regrets. And to the friends of this family in this august chamber, I beg you not to hold grudge against me if I did and say things unpalatable or unsavory to the family’s taste or to yours… if you were in my stead, you will certainly feel the same way I do and say things probably the same as mine plus or minus differences in style and degree of intellectual prowess unique to each of us.
Mr. Speaker, I unabashedly shed tears on the phone and in front of my men, not because I am weak… I cried because I could offer no excuse or words of comfort to convey my deepest sympathies to the families of Alberto Parilla and Antonio Barcelo who perished, and to convey my deepest concerns for Jose Casas who was seriously injured, while protecting my father on that fateful evening. As a final tribute to them, to Mano Tony, I will send all your 4 young children through to college; to Mano Inton, I will see to it that your remaining 2 unemployed children will have gainful employment and see to it that your wife will have medical treatment as she needs it. I will see to it that my promise will be carried out even without me around. May your souls find peaceful rest… So long my friends!
I thank you for your indulgence, ladies and gentlemen… Thank you Mr. Speaker.