A young and outspoken town mayor in Abra was murdered on Friday the 13th. Investigators are looking into various angles, and they think that politics could be the reason for the killing. While they have raised the possibility that the New People’s Army (NPA) could be involved, this is the least of their concern.
BY ARTEMIO A. DUMLAO
BAGUIO CITY – Was it personal or political? According to the police, the murder of a young and outspoken town mayor could be a result of either “warlord politics” or a personal misunderstanding.
La Paz town mayor Ysrael Bernos was murdered on the night of January 13 (Friday). According to the Philippine National Police Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (PNP-CIDG)-Cordillera specially tasked to lead in the probe, politics more than the personal angle might have motivated the killing.
Bernos, turning only 31 last March 21, is ending his third term as mayor of his hometown and has reportedly been vocal in his intention to run against the Valeras at the gubernatorial seat in the 2007 polls.
The slain mayor was one of the two remaining political figures in Abra challenging Governor Vicente Valera and Bangued Mayor Ma. Claustro Valera who have been in power in the northern province since 1986.
Even Bernos’ wife Joy, who also comes from a political family that wrested power with the Valeras during the May 2004 polls, believes “dirty politics” is behind the killing of his husband.
Governor Valera laments how he is being haphazardly accused of being behind the killing. “I condemn the killing and it is highly deplorable to again immediately link me to it,” Valera earlier said. The investigation is still ongoing and we should let the police find out the truth, the governor added.
Investigators are also toying with personal angles but the police said they have no hard evidence yet.
Three groups investigated
According to the police, they are zeroing in on three groups linked to the political rivalry angle. They refused to divulge which groups these are.
Probers tried to factor in the involvement of the New People’s Army (NPA) but it is among the last angles that they are looking into.
The Bernoses who reigned in La Paz for the past four decades reportedly also had rivalry with other political figures in the town including NPA-Abra leader Procopio Tauro, a former teacher turned rebel.
Tauro, known to authorities as Ka (kasama or comrade) Pyro, is a leading cadre of the Agustin Begnalen Command (ABC) and reliable sources claim that one of Tauro’s brother was a victim of an assassination perpetuated by the Bernoses.
Up to now however, the NPA command in Abra has neither acknowledged nor issued a statement if they had a hand in the killing of the mayor, although four years ago there was talk that circulated among Abra’s 27 mayors that five of them including Bernos are on the “hit list of the NPA”.
The NPA thereafter denied having such a “hit list” although they admitted that they are watching among other “warlords” in Abra the slain Bernos, Lagayan Mayor Cecille Luna, the slain Tineg town mayor Clarence Benwaren and others whom they claimed were “counter-revolutionaries”.
Earlier statements of NPA-Abra leader Jovencio Balweg to journalists bared that ‘in their exercise of police powers in rebel-influenced areas, they will not hesitate to confront warlords and their armed goons in behalf of the people and their welfare and security’.
`Solve case at once!’
Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Angelo Reyes visited the Bernos family last January 15 and directed the CIDG to solve the case at once.
Just after the killing, Cordillera police director Chief Supt. Leonardo Dionisio lamented that efforts in bringing Abra to peace were shattered with the killing of Bernos.
Abra was thrust into the limelight last year after Secretary Reyes and the PNP relieved all 529 policemen in the province in an attempt to restore peace and order in the northern province, then touted as “Killing Fields.” Peace and order operations were then held by Task Force Abra, a temporary contingent of police officers from the Special Action Force (SAF), complemented by police officers from other provinces in the Cordillera region.
But then again, on January 9, four days before Mayor Bernos was gunned down, a barangay (village) chairman of Bangued town allegedly massacred four that included two teeners in Tayum town, some eight kilometers from the capital town of Bangued. Up to now, the suspect is still in hiding. Bulatlat.com