By LITO RULONA
and NITZ ARANCON
SUSPECTED hired killers lobbed and exploded a crude bomb against the hood of a judge’s car, and then fired shots at the Bukidnon-bound vehicle at Purok 7, Upper Puerto, yesterday morning. The judge, Emmanuel Pasal Jr., survived the second attempt on his life in a month’s time.
Police said masked men staged the ambush while Pasal was on his way to hear a case in Malaybalay City in Bukidnon.
Pasal was with three other men–two police security aides and his cousin who drove the car–at the time of the attack. All were unhurt because the vehicle, a black Suzuki Jimny, has a bullet-proof windshield.
Chief Insp. Ariel Phillip Pontillas, Agora police chief, said Pasal’s group was moving uphill when the assassins threw a “pillbox” at the car, and then fired shots at the vehicle.
The police assigned the two officers to serve as Pasal’s bodyguards after a still unidentified gunman shot at Pasal’s car on a highway in Barangay Gusa, this city, last month. The gunman missed.
Pasal is a regional judge in Cagayan de Oro but is also serving as acting presiding judge of a regional court in Malaybalay City.
Police said the assassins positioned themselves near a gate of Puerto Heights, and posed as joggers as they waited for Pasal’s vehicle.
The judge’s cousin and driver, Rene Celestial, said there were at least four men. He said he saw one of them throw the crude bomb at them.
“Igo mi sa sentro nga bahin unya miboto og mi-aso. Maayo gani kay bullet-proof among windshield. Wala makalahos ang bomba unya boto-boto dayun sa likod nga bahin. Gipusil-pusil mi,” he said.
Celestial said the police officers–PO1s Jude Mercado Richie Labiano–quickly covered the judge, and then returned fire after he drove towards a safe part of the road.
As the policemen alighted from the vehicle to engage, the gunmen fled downwards.
Celestial said they tried to chase two of the suspects but there were two others who served as lookouts and a blocking force.
“Biniraha na dayun og insakto pero sabot siguro sa mga suspect nga dunay responding police officers gikan sa Puerto, midagan na kini sila palayo. Dili namo ma-identify kay nakataptap ilang mga nawong,” he said.
Puerto police chief Insp. Gomer Ladera said investigators were getting statements from witnesses, and would review security camera footages.
City police director Senior Supt. Faro Antonio Olaguera said witnesses have already come forward and stated that they saw two men carry out the ambush.
Olaguera said he would send more officers to beef up Pasal’s security.
“Dili na ta maghulat sa ika tulo. Kon duna may mosulay pagpatay ni Judge Pasal sa ika tulong higayon, kinahanglan kita na ang maka-una pagpatay sa mga tawo nga bo-ot mopatay niya,” said Olaguera.
He said the police would give a P20-thousand reward for anyone who could provide information that could be used to arrest the men behind the attacks.
Olaguera said the people behind the ambush were guns for hire, and were behind the April gun attack against the judge in Gusa in April.
He also said investigators were becoming certain that the attempts of Pasal’s life had something to with with a drug case the judge was handling in Malaybalay City.
Senior Supt. Felipe Abigan, chief of the regional office of the Scene of the Crime Operatives (Soco), said investigators were combing the judge’s car for clues.
The explosion damaged the car’s windshield but no bullet pierced through the vehicle, said Abigan.