Residents of La Union province called on Governor Francisco Emmanuel “Pacoy” Ortega III to protect their communities from violent crimes, following the discovery of an alleged assassination squad composed of former police and military personnel last month.
The Crusaders for Peace issued a statement after several members of the alleged Magpali gun-for-hire group were arrested on June 23, 2021 following the killing of a farm caretaker in Barangay Ballogo, Bacnotan, La Union on June 22, 2021.
Police confiscated from the suspects’ vehicle several high-powered firearms, ammunition, bullet vests, two-way radios, cellphones, back packs and other items. Police also discovered that the group had several safe houses in La Union.
In a statement, the Crusaders for Peace said they were afraid that the violence in the run-up to the 2019 elections would be repeated as the next national and local elections approach.
“Ito ay panawagan mula sa mga natatakot sa himagsik na mamamayan, at mga pangkat ng relihiyon at mga negosyante,” the group said.
The Crusaders for Peace asked Ortega to ensure that peace will prevail by going after the remaining members of the assassination squad.
“Karahasan ay dapat tuldukan. Stop the killings now!” the Crusaders for Peace said.
Several ex-military and police personnel, who are believed to be members of the Magpali gun-for-hire group, were arrested on June 23, 2021 following the killing of Cristito Morate, a farm caretaker in Barangay Ballogo, Bacnotan, La Union on June 22, 2021.
The 49-year-old victim was shot dead over a right-of-way dispute with a member of the group. La Union police said the suspects reportedly shot the victim in the head and fled to San Juan town.
In a report Police Major Gerardo Macaraeg Jr., chief of the San Juan Police Station, said several suspects were eventually arrested while trying to flee aboard a pickup truck following the discovery of their safe house in a resort. The group were renting four rooms in Vilas Buenavista Hotel and Restaurant in Barangay Ili Sur, San Juan
The suspects were identified as Alan Alegria (alias Major Allan Rashid Ortega), an enlisted and active member of Philippine Marines; dismissed Patrolman Rogie Ege; Jomar Magpali, brother of dismissed PCol. Winston Magpali; and Police Master Sgt. Adonis Bayan, a member of Revitalized-Pulis Sa Barangay. Ege is an AWOL member of the Philippine National Police-Special Action Force and a security guard of World Cup Security Services assigned at Aureo Resort and Hotel.
The group’s safehouse is reportedly rented by dismissed PCol. Winston Magpali at Vilas Buenavista Hotel and Restaurant. CCTV tracking helped the police track down the suspects.
Macaraeg said the suspects tried to flee aboard an orange pick-up truck from San Juan and were cornered at a checkpoint by authorities in Barangay Lingsat, San Fernando City. Confiscated from the suspects’ vehicle were high-powered firearms, ammunition, bullet vests, two-way radios, cellphones, back packs and other items.
PCol. Winston Magpali, a dismissed PNP official, is allegedly the leader of the group. Aside from renting the safe house, Magpali reportedly provided the different vehicles to the group, including the Ford wildtrack used by the suspects. Other vehicles maintained by the group were CRV Honda, Mitsubishi Pajero, Ford Everest, an orange sedan and an NMax motorcycle.
Police said they will zero in on the mastermind of the crime and the real motive, adding that the vehicle used by the suspects was registered to a resident of Dagupan City, Pangasinan.
Magpali also has standing warrant of arrest for estafa issued by a Baguio City court. Background and record check on the arrested suspects and other counterparts and intel monitoring on the whereabouts of Col. Magpali is being conducted, according to La Union police.
Authorities are also monitoring different safe houses used by the suspects in Aringay, San Juan, Caba and Naguilian. Other members of the group are still at large.
The killing of Morate is believed to be a side contract, as the group prepares for high-profile targets ahead of the election next year. The group is reportedly financed by an influential individual. A lawyer from Sudipen, La Union came to the defense of the suspects just an hour after their arrest, records showed.
On June 30, PNP Chief Gen. Guillermo Eleazar met with officials of the province to assess the peace and order situation and coordinate measures on how to protect the people following the discovery of the dangerous assassination squad.
A series of high-profile political killings occurred in the province in 2018. These included the unsolved killings of Balaoan Vice Mayor Alfred Concepcion on Nov. 14; Sudipen Mayor Alexander Buquing on Oct. 1; and former Second District Rep. Franny Eriguel on May 12.