PHILIPPINE National Police chief General Oscar Albayalde yesterday ordered a massive hunt for the gunmen who attacked former Pangasinan Gov. Amado Espino Jr. and the bodyguards in San Carlos City late Wednesday afternoon killing one of his security men before fleeing.
“The PNP strongly condemns the attack against Amado “Ama” Espino Jr. and Gen. Albayalde has ordered the Police Regional Office 1 to immediately launch manhunt operations to arrest the suspects, expedite the investigation, and file criminal charges to give justice to the victims,” said PNP spokesman Brig. Gen. Bernard Banac.
Espino, a member of Philippine Military Academy Class 1972, survived the ambush but one of his bodyguards was killed as the assailants opened fire on their two vehicles.
Espino was a retired police colonel-turned Pangasinan politician. He was a former representative of the fifth district of Pangasinan.
PRO1 director Brig. Gen. Joel Orduña said that Espino’s two-vehicle convoy was traversing Bgy. Magtaking in San Carlos City, Pangasinan at 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday when the suspects opened fire on them.
Orduña said Espino and five of his companions were hit by bullets from M-16 and M-14 automatic rifles.
The former governor was in a Toyota Land Cruiser SUV, with his driver Agapito Cuison, and security aide Jayson Malsi. Tailing them were his back-up security personnel Anthony Columbino, Police Staff Sergeant Richard Esguerra and Kervin Marbori who were in a Toyota Innova being driven by Columbino.
The victims were on their way to Bgy. Ilang-Ilang in San Carlos City when ambushed.
The gunmen fled in a red Hyundai Hatchback car and a metallic blue Ford Everest towards the nearby Malasiqui municipality
All occupants of the two vehicles suffered gunshot wounds.
Espino, Cuison, Malsi, Marbori and Tolinao were taken to the Blessed Family Hospital in San Carlos City for medical attention.
SSgt. Esguerra, who suffered several gunshot wounds, died on the spot.
The Ilocos-Pangasinan police director said that forensic investigators recovered dozens of spent casings at the scene.
“We assure the families of the victims and the entire Ilocos-Pangasinan people that we are doing out best in looking into all possible motives behind the attack and in establishing the identities of the gunmen,” Orduña said as he ordered a massive dragnet to get the killers.
Reports said that Espino’s security aides used their bodies to shield the politician from bullets. The retired police official was shot in the arm and body but is now in stable condition.
Espino lost in his reelection bid as representative of the province’s fifth district last May 13 midterm elections. His son Amado III is the incumbent Pangasinan director.
The elder Espino was previously named in a “drug matrix” presented by President Rodrigo Duterte in 2016 but he categorically denied any involvement in illegal drugs. Soon after, the President apologized for inadvertently identifying the official.
GETAWAY VEHICLES RECOVERED
Orduña said that his men have already recovered the gunmen’s getaway vehicles.
The red Hyundai Elantra and grey Ford Everest were found abandoned in separate places in Bgy. Cobol in San Carlos City and Bgy. Pasima in Malasiqui municipality.
Found inside the Hyundai Elantra were three M-16 automatic rifles while two M-14 rifles, two M-16s and a fragmentation grenade were recovered inside the Ford Everest.
The recovered weapons will be subjected to ballistics examination to determine if they were the ones used in the ambush and in other past shooting incidents in Pangasinan and the rest of the region.
“Apparently, the gunmen panicked, they were rattled after realizing that we have launched a province-wide dragnet, thus they abandoned their getaway vehicles and fled separately,” the official said.
Orduña said that some witnesses claimed seeing unidentified men in both areas leaving the vehicles before flagging down passing buses and tricycles.
The official said the registered owners of the two recovered motor vehicles will be placed under questioning.
GUN ATTACK CONDEMNED
Malacañang yesterday condemned the ambush of Espino and assured the public the perpetrators will be brought to justice.
“We condemn this felonious act as we believe that any unjustified killing has no place in a civilized society like ours,” Palace spokesman Salvador Panelo said.
House leaders also condemned the Wednesday ambush on the former Pangasinan governor.
House Majority Leader Martin Romualdez of Leyte, Deputy Speakers LRay Villafuerte of Camarines Sur, Mikee Romero of 1Pacman party-list, and Raneo Abu of Batangas urged authorities to bring the perpetrators to justice.
“The House leadership under Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano condemns in the strongest possible terms the ambush incident. We appeal to our authorities to arrest those behind this dastardly act,” said Romualdez, who chairs the House Committee on Rules.
SPECIAL TASK GROUP FORMED
Orduña said he will be temporarily lead the Special Investigation Task Group Espino which he created to spearhead the investigation into the ambush and the hunt for the assassins and the “brains.”
“There’s always a threat on the life of ex-Gov. Espino due to his long career as a police officer and a politician. However, we are looking at the possibility this could be connected to business and politics,” the official said.
With Efren Montano, Zaida delos Reyes and Liway Manantan Yparraguirre