Sabal slay brings to 27 elected local officials killed since 2016

By Ali G. Macabalang

COTABATO CITY – Police authorities have confirmed shooting to death Talitay, Maguindanao ex-Mayor Montasir Sabal in the aftermath of his arrest in Batangas on Thursday, June 17, saying he allegedly grabbed the gun of one of cops escorting him en route to Camp Crame in Quezon City. 

The tragedy brought to 27 the number of elected mayors and vice mayors slain in separate unresolved incidents in the country since 2016, particularly under the Duterte administration, according to a media tally. 

Sabal was elected vice mayor in 2019 and then succeeded his brother, elected Talitay Mayor Abdul Wahab “Allan” Sabal, who was shot dead by an unidentified gunman in a Manila hotel on Feb. 10, 2020. He later resigned and went into hiding, leaving a leadership vacuum in his town that has since spawned a tussle between the provincial governor and the Bangsamoro regional leadership. 

Sabal was arrested at around 7 p.m. on June 16 aboard M/V Reyna de Luna 4 at the Batangas Port in Batangas City by Criminal Investigation and Detection Group operatives preposition for his arrival from Mindanao, according to PNP Chief Police Gen. Guillermo Eleazar and CIDG chief Maj. Gen. Albert Ignatius Ferro.

Carrying court arrest warrants, the CIDG operatives arrested Sabal alongside house helpers Norayda Nandang, 43, and Aika de Asis, 34, and Muhaliden Mukaram, 36, driver. They seized inside Sabal’s vehicle, a white Toyota Innova wagon, assorted firearms and, ammo, a fragmentation grenade, two folded knives, two vehicle plates, P48,000 cash, mobile phones, more than 28 grams of shabu, and assorted identification cards, Ferro said.

Ferro said his operatives also pursued another vehicle, which was at the parking lot of the Batangas City port and was believed owned by Sabal, and arrested the driver, Zuharto Monico, 28, and two companions named as Ailyn Compania, 45; and Wilson Santos, 41.

Sabal “grabbed his police escort’s firearm while on board the vehicle (carrying them towards Camp Crame),” and shot and wounded the officer in the scuffle that forced other police escorts to fire at the suspect, Ferro said.

The ex-mayor succumbed to gunshot wounds at the San Juan Medical Center, Eleazar and Ferro said, adding that Sabal like his was wanted for allegedly plotting the 2016 bombing in Davao City, aiding the outlawed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) with firearms, and involvement in illegal drug trade. The brothers had denied the allegations.

The June 17 slay of Montasir Sabal brought to 27 the number of elected mayors and vice mayors killed under the Duterte administration. 

The ABS-CBN published last March the tally of 25 other fatalities. But the tally inadvertently excluded then sitting Talitay, Maguindanao Mayor Abdul Wahab Sabal, who was shot dead in a Manila hotel on Feb. 19, 2020. 

The ABS-CBN tally showed the following:

1. Calbayog City (in Samar) Mayor Ronaldo Aquino

Mayor Aquino was killed on March 8 in an incident surrounded by conflicting reports on whether it was an ambush by or shootout with police elements along a bridge in own his turf – Calbayog City.

The National Bureau of Investigation has recommended the filing of charges against nine police officers and several John Does for the killing of Aquino and his driver, security aide and a civilian who was caught in the crossfire.

2. Vice Mayor Aaron Sampaga of Pamplona town, Cagayan 

Sampaga was shot by unidentified gunmen in his province on Aug. 5, 2016. He was rushed to a hospital but was declared dead on arrival.

3.  Mayor Samsudin Dimaukom of Datu Saudi Ampatuan town, Maguindanao 

Mayor Dimaukom was gunned down along with 9 of his men following an alleged shootout with policemen on Oct. 28, 2016.

Two vehicles carrying Dimaukom and his companions were flagged down by police elements at Barangay Bulatukan in Makilala, North Cotabato based on information that they would transport illegal drugs from Davao City to Cotabato and Maguindanao areas.

