By Berlin P. Flores
Elements of the 80th Infantry (80IB) Battalion under its Commanding Officer LTC Randolph Cabangbang have charged personnel of Blue Star Construction and Development Corporation (BSCDC) with multiple attempted murder, as well as violation of R.A. 10591 and Omnibus Election Code of the Philippines.
Named respondents were Benjamin Dumaliang, Ben Mamintal, Abdulhamin Mamintal, Kuhkan Mamintal, and ten other persons, all allegedly associated with BSCDC based on the complaint.
The case, filed before the Rizal Provincial Prosecutor’s Office, stemmed from the 30-minute gunfight in the early morning of April 3, 2016 at So. Pinagtarangkahan, Brgy. Cuyambay, Tanay, Rizal.
The incident occurred between 80IB personnel and alleged members of a private armed group led by Ben Mamintal and allegedly employed by BSCDC’s Benjamin Dumaliang.
A portion of the firefight was caught on video and uploaded in the Save Masungi Movement Facebook page, which had since become viral and attracted thousands of comments from netizens.
The said event happened near the hotly contested Masungi Karst Protected Area, which is inside Lot 10 titled to the Republic of the Philippines and presently being claimed by BSCDC as its private property.
Based on the sworn statements of LTC Cabangbang and several 80IB personnel, at around 6:30 a.m. on April 3, 2016, their group was en route to the 2nd Infantry Division military camp in Brgy. Sampaloc to attend an event when they noticed two civilians each carrying a shotgun inside a fenced lot that is apparently within Lot 10 where Masungi Karst is located.
When questioned by LTC Cabangbang’s security detail as to why they were bearing firearms despite the ongoing Election Gun Ban, the two men allegedly ran towards Garden Cottages, leaving one shotgun behind.
An hour later, at around 7:30 a.m., a firefight ensued in the area when the private armed group hired by BSCDC fired upon 80IB personnel who proceeded to the area upon learning of the tension between the said armed group and the security personnel of Sea Horse International Security Solutions Corporation (SISSC) hired by claimants of Lot 10.
SISSC personnel were apparently in the area to secure residents of Barangay Cuyambay who were removing a portion of the perimeter fencing that was allegedly illegally installed by BSCDC, which prevented the free access of residents to and from their residences inside Lot 10.
LTC Cabangbang said that despite identifying themselves as government troops, the armed men allegedly continued firing upon their vehicles before dispersing towards various directions.
The said armed men apparently left behind another Akkar 12 gauge shotgun as they fled the scene.
Based on the recovered shells, 80IB personnel claimed that BSCDC’s private armed group roughly has 20-30 members.
Armed park rangers?
80IB intelligence allegedly revealed that the private armed group’s members were posing as park rangers manning the Garden Cottages area.
In a videotaped interview, Dumaliang admitted to LTC Cabangbang that he had indeed hired park rangers who are mostly Muslims from Pikit, North Cotabato.
Dumaliang added that he is taking full responsibility for his park rangers’ actions during the firefight since, he said, the park rangers were only taking orders from him. He denied, however, that his park rangers are armed.
But Tanay PNP, to which 80IB turned over the recovered firearms, discovered through a records check with the PNP Firearms and Explosives Office in Camp Crame that the two Akkar 12 gauge shotguns recovered by 80IB personnel were registered under the name of Blue Star Const & Dev’t Corp with address at KM45, Marcos Highway, Brgy. Cuyambay, Tanay, Rizal.
Licenses of both firearms were already expired, available records showed.
In an interview, Municipal Legal Officer Atty. Amadeo Fulgado said that the LGU is continuously seeking peaceful solutions to the Masungi issue.
He added that the local government has been in constant communication with DENR, Rizal Provincial Government, DPWH, and other agencies that can shed light on the controversy surrounding the Masungi Karst Protected Area.
Atty. Fulgado stressed that the municipal government will not tolerate acts of individuals that would lead to bloodshed and unrest in the area.