By Reynard Magtoto
SORSOGON CITY – Sorsogon province had already been declared as “conflict-manageable and development-ready area” last year. However government forces strengthen peace and security in this entire province while fighting between government forces and the Maute group in Marawi City.
According to reports, Brigadier General Fernando Trinidad, commanding officer of the 903rd Infantry Brigade (IBr) based in Castilla, Sorsogon, said they continue to monitor some elected officials who provide help to NPA rebels despite their being part of the government.
The wife of the village councilor who was shot by unidentified gunmen in her front outside their house at Barangay Bentuco, Gubat on Tuesday night blames the troops of Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
According to Ruby Esperida, 47, her husband Pedro Esperida Jr., 43, was shot around 8:20 p.m. using M16 and .45 caliber by around six (6) men riding in three (3) motorcycles who pretended to assist them in firewood delivery.
Before the incident happened, they attended the town fiesta in Gubat, Sorsogon.
“We eat first when we arrived home and he (her husband) slept in our living room. Later, men riding in motorcycles came and called us that they wanted assistance in firewood delivery going to Gubat,” said ruby who then woke up his husband and accompanied him outside.
Ruby added that her husband said to the strangers “Diyos na marhay na gabi Sir, nano tabi? (Good evening Sir, What is it?)”. Then gunshots followed until her husband fell.
According to Ruby, when the suspects left, not so far yet, they came back and shot her husband again, this time in his head but she no longer remembers how many gunshots and was ignored despite her pleas. They brought him to Gubat District Hospital but died while on the way.
Ruby believes those unidentified gunmen are troops from AFP. “Yes they are armies (of AFP) because my husband called them Sir. He said ‘good evening sir’,” she reiterated. She didn’t recognize the face of the suspects except the way they stand.
“We know many armies especially my husband. He was helping top officials. That’s why I’m so hurt on what they did to my husband,” Ruby said.
The Espireda family is in deep grieve and dismay that despite their kindness in helping the AFP troops Pedro was killed.
“That’s what I hurt about helping the armies. They often stay here, one week. They stay here when they have operations. Sometimes I used the comfort room of my parents since almost 30 armies are staying here in our house. We are quite nervous when they are sleeping here. However despite of all of these, this is what they did to us,” said Ruby.
According to Ruby they are helping both sides, AFP and NPA. “We are civilians and we are in the middle of them. The time when the other side (NPA) is asking for help, we provide help since we are civilians. There are also times when the armies are asking for help and we also provide them since my husband is a village councilor here in Brgy. Bentuco,” she explained.
Once you are a barangay official you will be asked for help by both sides, NPA or AFP, according to the wife of Pedro.
In their experience, Pedro’s mother Leonida Espineda, 77, narrated that Pedro was helping NPA and letting AFP to stay in their house. She said that AFP troops are interrogating while the NPA members are friendly and are not investigating.
Pedro was really kind according to Leonida. “Any requests from him, even he doesn’t know the person, he will help, anything as long as he can. When someone is coming over here, despite the bad weather, he will help,” said Leonida who doesn’t believes on rumors that it was the NPA behind the killing.
Rampant extra-judicial killings
Around 20 minutes before the shooting in Bentuco, tricycle driver Alfredo Faune Espedido III, 40, in Barangay Naagtan was also shot by unidentified gunmen.
Ruby speculated that the suspects on the extra-judicial killing in Brgy. Naagtan, Gubat were the same suspects on her husband’s death.
Brgy. Naagtan is 10 minutes away from Brgy. Bentuco when you ride via motorcycle. Both wives of the victims in these brangays will file a joint case.
According to Spokesperson Samuel Guerrero of NPA-Sorsogon-Celso Minguez Command, the Military Inteligence Company (MICO 5) of Philippine Army had their killing spree on June 13 in three barangays in the municipality of Gubat.
The three incidents happened in just one hour according to Celso Minguez Command.
“After killing the victims in Brgy. Naagtan and Bentuco, the AFP troops proceeded in Brgy. Bulacao to supposedly kill the civilian resident there that they have long been harassing because it was allegedly a post or supporter of NPA in the area. But they failed to find their third target,” said Guerrero.
Civilians in Brgy. Bulacao recognized one of the suspects since the suspect was formerly living in their barangay. It was Pfc. Jordan Enconado, element of MICO 5 who was involved in different cases of extra-judicial killings since Oplan Bantay Laya 1 of the Arroyo regime according to Guerrero.
The 31st IBPA troopers also killed Captain Bernardo Lerio, 52, barangay captain of Brgy. Patag, Irosin on June 14 at his house. Lerio was harassed by the military since the NPA punished the former commanding officer of the Mapaso Detachment of the 22nd IBPA in Brgy. Patag on 2012.
Shooting also happened in Camcaman, Matnog on June 9 at 9 pm using the M16 armistice rifle that led to the death of Vicente Gaton, a civilian and resident of Brgy. Balocawe, Matnog.
“The military troop has long been harassing the victim because he has relatives who are NPA and had been victim of military intimidation for several times,” Guerrero stated.
Intensified counter-insurgency operations
Espireda family felt with dismay in the present administration that on the matter of helping others, your life is still at risk.
“This days when you do something good you are wrong and you will be worst when you do something not right,” said Leonida.
“It is getting worse,” said ruby who wanted to stop the armed conflict.
Pedro’s wife hoped that they will be notified by AFP if they did something wrong. “I hoped they will give my husband a last chance if he committed sin from them,” said Ruby.
The Celso Minguez Command condemns the EJKs and human rights violations of the elements of the Philippine Army in the province of Sorsogon this June.
“The consecutive extra-judicial killings of the military troops prove the true nature of the Oplan Kapayapaan of the Duterte regime. It shows that the present regime is pretending to have peace and is no different from the previous regimes in the increasing number of cases of EJKs, intimidation, battering, bombing and other forms of human rights violations,” Guerrero concluded. (BaretangBikolnon.com)