The actors of a village variety show had just started to perform onstage and people in barangay Tamiao in Compostela town were cheering them on Tuesday night.
Out of nowhere, an armed man approached one of the fiesta organizers from behind and fired two shots at his head at about 9:50 p.m.
In the panic that followed, the gunman fired at the crowd at random. Two persons were killed and six others, including two teenage girls, were injured.
Police are looking into whether the death of 46-year-old Marito Yraola, the target of the violence, was politically motivated but said it was too early to make a conclusion. His daughter Marian, 22, was among those injured.
Business rivalry and personal grudges are also being considered as theories.
Yraola was a businessman and defeated councilor candidate who ran in the ticket of former mayor Ritchie Wagas in the 2010 election. His wife is the barangay captain of Tamiao.
The gunfire also killed a woman Marilou Mahinay, 36, who was at the basketball court where about 200 residents were watching the stage show. She was shot in the chest.
Police took into custody a Danao city habal-habal driver, whom residents had chased and captured four hours later in a neighboring barangay. The military confirmed that Basilides Ponce, 36, was a former NPA rebel who had surrendered to the army in 2008.
Ponce denied any role in the shooting and told Cebu Daily News he was an asset of the 78th Infantry Battalion conducting a “survey” in the area to gather information.
Two witnesses said he fit the description of the gunman who was seen wearing a black jacket and red t-shirt.
Ponce was found hiding in a garbage dump. Two cohorts escaped.
Ponce denied any wrongdoing but couldn’t immediately explain why he was in the area.
He later told the police that he was surveying the area because he was an asset of the 78th Infantry Batallion.
Ponce was chased and cornered by residents in sitio Mangga, barangay Estaca, about five kilometers from barangay Tamiao around 2 a.m. yesterday.
Police recovered from his possession a .22 caliber Magnum with two live bullets, a pair of black socks, a wallet, cellphone and a Rusi motorcycle with no plate number.
Police said the gun was inside the U-box of the motorcycle and that Ponce failed to present a driver’s license and a firearm license.
At the scene of the shooting rampage, five slugs and four empty shells of a .45 caliber pistol were found.
One eyewitness of the shooting was Marito Lawas, the bodyguard of Yraola.
“I saw the man coming from behind who fired at my boss,” he said in Cebuano.
“I grabbed my boss and pulled him to the ground but it was too late, he was already shot. The gunman fired another shot at me but I was able to dodge it. The woman behind me was hit instead,” Lawas said.
Lawas said he had been Yraola’s bodyguard for about four years but didn’t carry a gun because Yraola didn’t believe he had any enemies to worry about.
The body guard said he wasn’t aware of any death threats received by Yraola.
When the first shots were fired, people scampered in panic.
“Naniyagit ang mga tawo unya nagpataka nalang ug pabuto ,daghan ang naangol (People started shouting. The gunman started shooting at random. Many were hit), said P02 Arni Goc-ong, Compostela police investigator.
Yraola’s daughter, Marian, 22, who was hit in the right leg, a 12-year-old girl and a 13-year-old girl were treated for graze wounds but didn’t need confinement.
Jaime Patiño, 38, was hit in the buttocks and stomach and was in critical condition as of 6 o’clock last night. Joy delos Reyes, 33, was shot in the right arm.
Tamiao barangay councilor Laila Talingting was shot in the back.
“We are still to establish if we can consider the motive political,” said Provincial Police Director Patrocinio Comendador Jr. “We are still validating.”
He sent a team from the Special Reaction Unit (SRU) to Compostela yesterday to help local police maintain peace and order.
The arrested suspect, Ponce, was an active NPA rebel from 2000 to 2003 who operated in the mid-north Cebu said the miltary.
“Basilides Ponce is a former rebel who surrendered to us but it has been quite some time we’ve had contact with him. Basically, he has no more connection to us except that he was a former NPA. I will give more details later,” said Lt. Col. Nolasco Mempin, head of the 78th IB when reached for comment.
PO2 Goc-ong said four witnesses identified Ponce as someone they noticed a week before the shooting happened.
Every night there was a variety show and Ponce was there, Goc-ong said. Residents got suspicious because he was not from barangay Tamiao.
Goc-ong said a text message was found in the suspect’s cellphone.
The text message read, “Kuhaa mi diri sa basurahan. Dili ta magpaabot nga mohayag.” (Fetch us here in the garbage dump site. We will not wait for sunrise.)
Goc-ong said the garbage dump site is about 500 meters from the crime scene.
Ponce denied owning the gun police said they found on him. He said the weapon was planted and that his wife and four children did not know that he was arrested.
He was subjected to a paraffin test yesterday afternoon.
Police said they will file charges of illegal possession of firearms, two counts of murder and five counts of frustrated murder. /Rhea Ruth Rosell, Correspondents with correspondent with Gabriel Bonjoc, Carmel Matus