Villar: Political killings prelude to violent May polls

Senator Manuel Villar, Jr. has described the rash of attacks on political candidates as a prelude to disturbing elections in May.

Villar, standard bearer of Nacionalista party, flew to Ilocos Norte on Wednesday to show the NP's support to the family of slain village chief Joen Cañete-Diego and other provincial partymates who were victims of a post-Christmas attack in the village of San Esteban here.

It was Villar's first visit to Ilocos Norte since he filed his bid for the presidency.

Diego, who was running as town councilor, was the first NP candidate killed since December 28. The next day, Wilbert Origenes, an NP vice mayoral bet in Tagana-an, Surigao del Norte, was shot in his residence. On January 5, another NP bet for town councilor in Casiguran, Sorsogon, SPO2 Julio "Bimbo" Esquivias, was attacked and killed at close range by a lone gunman.

Villar described the incidents as an attack to the country's democracy.

"These (attacks) indicate that the country's peace and order is in bad shape. It is also a preview of a disturbing election period (in May)," he said.

"But we must put an end to violence. It is important that we express our indignation and ensure that justice will be served whether it be in Mindanao or in Ilocos," he added.

He assured Diego's family of the NP's full support in going after the suspects behind the December 28 ambush.

Villar also condoled with the victim's husband Jeff Diego and two children who arrived here from Hawaii on Sunday.

Ilocos Norte Rep. Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. and Imee Marcos escorted Villar to the wake where dozens of local NP candidates and supporters gathered.

The Marcos siblings said Villar's presence in the province signified the latter's concern to restore peace in Ilocos Norte.

Bongbong and Imee likewise assured Villar that the Ilocanos are solidly behind his presidency.

Meanwhile, Jeff Diego said he has yet to inquire on the on-going investigations into the killing.

"I am focused on getting my two boys (ages 12 and 14) overcome this tragedy," he said.

Uniformed policemen have been sent to guard the wake while police teams are also stationed around the town hall to prevent any possible escalation of violence.

A spate of violent incidents has been recorded in the town between known political rivals.

In September, Lorenzo Ruiz, president of the Ilocos Norte Electric Cooperative's board of directors, was shot dead by two gun men as he was alighting from his car on his way to a board meeting in Currimao town.

Ruiz would have run as director in his final term. The following month, the closest security officer of Dingras Mayor Marynette Gamboa was also gunned down.

The attack on NP candidates led by its mayoralty bet Joefrey Saguid, who was in the convoy, was described as yet the most brazen election-related incident in Ilocos Norte's political history.

The police said the victims' vehicles bore severe damages from the gunshots coming from high-caliber guns that included an M-16 and a rifle grenade.

Saguid said the convoy was composed of 42 passengers mostly party supporters and security escorts.

He described the attack as similar to the Ampatuan case in Maguindanao where armed men open fired at their victims.

"We were lucky that most of us survived the attack because our escorts were able to fire back," he said. (PIA)

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