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Smoking gun vs EJK?

For so long, the alleged involvement of the government in the killings of suspected drug personalities have remained allegations. There was never any concrete evidence that would back up that claim.

But that might now change with the botched ambush of an Iloilo City policeman who is allegedly an active pusher of shabu last Tuesday afternoon.

PO1 Dorben Acap was driving home after his regular tour of duty ended at 4 p.m. on June 26 when gunmen riding a motorcycle opened fire at him at close range. Luckily, Acap had sensed something was going to happen and ducked inside his car as a hail of bullets smashed into it.

He was hit in the left arm. He managed to stop his car in the middle of the road. His attackers stopped their motorcycle about 5 meters away, apparently preparing to finish him off.

Acap, who is left-handed, quickly got his firearm and took aim with his right hand. He fired seven rounds at his attackers who could not see him because of the heavy tint on his windshield. He saw one of his attackers fall to the ground, wounded.

The driver of the motorcycle helped his wounded companion get up from the pavement, got him to sit on the bike and fled.

That wounded gunman was later identified as PO2 Melvin Mocoro, who was last known to be assigned in the ARMM Regional Mobile Battalion of the Philippine National Police. He was supposedly on sick leave from his unit.

Mocoro was hit in the chest and leg when Acap returned fire. He was taken to the Western Visayas Medical Center in Mandurriao, Iloilo City for treatment. At first, police investigators told media Mocoro was wounded in a gunfight in Pakiad, Oton. He was taken to the hospital by a tricycle driver who was stopped by his companion near the Circumferential Road near Mandurriao.

However, Acap, without hesitation, identified Mocoro as the gunman he had hit in the exchange of gunfire when policemen from the Arevalo police station where the ambush took place showed him his picture. Mocoro wasn’t wearing a helmet when the shooting happened, and Acap said he got a good look at him when he fired back.

“It’s definitely him,” Acap said, adding that as a guard assigned to the gate of Camp Delgado, he frequently saw Mocoro get in and out of the regional PNP headquarters in Fort San Pedro. “I didn’t know his name, but I know him to be a policeman.”

Mocoro was placed under hospital arrest by the Arevalo PNP following this positive identification made by Acap.

It’s not known who was the other gunman who was driving the motorcycle, but this identification of Mocoro suddenly gave a face and name to the apparent rub-out activities targetting drug personalities.

On June 24, masked gunmen barged into the cottage occupied by Remia Prevendido-Gregori, barangay captain of Bakhaw, Mandurriao and peppered her with bullets. She died on the spot along with a female helper who was nearby. Her husband, Bonifacio Gregori Sr., was wounded. Mrs. Gregori was the sister of slain drug group leader Richard Prevendido.

The following morning, uniformed policemen stormed several homes owned by the Odict family and their known associates in Tanza Esperanza armed with search warrants for loose firearms. Andrew Altas, a brother in law of Melvin “Dragon” Odicta who was also gunned down in August 2016, was killed after he allegedly fired at the troops, forcing them to return fire. Noel “Nene” Odicta, whose third and last term as barangay captain ends June 30, was arrested and charged for allegedly keeping an unlicensed cal. 45 pistol and a hand grenade in his house.

Then came the ambush on Acap on Tuesday afternoon.

The PDEA and police said Acap was considered a high value target for actively peddling shabu in Iloilo City and southern towns of Iloilo province.

Acap was demoted two years ago after he was caught being in a house raided by the PDEA where illegal drugs were being sold.

Acap has denied his involvement in illegal drugs.

This series of violent attacks on drug personalities has already caused panic and fear among other suspected drug personalities. One of them is Keith “Dabing” Espinosa, wife of alleged Odicta drug group lieutenant Jesus “Jing Jing” Espinosa, Jr. She is now believed to be in hiding even while her supporters hold prayer vigils every night outside her residence to stop any police raid.

Mocoro remains under hospital arrest. The City Prosecutor’s Office conducted an inquest into the frustrated murder charges filed by police against him at his hospital bedside. He remains tight-lipped about the whole episode and refused to answer questions from police investigators.

The PNP Regional Office No. 6 has also issued a statement that Mocorro could not be linked to the murder of Gregori in San Joaquin last June 24. The police is apparently trying to connect her murder to rivalries between drug groups in the city.

But there is growing evidence now that Mocorro was one of the gunmen who tried to kill Acap, and suspicion is building up as well he could have been part of the group that killed Gregori.

He could be the missing link that would finally establish the involvement of the government, or at least of the police, in the spate of extra judicial killings involving drug personalities in the country.

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Conspiracy theory

It’s been a week since a lone perpetrator used a lock-pick to force open my car door and stole my laptop computer and favorite defense weapon, a Glock 26 9mm pistol. I haven’t heard anything from the police, although I was told they had a suspect based on the modus operandi. And as I was sipping a cup of hazelnut brew at Coffeebreak Gaisano, I was approached by Manny Gruenberg to let me know he was also hit in similar fashion at the guarded parking lot of “The Avenue” only two days before it happened to me.

That left me wondering if the police has the capability to solve car break-ins like this, as it would appear the culprit, who obviously wasn’t working alone, has been doing this a number of times. The method used is more refined now; in previous cases, the culprits smashed the car window open to gain access. It was a crude method that increased their risk of being caught. In fact, several suspects were indeed caught, only to go free on bail. A degree of sophistication has been introduced to their modus operandi: pick-locks are now being used.

It looks like the criminals are always a step or two ahead of the police. And as I write this, I heard a TV report about how a suspect just snatched in broad daylight the digital camera of two people who were posing for souvenir photographs in Iloilo City. Worse, it was reported that the complaint filed against the suspects in the East West Bank robbery was dismissed by the City Prosecutors Office on a technicality. The criminals are indeed ahead in the game, and are getting bolder and bolder.

But this boldness doesn’t remove that nasty feeling that I was a target of a well-planned “hit”. Almost everybody — even the security guards at the West Visayas State University where it happened —- tells me I must have been followed, or the culprits knew exactly where I would be, at what time, and how long the car would be left unattended. It makes sense. March 18 was a public holiday, and there wasn’t supposed to be classes at the WVSU. Moreover, the school year had ended. I was just there to take the final exams in a graduate school subject.

As described by witnesses, it didn’t take more than 2 minutes. The culprit casually walked toward my parked vehicle and peered inside through the tinted window glass. He was verifying the object of the planned theft was there; he must have seen me leaving the vehicle without my knapsack bag in which I kept my laptop. Then he took out his tools and picked the door lock mechanism. Seconds later, he opened it and got the laptop bag. But then he saw a smaller bag; my Glock pistol was in it. A bonus.

Now that a week has passed, I am pessimistic about the items being recovered, and the culprit, and the brains behind it, caught. But I am worried that this incident will only embolden the underworld into carrying out more crimes. The police seems helpless in cracking these cases. The reasons are many why this is so: lack of training in investigatve, inadequate logistical support, poor motivation and plain indifference about their job. This is a reason murders in broad daylight can just happen. This is a reason bank robberies take place so routinely.

I can live with the theft of these items. And whoever plotted this will not succeed in silencing my voice on issues affecting the community. But the incident should be an eye-opener for everybody to the reality that nobody is safe anymore. The only way to change that is for the police to shake things up and introduce reforms in its organization and the way it does police work.