The mayor of Trece Martires City in Cavite province on Thursday was charged with murder over the killing of his vice mayor in July, in what both camps described as an attack fueled by local politics.
But Mayor Melandres de Sagun, through his chief aide, Raymund Eguillos, said he was “happy” that a case was filed against him over the slaying of Vice Mayor Alexander Lubigan as this would give him a chance to clear his name in court.
De Sagun was on “official leave” and was in the United States when two counts of murder and a count of frustrated murder were filed by the Cavite police and Lubigan’s widow, Gemma, in the Department of Justice (DOJ) in Manila on Thursday morning.
De Sagun left on Sept. 7 and was scheduled to return to the country on Sept. 19 or 20, Eguillos said.
Aside from De Sagun, also charged were Councilor Lawrence Arca of Maragondon town and the alleged gunmen Luis Vasquez Abad Jr., Ariel Fletchetro Paiton and Rhonel Bersamina. Arca had left for Los Angeles on Tuesday, police said.
Senior Supt. William Segun, Cavite police director, said the police also filed charges against several unidentified people, whose roles he described were “after the fact” or those who helped conceal the crime.
Lubigan died when a group of gunmen fired at his vehicle on July 7 in Trece Martires, the provincial capital. Also killed was his driver, Romulo Guillemer, while another aide, Romeo Edrinal, survived.
Four days later, police recovered the gunmen’s vehicle, a black Toyota Hilux, abandoned near a bridge in Maragondon, 26 kilometers away from Trece Martires.
Segun said a city government employee identified De Sagun, who claimed that he was also out of the country when the crime was committed, as the mastermind.
Paiton also revealed to his brother that they were hired by the mayor to kill Lubigan, Segun added.
According to the police, it was Paiton who contacted and paid Arca P25,000 to dispose of the gunmen’s vehicle in Maragondon. Police traced the vehicle to a woman who reportedly worked as a bank loan guarantor under fictitious names.
Segun said they were tracking down Abad, who has a standing warrant for a different case, while warrants were needed before they could arrest the other respondents.
Eguillos said “certain people with vested interests” in the 2019 elections were riding on the issue to pit De Sagun against the Lubigan family. He lamented that the issue had placed De Sagun on “trial by publicity.”
In a press conference at the Philippine National Police headquarters in Camp Crame, Quezon City on Thursday, Gemma said she felt a mix of emotions toward people supposedly behind her husband’s killing.
She said her husband had to be the “ultimate sacrifice” to finally expose the alleged crimes and disservice of the De Saguns, an old and powerful political clan in Trece Martires City.
“We may get justice but it would never bring my husband back,” Gemma said.
Both De Sagun and Lubigan were serving their third terms and used to be allies under the United Nationalist Alliance. The two had a falling out shortly before the 2016 elections and Lubigan was booted out of the party.
Eguillos said this was not enough a reason for the mayor to order the killing. He denied that the city government had cut support for Lubigan’s office, as Gemma had claimed.
Prior to his killing, Lubigan apparently decided to run for mayor in 2019 against De Sagun’s wife, Aiza.
Gemma said she would take her husband’s place in the mayoral election.
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