Tuesday, April 23, 2013

A Sense of Deja Vu in the Ambush of Mayor Ruth Guingona

Just a few days before the mid-term Philippine election on May 13, 2013, the convoy of Mayor Ruth de Lara Guingona was ambushed in the evening of April 20, 2013 by about 50 communist rebels. The incident happened after the mayor had gone to the village of Alatagan to crown the winner of the fiesta’s local beauty pageant.         

Mayor Guingona belongs to the prominent de Lara family whose patriarch Vicente de Lara was a former congressman and governor of Misamis Oriental. The park at the provincial capitol was named after him.

On the convoy’s way home, the insurgents tried to stop the first vehicle by setting up a bamboo roadblock. Sensing danger, the driver managed to break through the armed men by ignoring them and by speeding up the vehicle. However, the vehicle where the mayor was on was impeded by the road block.  That vehicle was fired upon with rifles and grenade launcher. The communists however were not able to get close to the overturned vehicle because the police escorts exchanged fires with them. During the firefight the driver and one of her bodyguards shielded the mayor from the bullets which cost their lives. That extraordinary act of loyalty saved the life of the mayor although she suffered from bullet and shrapnel wounds in her arms and feet. After she and her companions were rescued by reinforcing troops, the mayor was airlifted by a chopper to Cagayan de Oro, and she was later confined at the CUMC Hospital. The doctors pronounced her condition as stable.

In a statement the CPP/NPA leadership of Northern Mindanao took responsibility for the incident and apologized to the mayor and her family. It said that the higher leadership of the regional NPA did not order the action of its armed men. And what happened was its men’s own initiative in instantaneously reacting to a certain tactical situation in the field. It alleged that it was the escorts of the mayor who fired the first shot.  It also said that the mayor violated the NPA’s own policies of the election gun ban, that the mayor entered the NPA controlled territory without first asking permit and that she brought along with her police escorts. However, the escorts of the mayor refuted the CPP/NPA’s statements and asserted that what really happened was an ambush.

In the aftermath of the ambush different sectors condemned the incident that was perpetrated by the CPP/NPA considering that the mayor is already 78 years old and that she is not a candidate in the election. She is already in the third and last of her term as mayor, and that she is not seeking anymore another elective office. President Benigno Aquino who happened to be in a campaign sortie in Cagayan de Oro and Misamis Oriental made a brief visit to the mayor in the hospital on April 22, 2013. The president who is the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces vowed to go after the perpetrators and bring them to justice.

The attempt on the life or the killing of a wife of former high government officials of the Philippines is not unprecedented. Mayor Ruth de Lara Guingona, the wife of former Vice President Teofisto Guingona Jr. is a victim of communist terrorism. The most prominent victim was Aurora Aragon Quezon, the wife of the late Manuel L. Quezon, the first president of the Philippine Commonwealth. On April 28, 1949, the former first lady was on her way to the opening of Quezon Memorial Hospital when her convoy of 13 vehicles was waylaid and ambushed by about 100-200 communist rebels along Baler-Bongabong Road. In that incident the former first lady and her daughter “Baby” were killed.

The murder of the well-loved former first lady boomeranged to the communists because many Filipinos were outraged of the act. Ramon Magsaysay who was appointed as defense secretary and later elected as President of the Philippines dealt a death blow to the growing menace of Communist insurgency which during its height nearly captured the national capital of Manila. The social reforms that he instituted restored the people’s faith in the government, and his aggressive military actions against the armed communists who were also called the HUKBALAHAP effectively crushed the communist rebellion in the Philippines in the early 50’s.