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Another Laguna massacre: 8 shot dead

May 20, 2008 01:31:00
Niña Catherine Calleja Nikko Dizon Marlon Ramos
Southern Luzon Bureau Philippine Daily Inquirer

CALAMBA CITY—In what could be the country’s most murderous week in years, a lone gunman shot dead eight villagers while they were apparently asleep in their houses—three days after robbers massacred 10 people in a bank in a nearby town.

Five of those killed in the 45-minute shooting spree in the hilly barangay (village) of Hornalan in Calamba were children—two of whom were still locked in an embrace when police found the bodies.

The five children aged 4 to 9 were shot along with their parents. The murders occurred between 11 p.m. Sunday and 12:15 a.m. Monday, police said.

To a neighbor who had rushed out of his house on hearing the gunshots, the killer looked like a frightening apparition.

“The gunman came out of the dark all of a sudden, like a ghost (parang multo) wielding an Armalite,” Jaime Abanilla told the Philippine Daily Inquirer (parent company of INQUIRER.net).

Based on the description provided by a witness, police identified the alleged assailant as Bernabe “Abe” Fiesta, 29, said to be the caretaker of a farm owned by a retired policeman and a native of Kidapawan City in North Cotabato province.

The alleged gunman, who purportedly bore a grudge against some of his victims, escaped.

Six other people were wounded in the midnight attack.

Police said they recovered 96 empty M-16 Armalite shells at the scene.

Shoot to kill

Barangay Hornalan lies 20 to 25 km from Cabuyao, Laguna, where a gang of robbers broke into a branch of Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. (RCBC) on Friday and mowed down nine bank personnel and a customer.

The RCBC robbers have also evaded capture. A bank source said they were believed to have stolen between P9 million and P12 million.

Police said they had identified the suspects in the bank robbery but could not yet name them publicly. They also said they had two important witnesses, one of them a woman.

Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez said he believed “shoot to kill” orders should be issued against those responsible for the back-to-back bloodbaths.

The multiple killings also prompted calls in Congress for the revival of the death penalty.

What is happening?

Even battle-hardened policemen were aghast at what happened.

“This is a complete breakdown of morals. Children were killed mercilessly for nothing,” Laguna’s police director, Senior Supt. Felipe Rojas Jr., said.

“This is not just an issue of whether the police were remiss in their jobs or not. (What happened in Cabuyao and Hornalan) says a lot about our society,” Rojas added.

Police identified those killed as Dennis Balisong, 29; his daughters Gladys, 7, and Gladlyn, 8; Gerry Pili, 48; his wife Gloria, 39; and their children Mary Jane, 12, Sarah, 9, and Julian, 4.

Except for Gladys, who died while being taken to a hospital, all the victims died on the spot.

Wounded were Dennis’ wife Marina, 31, their son Denmark, 5; Aurelio Abanilla, 52; Vicente Redondo, 42, and Gerry’s daughter Cherry May, 17, and Erika, 8.

Case solved

Calabarzon police declared the Calamba killings solved after a witness was able to identify the supposed gunman.

The witness, a resident of the barangay, claimed Fiesta would have also killed him had he not pleaded for his life.

Fiesta was the caretaker of an ampalaya (bitter gourd) farm owned by retired SPO4 Florencio Peria, who was questioned by the police after seeing that the magazines for the M-16 assault rifle that the alleged gunman had left in the crime scene bore the name “Peria.”

“We consider this case closed,” Chief Supt. Ricardo Padilla, Calabarzon police director, said. “It’s just a matter of time until we get the suspect. Our police units are now focused on the pursuit operations.”

Rojas said the gunman apparently had a personal grudge against the victims.

Because he was ridiculed

Fiesta purportedly told the witness that the victims had belittled and ridiculed him, Rojas said.

Police believed Fiesta was hiding in a nearby forest.

The victims were all asleep when they were attacked, Calamba police chief Supt. Nestor de la Cueva said.

He said the pattern of the killings showed the gunman apparently knew his targets.

According to witnesses’ accounts, Fiesta first went to the Balisongs and shot up their house.

After five minutes, he moved over to the house of the Pilis and opened fire.

God’s protection

As neighbors came out to see where the shots were coming from, Fiesta shot Abanilla and Redondo.

He also peppered the home of the Enobejas family with bullets.

Nievas Enobejas, 40, said she and her family bolted out of their home.

“God kept us out of harm. It was His will that made us survive this nightmare,” Enobejas said in Filipino.

Marina Pili’s father, Elias Para, said two of his grandchildren were locked in an embrace on their wooden bed when police found them.

“My God! What is it that we have done for this to happen to my grandchildren?” Para said.

While escaping, Fiesta also shot a dog and two cows owned by Redondo.

The alleged gunman also fired at Redondo’s jeep.

Residents came out of their houses only after village watchmen arrived at around 12:30 a.m.

Officer Padilla said Peria, who is now in police custody, had told investigators that Fiesta stole his M-16 rifle with eight magazines filled with live ammunition.

Police quoted one witness as saying that Fiesta had told him he killed Gerry Pili.

“Pinatay ko na si Gerry. Nayayabangan ako sa kanya (I killed Gerry because he was a braggart),” Fiesta supposedly said.

Calabarzon group

Rojas said the Calamba and Cabuyao incidents had frightened the public. “Some are even afraid to go to the bank,” he said.

Police were eyeing a combined group of bank robbers operating in the Calabarzon area as perpetrators of the RCBC murders.

“It’s not just a single group but a combination of groups operating in Laguna and Batangas,” Senior Supt. Aaron Fidel, head of Task Force RCBC, told reporters.

Security meeting

A special meeting of the Joint Anti-Banking Robbery Action Council (JABRAC) was held at the Philippine National Police headquarters. JABRAC members include police officials and banking and security executives.

Christopher Dobles, Allied Bank senior vice president for corporate security and concurrent secretary of the Bank and Security Management Association, assured the public that “bank owners are doing their best to prevent this thing from happening again.”

Dobles said the minimum security measure required by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas was the installation of surveillance cameras in bank premises.

He said this requirement was being met by big banks but only a number of rural banks were able to comply due to the costs of the equipment.

Fidel said investigators had learned that the Cabuyao branch of RCBC had reported to management that its closed circuit TV cameras (CCTV) had not been functioning for over a month.

Moreover, Fidel said the bank’s alarm system connected to the police station was found “not to be functioning” on the day of the robbery.

Fidel said that a week before the crime took place, the alarm worked during a routine testing and inspection.

“It was probably shut off on that day,” he said.

PNP Director General Avelino Razon Jr. has ordered police chiefs, police directors and commanders to conduct “street offices” from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.—the banking and peak hours of business establishments—to increase police visibility.

The no-plate, no-travel policy will be implemented and vehicles with unauthorized commemorative plates will be confiscated, police said.

Police Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams will also be deployed near banks for quick reaction. With reports from Leila B. Salaverria, Julie Aurelio and Romulo Ponte, Inquirer Southern Luzon

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