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CEBU CITY – Police said it now has several “persons of interest” in connection to the murder of Ronda town Mayor Mariano Blanco III, but it was quick to say that these people are not considered as suspects.

Provincial Police Director Senior Superintendent Manuel Abrugena said they have more than two persons of interest, but he declined to divulge their identities saying investigation is still on-going. He said the Special Investigation Task Group has already identified several people who have possible involvement in Blanco’s murder.

Abrugena said they are looking into politics and personal grudge as main motives in the recent slaying of Blanco, who was shot many times by gunmen who barged inside his office. One of these persons of interest allegedly has an ax to grind with Blanco, he said, adding, the mayor was allegedly coddling people of “questionable characters.”

Investigators are also not discounting the possibility that Blanco’s killing was drug-related as the mayor was accused by President Rodrigo Duterte in 2016 as a drug protector. Prior to his killing, Blanco, who previously denied all accusations against him by Duterte, was also stripped last year of his police supervision in his town.

No individual or group claimed responsibility for the murder. Abrugena said they are also studying the connection of Blanco’s murder to the ambush-slay of his nephew, Ronda Vice Mayor Jonah John Ungab, last February.

Ungab was one of the legal counsels of self-confessed drug lord Rolando Espinosa Jr. Espinosa’s father, Mayor Rolando Espinosa Sr, of Leyte’s Albuera town, – tagged by Duterte as a drug lord – was also killed by policemen inside his prison cell.

Blanco’s family have asked the National Bureau of Investigation to look into the murder of the 58-year old mayor which Abrugena welcomed. “It is most welcome.

The more law enforcement agencies investigating the case, the bigger the possibility of solving the case soonest,” he said. Various human rights groups have asked the Commission on Human Rights in the Philippines and the United Nations Human Rights Council to look into the spate of alleged extrajudicial killings in Cebu following Blanco’s murder.

Since early this year, there had been over a hundred killings – mostly perpetrated by motorcycle gunmen – in Cebu. Even Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma has appealed for an end to the culture of impunity in the province and called on the authorities to seriously address the series of killings.

A report by ABS-CBN, said Blanco was the 16th elected official killed under the Duterte administration. It identified the others as: Vice Mayor Aaron Sampaga of Pamplona town, Cagayan – August 5, 2016; Mayor Samsudin Dimaukom of Datu Saudi Ampatuan town, Maguindanao – October 28, 2016; Mayor Rolando Espinosa of Albuera town, Leyte – November 5, 2016; Vice Mayor Anwar Sindatuk of Datu Saudi-Ampatuan town, Maguindanao – November 27, 2016; Mayor Mohammad Limbona of Pantar town, Lanao del Norte – December 30, 2016; Mayor Arsenio Agustin of Marcos town, Ilocos Norte – June 3, 2017; Mayor Joven Hidalgo of Balete town, Batangas – June 10, 2017.

And also Mayor Reynaldo Parojinog of Ozamiz City, Misamis Occidental – July 30, 2017; Vice Mayor Jackson Dy of Roxas town, Oriental Mindoro – September 23, 2017; Vice Mayor Jonah John Ungab of Ronda town, Cebu – February 19, 2018; Mayor Ronald Tirol of Buenavista town, Bohol – May 27, 2018; Mayor Antonio Halili of Tanauan City, Batangas – July 2, 2018; Mayor Ferdinand Bote of General Tinio town, Nueva Ecija – July 3, 2018; Vice Mayor Alex Lubigan of Trece Martires town, Cavite – July 7, 2018; and Vice Mayor Al-Rashid Mohammad Ali of Sapa-Sapa town, Tawi-Tawi – July 11, 2018. (Cebu Examiner. With a report from Luel Galarpe)


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