By Aaron Recuenco
Five armed men posing as cops were killed when they shot it out with responding lawmen out to rescue a businessman they abducted from his home in Candelaria, Quezon Monday night.
The running gunbattle also killed Police Officer 1 Ma. Zarah Baliton Andal who succumbed to her wounds in the hospital. Three other police operatives and a civilian were wounded in the exchange of gunfire.
The kidnap victim, Ronaldo Arguelles, was likewise hit in the abdomen and is in serious condition at an undisclosed hospital.
Four of the suspects were fully armed and wearing the uniform of the Regional Public Safety Battalion, an anti-insurgency unit of the PNP with the following rank and surnames –SPO2 Adalla, SPO3 Fernandez, PO3 Dizon, and PO2 Rebadulla. The fifth suspect was in plain clothes.
Seized from the suspects were a Thompson rifle, two .45 pistols, two hand grenades, and various bullets.
Senior Supt. Glenn Dumlao, head of the PNP’s Anti-Kidnapping Group (AKG), said, “We verified it with the regional police force and with the Army but their names are negative. We suspect that they are not policemen since some of them are just wearing pair of slippers and that the belts are ordinary ones and not PNP-issued,” said Dumlao.
“It appeared that they only wore police uniform and they had the surnames placed on the name cloth. The uniforms are newlymade and the haircut of the slain suspects are not for the elite force of the PNP,” he added.
Senior Supt. Rhoderick Armamento, director of the Quezon Provincial Police Office, confirmed that the names of the suspects are not on the master list of policemen in the region.
Armamento said at about 6:15 p.m. Monday, the armed men barged into the home of Arguelles at Cristina Village, Barangay Mangilag Sur, hogtied everyone in the house as they searched for valuables and took Ronaldo as they fled aboard his car towards Laguna.
“Two hours later, there were already negotiations with the family. They demanded P700,000 in exchange for the release of the victims,” said Armamento.
AKG operatives and the local police who conducted a follow-up operation chanced upon the suspects along Maharlika Highway in Barangay San Nicolas at around 6 a.m. Tuesday.
“During pay-off operation, the operatives chanced upon a ToyotaSportivo bearing ‘Lost Plate TEMPT NO. 989’ which was believed to be the vehicle of the suspects,” said Dumlao.
A gunfight erupted when police started to move in, according to Dumlao.
The wounded cops were identified as Police Officers 1 January de Ramos Menfroza, Jun JunVillaflor, and Jeffrey Orlanes–members of the Candelaria Municipal Police Station.
The police said Arguelles is involved in the drug trade since 2005. A brother was also arrested for drug links.
“His front is sand and trucking. This (kidnapping) is definitely related (to illegal drugs) because he is in our list of drug groups and personalities,” said Armamento.
“He was taken with the purpose of asking money from him,” he added.
Investigators said this could be the reason why the suspects wore police uniform, to make it appear that it was a legitimate police operation.
“They identified themselves as policemen and they demanded P700,000. They said that if he would not give him the money, they would file drug charges against him,” said Armamento.
Initial investigation revealed that the same group of slain suspects has been mulcting money from Arguelles by posing not only as cops but also agents of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA).
Outgoing PNP chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa confirmed that Arguelles is an illegal drugs high-value target of both the Quezon Provincial Police and the regional police office but would not say the extent of his drug operations.
A thorough investigation is underway to determine if the slain suspects were in cahoots with rogue policemen in Quezon province. (With a report from Danny Estacio)