By Zaldy C. Comanda
La Paz, Abra — Exactly three years after 44 Special Action Forces (SAF) troopers were killed in Mamasapano, Maguindanao on Jan. 25, 2015, one of the survivors who received a medal for his participation in that “Oplan Exodus” was killed in a grenade explosion that rocked the opening of the fiesta in this town yesterday.
Police Officer 3 Carlos Bocaig, a native of Abra, one of the 29 SAF troopers who survived after serving the warrant of arrest for Malaysian terrorist and bomb-maker Zulkifli Abdhir, alias “Marwan,” died with another policeman securing the area where local government officials were gathered at 1:30 a.m.
The other policeman was identified as Police Officer 2 Frenzel Buneng Kitoyan, who like PO3 Bocaig was a member of the Abra Police Provincial Mobile Force Company.
It was learned that months after PO3 Bocaig and 28 others were promoted to higher ranks, Bocaig requested to be transferred to the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR), specifically in his hometown.
In the initial report, on opening day of the town fiesta of La Paz on Thursday, there was a fireworks display which was attended by officials led by Abra Rep. Joseph Bernos and his wife, La Paz Mayor Menchie Bernos.
While they were watching the fireworks, there was a sudden explosion of an MK 2 fragmentation grenade near the area where the officials were standing at the town plaza.
Apart from the Bernos couple, who sustained minor wounds in their legs, 12 other people were wounded, including acting La Paz chief of police, Senior Inspector Apdilo Galong; PO2 Richard Basiag, 41, of the Danglas Municipal Police Station (MPS); and Barangay Captain Darroll Azdi B. Gonzales, 32.
Nine others hurt in the blast were Marc Rowjan Beronilla, 24; cameraman Diosdado Mina, 18; Jayson Bernabe T. Zales, 35; Ryan Jun Camacho Marasan, 37; Benedicto Doque Jr., 32; Eva Marie Panagtay Sales, 38; Juanito Zales, 37; Aira Cortez, 17; and teacher Leyze Rose Pe Benito, 23.
Probers later said two levers for an MK 2 grenade were found at the scene, prompting probers to verify whether there were two explosions timed with the fireworks display.
A source from the Abra Police Provincial Office (PPO) told The Manila Bulletin that investigators were following the angle that the Bernos couple could have been the target of the attack.
Immediately activated was the Regional Special Investigation Task Group (RSITG) headed by
Chief Superintendent Sterling Blanco “to conduct a focused and exhaustive investigation to facilitate the speedy solution of the incident and give justice to all the victims.” (With a report from Freddie G. Lazaro)