No illegal drugs were recovered from the vehicles, even as relatives claimed that cash amounting to several millions purportedly for personnel salaries and office operations in Datu Saudi Ampatuan local government unit went missing. 

The mayor and his wife were on Duterte's list of incumbent and retired government officials allegedly involved in the illegal drug trade. The couple had denied the allegations.

4. Mayor Rolando Espinosa of Albuera town, Leyte

Mayor Espinosa was shot dead inside his cell at the Baybay City Provincial Jail on Nov. 5, 2016.

He was arrested the previous month for illegal drug possession and was among the politicians Duterte government linked to the illegal drug trade.

5. Vice Mayor Anwar Sindatuk of Datu Saudi-Ampatuan town, Maguindanao

Sindatuk was shot dead by unidentified gunmen inside his house in Barangay Madia on Nov. 27, 2016.

Police said they were looking into "rido" or family feud as the motive behind the killing. He was also tagged by the administration as a narco-politician.

6. Mayor Mohammad Limbona of Pantar town, Lanao del Norte 

Mayor Limbona was killed after unidentified gunmen attacked his vehicle in Iligan City on Dec. 30, 2016.

Limbona's killing may have been politically motivated as the mayoral seat was hotly contested in the May 2016 polls, police said.

7. Mayor Arsenio Agustin of Marcos town, Ilocos Norte

Agustin was at a construction site in Barangay Mabut, Marcos town when he was shot by an unidentified assailant on June 3, 2017.

8. Mayor Joven Hidalgo of Balete town, Batangas

Mayor Hidalgo was gunned down while watching a basketball game at a court beside a police station in Barangay Poblacion, Balete on June 10, 2017.

He was rushed to the Metro Lipa Hospital but was declared dead on arrival. 

9. Mayor Reynaldo Parojinog of Ozamiz City, Misamis Occidental

Parojinog and 15 others, including his wife, brother and nephew, were killed in a series of raids in San Roque Lawis, Ozamiz City on July 30, 2017.

Police said they met violent resistance when they served 6 search warrants for firearms in the properties of Parojinog and his family.

Parojinog was among local officials on Duterte's narco-list. The mayor denied involvement in the illegal drug trade.

His daughter Vice Mayor Nova Princess Parojinog, who was arrested in the operation, was allegedly in a relationship with high-profile Bilibid inmate Herbert Colanggo.

Nova Parojinog remains detained at the Philippine National Police Custodial Center, while her brother is detained at the Quezon City Jail.

10. Vice Mayor Jackson Dy of Roxas town, Oriental Mindoro

Dy was shot dead while having his car washed on Sept. 23, 2017.

Police identified the gunman as Benjamin Buruanga, who was released from jail on a charge of murder 10 days prior the vice mayor's shooting.

11. Vice Mayor Jonah John Ungab of Ronda town, Cebu

Vice Mayor Ungab was driving when two individuals approached his vehicle and shot him along Osmeña Street in Cebu City on Feb. 19, 2018.

Ungab, who was legal counsel of self-confessed drug lord Kerwin Espinosa, had just come from a court promulgation relating to the case against his client when he was shot dead.

12. Mayor Ronald Tirol of Buenavista town, Bohol 

Tirol was shot dead by three men aboard two motorcycles near the town's cockpit arena on May 27, 2018.

The mayor sustained two gunshot wounds to his head. He was rushed to the hospital but succumbed to his wounds.

13. Mayor Antonio Halili of Tanauan City, Batangas

Mayor Halili, who was known for ordering suspected criminals to take “walks of shame,” was shot dead during a flag ceremony in his city on July 2, 2018 by an unidentified sniper.

Hours after his death, the President slammed the slain mayor, saying the latter pretended to be an anti-illegal drug crusader to cover up his supposed drug activities. 

Halili's daughter, meanwhile, said Duterte was given “false information” about her father. 

