Unanswered questions in the Wong checkpoint incident
posted 5-May-2019  ·  
642 views  ·   0 comments  ·  

With less than 20 days before the crucial May 13, 2019 national and local elections, only one election-related incident has been recorded so far in the province of Catanduanes.

Last April 15, 2019, police units manning a COMELEC checkpoint along the national highway in Sipi, Bato intercepted a white Toyota Prado Land Cruiser with five passengers and its driver. Acting on the tip that prompted the checkpoint, the police found four Cal. 45 pistols inside the vehicle that was later found to have been registered in the name of Ocean Aquamarine Products Enterprises (OAPE).

That OAPE is a company of the Wong family, with congressional candidate Araceli Bernardino-Wong listed as its chief executive officer in recent business websites is public knowledge.

Understandably, the Catanduanes police, notably provincial director Col. Paul Abay, refused to divulge the identity of the individual who gave the tip. Thus, unless the justice system uncovers it during the trial, whether a rival politician or an ordinary inquisitive citizen made the call to the police would never be known.

There is an unconfirmed but reliable report that the five accused, including driver who is a nephew of the presumptive poll favorite, will plead guilty as soon as the twin charges for illegal possession of firearms and violation of the election gun ban are read to them at the Regional Trial Court.

This assumes that the respondents will not question the circumstances behind their warrantless arrest and that the search of the vehicle was made pursuant to Section 5, Rule 113 of the Revised Rules on Criminal Procedures, on warrantless arrests.

It also assumed that the warrantless search has been made pursuant to Section 7 of COMELEC Resolution No. 10468, which allows such search “when the occupant/s of the vehicle appear/s to be suspicious or exhibit/s unnatural reaction, such that any uniformed member of the unit designated to man the checkpoint observes unusual conduct which convince the member to believe that a criminal activity exist; or, on the basis of prior confidential information which are reasonably corroborated by other attendant matters.”

As of Monday, April 22, 2019, the twin cases filed against the respondents have yet to be raffled off to the two branches, as Executive Judge Genie G. Gapas-Agbada has yet to arrive from medical leave.

Thus, there is no truth to the rumor that the five men have been granted bail and are now in Metro Manila. According to the joint resolution of the Provincial Prosecutor’s Office, while bail of P36,000 each has been recommended for the violation of the COMELEC gun ban, there is no bail for the violation of Republic Act 10591 or the Comprehensive Firearms and Ammunition Regulation Act.

If and when the accused indeed files a plea of guilt, the Court will be obliged to impose appropriate sentence upon them without further hearings.

The truth of whether they were acting under the employ of the Wong campaign, or any candidate or person connected to the campaign, will never be known to the public. But somebody who witnessed the checkpoint interception claims that the Toyota Prado was at the head of the convoy of vehicles that came from Viga where candidate Wong conducted a house-to-house campaign. A police video of the whole incident would attest to this, it is said.

On the other hand, how it will impact Cely Wong’s frontrunner status will be known in the next two weeks as her rivals would expectedly pounce on the controversy and use it as a weapon with which to bludgeon her campaign and scuttle her bid to become the island’s first congresswoman.

Who among her two rivals, the third having arrived late on the battlefield, will benefit from the incident is a question that would be answered on Election Day.

For now, while their adrenalin is still high from its signal accomplishment, the police should now focus on ensuring that the next two weeks leading to May 13, including the massive vote-buying, would be peaceful and orderly to the satisfaction of the island’s 195,000 voters.


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