By Rolando O. Borrinaga
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 02:05:00 06/14/2008
NAVAL, Biliran – The commando-type assault on the father of Biliran Rep. Glenn A. Chong and his security escorts at around 7:30 in the evening of June 7 was the latest manifestation of a climate of terror being felt in this otherwise very peaceful province.
Charles “Charlie” Chong, 63, and his companions in a convoy of several vehicles were returning from a wedding reception and had just parked in front of his house on P. Inocentes Street in Naval town in Biliran when an old dark green Lancer with license plate no. NMK 996, escorted by two motorcycles, suddenly pulled from behind and disgorged four attackers who immediately opened fire with baby Armalite rifles.
The attack resulted in the death of Chong’s two security escorts, Alberto Parilla and Antonio Barcelo, and the wounding of a third, Jose Casas.
The assailants escaped on board Chong’s Isuzu Highlander, which they grabbed from its driver. The getaway vehicle was found the next morning, abandoned on a dirt road off the national highway, eight kilometers south of the town.
A policeman, SPO2 Renato B. Saul, has been slapped with murder charges in a local court for his alleged involvement in the assault. The three other suspects remain at large.
Before Barcelo died at the emergency room of the Biliran Provincial Hospital, he reportedly claimed that the attackers were members of the Philippine National Police Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) in the province.
The following day, Congressman Chong went on air in a special program over Radyo Natin-Naval and blamed the Espina family, his known political enemies, for the assault on his father and security escorts.
Gov. Roger Espina, who was in Manila, denied Chong’s accusations in another special radio program.
In another program, former Rep. Gerardo Espina Sr., whom Chong beat for Biliran’s congressional seat during the 2007 elections, admitted that he was a “usual suspect,” but claimed innocence and asserted that there had been no violent incidents during his three terms as Biliran representative in Congress and one term as mayor of Naval.
Crimes in Biliran
However, Biliran had registered a higher crime rate than the other provinces in the region in 2007.
When President Macapagal-Arroyo visited Tacloban City in Leyte late last year, she was informed in a closed-door briefing that Biliran had the highest crime rate in Eastern Visayas, according to the dean of a local school privy to that meeting. Crime rate refers to the number of crimes committed per 100,000 population.
Statistics from the website of the National Statistics Coordination Board in Eastern Visayas showed that, for the fourth quarter of 2007 alone, Biliran’s crime rate at 30.9 per 100,000 population was almost double that of the second-ranked province, Northern Samar, at 15.7. This rate was estimated based on 52 index crimes committed during the quarter.
Index crimes are crimes that are sufficiently significant and occur with sufficient regularity as to be meaningful such as murder, physical injury, robbery, theft and rape.
Although Biliran’s crime statistics have been that way for years, the province did not have any presence of communist insurgents so there were no military camps in the vicinity.
But the situation in the once-peaceful Biliran changed in 2005. A local Vietnamese businessman was robbed inside his apartment by alleged bodyguards of the elder Espina when he was still Naval mayor on March 7, 2005, an allegation denied by the Espinas.
The seven suspects included Eugenio Corpin and Nicomedes Azur, who were later convicted of simple robbery by a local court. Azur was returned to the National Bilibid Prisons in Muntinlupa City for breaking his parole provisions. He was set free again late last year, along with a large number of inmates, after reaching 70 years of age.
Corpin eluded automatic return to Muntinlupa after the robbery on a technicality. A previous conviction record did not include his middle name, said a lawyer familiar with his case.
Corpin would be identified later as the suspect in the assassination of former Biliran Gov. Danilo Parilla in Cebu City on Sept. 7, 2006. He was carrying an ID card as employee of the Biliran Provincial Capitol, signed by Gov. Rogelio Espina, when arrested by Cebu police. He is now detained in a Cebu jail.
The allegations that the Espina family were involved in the death of former Governor Parilla became an issue during the May 2007 elections. Chong defeated the elder Espina for the congressional contest, but Espina’s three children – Governor Espina, Kawayan Mayor Rudy Espina, and Naval Councilor Roselyn Espina-Paras – were reelected to their posts.
When he spoke at the House of Representatives on Tuesday, Congressman Chong cited an incident during the campaign period last year.
He recalled that on April 29, 2007, at least six armed men, who identified themselves as police officers, stopped his convoy and wanted to search his vehicle allegedly upon the orders of Biliran Mayor Rudy Espina, twin brother of Governor Espina. Chong alleged that the armed men belonged to the CIDG.
Chong later filed complaints against two top-ranking CIDG officers who allegedly stalked him and his party in Madao.
Congressman Chong also alleged in his June 10 speech at the House of Representatives that the Espina family was involved in the June 7 ambush of his father and bodyguards.
The Espina family and their supporters have denied Chong’s accusation over the radio and in other forums, including the Internet, over the past few days.
Other crimes have occurred in Biliran this year, but these did not gain national print media attention.
On Jan. 2, a couple was murdered inside their house in Barangay Atipolo in Naval town. The suspects remain at large.
On March 30, the municipal health officer of Caibiran town was murdered in grisly fashion at her farmhouse. Dr. Gloria Ramirez, wife of a former mayor and present municipal councilor, suffered from burns in various parts of the body and her head was nearly cut off. The National Bureau of Investigation identified the suspects, who were detained but released later after the witnesses backed out.
On May 30, motorcycle-riding men, who were allegedly residents of a hinterland village of Caibiran town, took away P105,000 bet money from a local lotto station.