14. Mayor Ferdinand Bote of General Tinio town, Nueva Ecija

Bote was shot dead on July 3, 2018, a day after Tanauan City Mayor Antonio Halili was gunned down in Batangas.

The mayor was about to leave the National Irrigation Administration office in Cabanatuan City when an unidentified assailant approached his vehicle and shot him through the passenger's side. 

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque was quoted as saying that Bote was a supporter of the President and had no drug links. 

15. Vice Mayor Alex Lubigan of Trece Martires town, Cavite

Vice Mayor Lubigan was killed aboard his vehicle outside the Korean-Philippines Hospital in Cavite on July 7, 2018.

Unidentified gunmen aboard an SUV hit the vice mayor's vehicle and opened fire.

16. Vice Mayor Al-Rashid Mohammad Ali of Sapa-Sapa town, Tawi-Tawi

Vice Mayor Ali was on board his vehicle when he was shot by motorcycle-riding gunmen in Zamboanga City on July 11, 2018.

At the time of his death, Ali was the seventh victim of a shooting incident in Zamboanga City.

17. Mayor Mariano Blanco III of Ronda town, Cebu

Mayor Blanco was inside his office in Ronda when he shot by armed men on Sept. 5, 2018.

He was pronounced dead on arrival at 2:25 a.m. after being rushed to a hospital in nearby Barili town.

Blanco was among the three local chief executives who were not invited to a meeting with the President in Cebu in May that year.

18. Mayor Alexander Buquing of Sudipen town, La Union

Buquing and his wife, Vice Mayor Wendy Buquing, were on their way home when the assailants waylaid their vehicle in Barangay Cadapli in the town of Bangar on Oct. 1, 2018.

The mayor succumbed to multiple gunshot wounds in different parts of his body while his wife was wounded.

The mayor's driver, Bonifacio Depdepen, and his bodyguard, Rolando Juan Be, were also killed.

19. Vice Mayor Alfred Concepcion of Balaoan town, La Union

Concepcion and his daughter Mayor Aleli Concepcion were on their way to the town hall on Nov. 14, 2018 when suspects opened fire on their vehicle, killing the former.

The elder Concepcion died from multiple gunshot wounds while the town mayor was wounded in the attack, police said.

20. Vice Mayor Sergio Popoy Francisco Emprese of San Andres town, Quezon

Emprese was ambushed inside his home in San Andres town, Quezon on August 21.

He was rushed to the hospital but expired while being treated.

21. Vice Mayor Charlie Yuson III of Batuan town, Masbate 

Yuson and his two companions were having breakfast in Sampaloc, Manila when men aboard a silver gray van approached them on October 9, 2019 and opened fire.

He was killed while his companions were wounded.

22. Mayor David Navarro of Clarin town, Misamis Occidental 

Navarro was shot by unknown gunmen on Oct. 25, 2019 while he was on a police vehicle en route to the Cebu City Prosecutor’s Office.

He was previously tagged in the President's "narco-list." 

23. Mayor Caesar Perez of Los Baños town, Laguna

Perez was shot by unidentified assailants inside the municipal hall compound on Dec. 3, 2020, after getting back from a spa in Brgy. Baybayin. 

Last year, he was included in the Duterte administration's list of politicians with alleged links to illegal drugs. The mayor had denied this.

24. Mayor Christopher Cuan of Libungan town, Cotabato 

Cuan and his driver were shot dead on the morning of Jan. 11, 2021 at a cockpit arena in the municipality, police said.

The mayor and his driver Edwin Ihao, were tailed by 4 gunmen onboard a blue SUV and shot them "several times using unidentified long firearms," according to initial investigation.

Cuan was also supposedly included in Duterte's illegal drug watchlist.

25. Vice Mayor Restituto Calonge of Mabuhay town, Zamboanga Sibugay 

Calonge was shot dead while two others were wounded in an attack last February 26.

The gunman fired multiple shots using a .45 caliber pistol, killing Calonge on the spot, and fled on a motorcycle, police said. (AGM)


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