In the wake of political killings
BAGUIO CITY ( Jan. 25) — As the May election is fast approaching and candidacies are filed with the Commission on Elections, the election fever even surges in Abra with the announcements by alleged warring parties and individuals of their intention to run challenging each other, at least in the polls.
The latest announcement was made in Baguio City by the kin of the late Congressman Luis “Chito” Bersamin Jr. who is running for governor despite the absence of an admission by incumbent governor Vicente Valera that he is still seeking the gubernatorial seat.
Keith Bersamin, the slain solon’s brother, told Baguio-based media on Thursday morning that he is running for governor. He said he does not intend to exact vengeance for his slain brother, but to carry on his brother’s plans.
Valera said he and his wife Bangued Mayor Ma. Zita Valera will be a tandem to watch for, without mentioning the positions the duo is seeking.
In a related development, while the Philippine Congress, and other groups now put up a total of P1.5 million in cash reward for any information leading to the capture of the three main suspects in the congressman’s assassination, as the solon’s eldest daughter disclosed in the same press conference here, another prospective major witness in the killing went on national broadcast recalling his earlier pronouncements.
Charito Bersamin, 40, said she was not surprised to learn of the recantation made by her slain father’s driver, Allan Sawadan, claiming that some influential hands have probably used their money to silence the slain solon’s driver. Sawadan, who also sustained a gunshot wound due to the attack on Bersamin in December 2006, went on national TV and a nationwide radio station and retracted his statement on the identity of the triggerman. Earlier, he provided the cartographic sketch on the alleged suspects in the twin killings, where one of Bersamin’s security guards was also killed.
The younger Bersamin said of the P1.5 million reward, P800,000 comes from the House of Representatives, P200,000 from the Philippine National Police and the rest from organizations and the family circle.
Killers younger than the suspects
Sawadan, claimed over Bombo Radio Laoag that the gunmen were young and not falling within the ages of former Constable Rufino Panday or former La Paz Vice-mayor Freddie Duppo, among those suspected to have a hand in the killing.
The interview was aired live in 48 provincial stations of Bombo Radyo Philippines in its noontime show on Wednesday, January 24.
Panday who had also recanted his earlier declaration that he was a look-out in the killing that was supposedly hatched in his presence and allegedly funded by Abra Governor Vicente Valera, is in his late 50’s just like Valera.
Duppo, believed to be in hiding in the northern provinces after he was tagged by Task Force Bersamin as the team leader of the assassination, is also in his late 40’s, according to reliable sources.
Going against the mastermind and his men?
“We hold on to the evidence Sawadan and Panday have submitted to the court,” Bersamin said, as she repeatedly told the media that the three suspects are reportedly sighted in the Ilocos provinces. She alleged that three of the suspects, Sammy Taculao, Duppo and Dominador Barbosa are Abra Governor Valera’s men, the alleged mastermind in the killings.
Valera, according to Bersamin, is the slain solon’s uncle, not cousin as the former has earlier claimed. Charrie, as she is fondly called, is not surprised if Valera is the suspected mastermind in the killing of her father, because, she said, Bersamin was planning to run against him in May.
“They are not on speaking terms since two years ago,” Charrie said, adding that the late congressman earlier signed a covenant that he would not seek a fresh mandate in congress, but quipped that he was not going to break it because he was only planning to run in the Abra gubernatorial race. The covenant was reportedly among Abra politicians including Valera.
The younger Bersamin said the family even decided to hire Sawadan but he has not reported to work since the assassination.
The Bersamins have just lost Board Member James Bersamin, to another assassin, when the congressman was gunned down in Quezon City in December. Charrie said, her father used to have only two body guards, one assigned at home, and another used to go with him to Congress, but when the board member was killed, the family pleaded that he augmented his security force.
“He was not so security-conscious,” she said as she recalled that often, the congressman would drop his body guard home and go home by himself. She said, he used to get death threats and even noticed two motorcycles tailing him before he was killed but did not tell any one in the family. “We learned of the threats after he died,” the younger Bersamin said.
Valera, who claims he had no hand in the allegations, was earlier arrested but is on bail for breaking a traffic regulation, which also led authorities to confiscate firearms from his vehicle.
Sawadan’s recantation derailed earlier theories of the government-formed Task Force Bersamin now into the thick of investigating the daring afternoon slaying in front of the Mt. Carmel church on December 16 in New Manila, Quezon City.
For Task Force Bersamin investigator Sr. Supt. Isagani Nerez, he said, ‘they will nail down the truth’. He offered no explanation though as he remains tight-lipped on the case and Wednesday’s declaration of Sawadan.
However, for governor Valera’s allies and even observers who are akin to Abra politics, Sawadan’s declaration has vindicated the governor who had complained of “persecution” and “trial by publicity”.
Valera, a lawyer, immediately brushed aside as “hearsay” Panday’s earlier statement to the police of the former’s involvement in the killing .
More so that in Panday’s recantation that police had denied, he claimed that he was “tortured” to point at Valera as the brains and financier in the killing.
During Rep. Bersamin’s burial in Bangued on December 27, his older brother CA Justice Lucas Bersamin urged police investigators to avoid shortcuts in their investigation. His outraged statement “Valera, suspek ka na!” went way beyond the burial.
As this developed, Charrie called on Abreños and visitors in Abra to be more understanding in the light of searches at certain checkpoints by the Task Force Bersamin. In the same manner, Valera claimed innocence over the killings before a crowd at the provincial capitol in Bangued recently. (Please read a related story). # Lyn V. Ramo and Ace Alegre for NORDIS, with a report by Joseph Pangket