4 armed men, driver of Wong SUV to plead guilty?
posted 5-May-2019  ·  
5,594 views  ·   0 comments  ·  
THE TRUTH MAY NOT SURFACE. in last week’s incident involving a vehicle registered in the name of a Wong-owned company that was flagged down at a COMELEC checkpoint and found to be carrying four passengers and four loaded Cal. 45 pistols. It is claimed that the suspects, as well as the SUV driver will plead guilty to the twin charged filed against them. (CATPPO photo)

The four armed men who were on board a sport utility vehicle linked to the Wong family, as well as its driver, will likely plead guilty to the twin charges of illegal possession of firearms and violation of the election gun ban filed by the Catanduanes police last week.

A Commission on Election (COMELEC) checkpoint manned by personnel from three police units intercepted the vehicle, allegedly registered in the name of Ocean Aquamarine Products Enterprises (OAPE), last April 15, 2019, resulting in the arrest of alleged gunmen Ruis Agao de la Cruz, of legal age and resident of Blk. 1, Damata Letre, Tonsuya, Malabon City; Arnel Fuentes Suarez, 44, of Salvacion, Balud, Masbate; Noel Abelita Azores, 28, of Guinbanuahan, Balud, Masbate; and, Joeny Tacurda Raco, 38, of Pulandota, Balud, Masbate, as well as SUV driver John Paul Tumala Bernardino, 28, of Napo, Pandan, Catanduanes.

Bernardino is reportedly a nephew of congressional bet Araceli Bernardino-Wong, now deep into the campaign with rivals Engr. Hector Sanchez, Atty. Jorge Sarmiento and Atty. Joseph Santiago. 

Confiscated from the suspects were four Cal. 45 pistols loaded with ammunition, prompting the police to file separate complaints for violation of Republic Act 10591, or the Comprehensive Firearms and Ammunition Regulation Act, and for violation of Section 261 of the Omnibus Election Code, with the Provincial Prosecutor’s Office.

A joint inquest resolution issued by Assistant Provincial Prosecutor Louie Guerrero and approved by Associate Provincial Prosecutor Carlo Valeza recommended the filing of the charges against them before the Regional Trial Court. No bail was recommended for the illegal possession of firearms charge while the same resolution urged bail of P36,000 each for the gun ban violation case.

According to the complaint, operatives from the 1st Catanduanes Provincial Mobile Force Company led by PMaj. Jerome Regachuelo, Bato police station headed by PLt. Francis Tabo I, and the Catanduanes Police Intelligence Branch led by PMaj. Ma. Cecilia Zuñiga, established a COMELEC checkpoint along the national road at barangay Sipi, Bato, at 7:30 P.M. of April 15.

In a briefing to the checkpoint personnel, Maj. Regachuelo informed that, based on a tip validated by the intelligence branch, a white utility vehicle bearing plate number WKA826 with armed men on board was traveling from the northern part of the island towards Virac.

Thirty minutes later, the target vehicle, a white Toyota Prado Land Cruiser bearing the same plate number, appeared in the distance. It was reportedly flagged down by a police spotter but the vehicle did not stop.

The police officers became suspicious when the SUV accelerated despite being signaled by the police to pull over. The car almost hit the COMELEC checkpoint signage, prompting Maj. Regachuelo to position himself almost in front of the Land Cruiser, which then tried to maneuver backwards as if trying to flee.

At this point, personnel from the intelligence branch and the mobile force company immediately but cautiously positioned themselves around the SUV and ordered the driver to stop the vehicle.

The police’s wariness increased when the driver hesitated to roll down the window despite being requested by Maj. Regachuelo. It took several minutes before the driver rolled down his window, allowing the police to confirm that the vehicle’s passengers were all males.

The designated seizing officer, Pat. Jannice Bandola, was ordered to make a visual search of the inside of the vehicle while Cpl. Renen delos Reyes, who was designated as arresting officer, assisted her by training a flashlight inside the Land Cruiser. Present during the search were Sipi barangay captain Maria Rhodora Gabiola and barangay kagawad William Ibayan.

In the course of the visual search, Pat. Bandola saw the upper receiver of a gun and the base of a pistol magazine protruding from the pocket at the back of the driver’s seat. She also noticed the person sitting behind the driver, later identified as Raco, looking uneasy and pushing something with his feet under the driver’s seat.

Informed of what she saw, Maj. Regachuelo immediately ordered the driver and his four passengers to alight from the vehicle, with Pat. Bandola directed to conduct a thorough search of the vehicle.

Two Cal. 45 pistols with defaced serial numbers, loaded with seven (7) and five (5) bullets, were found in the pocket at the back of the driver’s seat. Bandola also found out that the thing Raco was pushing under the driver’s seat was another Cal. 45 pistol with seven bullets while another pistol loaded with six bullets were found inside a black sling bag beside the driver’s seat.

Cpl. Delos Reyes placed the five men under arrest when they failed to present valid documents covering their possession of the pistols or an exception or authority from the COMELEC allowing them to carry the firearms during the election period.

In his resolution, Prosecutor Guerrero found that the warrantless arrest of the respondents were made in accordance with Section 5, Rule 113 of the Revised Rules on Criminal Procedure.

Under said rules, a peace officer or a private person may, without a warrant, arrest a person in three instances: (a) when, in his presence, the person to be arrested has committed, is actually committing, or is attempting to commit an offense; (b) when an offense has just been committed and he has probable cause to believe based on personal knowledge of facts or circumstances that the person to be arrested has committed it; and, (c) when the person to be arrested is a prisoner who has escaped from a penal establishment or place where he is serving final judgment or is temporarily confined while his case is pending, or has escaped while being transferred from one confinement to another.

Meanwhile, verification made by the police with the Land Transportation Office showed that the white Toyota Prado, with plate number WKA 826, was found to have been last registered in 2016 in the name of OAPE, a company owned by the Wong family.

First incorporated in 1987, OAPE began as a wholesale trader of indigenous seafood products such as sea cucumber and salted jellyfish, with operations based in a small office and warehouse along San Fernando St. in Binondo, Manila.

Aside from the export of marine and agricultural products to Canada, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, U.S.A. and Vietnam, it is also an importer of frozen fruits from China.

Several business directory websites list its annual sales in the range of US$5 million to US$10 million, with congressional candidate Araceli Bernardino-Wong as chief executive officer and at least two other members of her family as contact persons.

The Wong campaign headquarters has yet to issue a statement on the matter, with campaign manager Jardin Brian Wong refusing to comment on the arrests.

Reacting to the incident via facebook, Cong. Cesar Sarmiento, whose brother Jorge is in a four-way race for the lone Congress seat with Wong as the early frontrunner, wondered why the armed men were riding in a vehicle owned by Cely Wong and driven by a relative, and what they were doing in the island during the election period.

“Sana maging hudyat ito sa mga iba pang taong may balak na masama sa mga darating na araw,” he said in his post.

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