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Masbate has 1,262 suspected criminals in PNP wanted list
The online news portal of TV5

LEGAZPI CITY, Albay, Philippines - Earning the moniker “Murder Capital of Bicol,” Masbate has a total of 1,262 suspected criminals distributed among the 20 towns and one city of the island province listed by the Philippine National Police as among Bicol’s most wanted persons.

Masbate City, the provincial capital, has the most number with 128, while Cataingan, a third class municipality considered as the province's biggest, has the least with 27, Chief Supt. Jose Arne de los Santos, regional police director based at Camp Gen. Simeon Ola in Legazpi City, said on Wednesday.

Milagros, also a third class town at the province’s western coast and located 20 kilometers from the provincial capital, has the second highest at 105 followed by its neighboring town of Baleno with 101.

The other Masbate towns in the PNP list are San Pascual in Burias Island with 99; the gold-rich Aroroy with 95; the fishing town of Balud, 82; 69 each for Claveria and San Jacinto; Placer, 61; 57 for San Fernando; Cawayan, 47; Mandaon, 44; Monreal and Dimasalang, 41 each; Batuan, 38; Palanas, 37; Pio V. Corpuz, 36; Mobo, 34; and Esperanza, 28.

De los Santos said these wanted persons have pending warrants of arrest issued by various local courts in Masbate.

From January to April this year, 182 wanted persons were arrested in the province that included 11 suspected “contract killers” or guns-for-hire now detained at the Masbate Provincial Jail (MPJ).

Each of these 11 suspects listed in Bicol’s “Most Wanted Persons” carried a P90,000-bounty on their heads.

Of the 182 arrested wanted persons, De los Santos said 28 were from Masbate City, 11 from Cawayan town and eight each from the municipalities of Balud, Mandaon and Uson.

The arrests, according to Delos Santos, came as part of the accomplishments of the Masbate-PNP in line with its intensified operations to account for wanted persons dubbed “Manhunt Charlie” as ordered by PNP chief Director-General Nicanor Bartolome through Letter of Instruction (LOI) 03/11.

Under the LOI, De Los Santos said he had directed all police field units in Bicol to strengthen their warrant sections and arrest wanted persons in their respective areas of responsibility.

Some of the most wanted persons in Masbate are accused of murder and the recent arrest of the 11 suspected guns-for-hire delivered a major blow to the ferocious “contract killing industry” that the province has developed over the years of intense political rivalries.

“We are vigorously implementing LOI 03/11 to continuously minimize the number of contract killers in Masbate which had terrified the province with a series of murders of highly-placed local politicians for the past several decades,” De Los Santos said.

This “industry”, he said, is seen to be behind the fall one after the other of various top political personalities in the province that included former congressman, mayor and governor Moises Espinosa Sr. who was gunned down by a hired killer at the Masbate Airport on March 17, 1989.

His younger brother, Tito, suffered the same fate while serving as congressman for the first district of the province in 1995 when he was gunned down in Quezon City, also by a gun-for-hire.

The elder Espinosa’s son, Moises Jr. was also murdered in August 2001, while serving his term as the first mayor of Masbate City.

Their heirs accused Antonio Kho, now congressman for second district of the province, to be behind the killings but was acquitted even as some of the perpetrators who were arrested and convicted by courts have been identified as his followers.

In October 1991, Jolly Fernandez, a staunch enemy of the Espinosa political clan and aligned with Kho, was also killed in broad daylight near his residence in Masbate City. The two suspects, who were linked to the Espinosas and arrested by the police, were acquitted by the Regional Trial Court in Legazpi City following an over three-year trial.

Several other murder cases believed perpetrated by hired killers and motivated by politics have been recorded in Masbate giving reasons for the Commission on Elections to place the province under its control every time there were elections.

The latest of these was in 2010 when both the police and the military were mobilized into a campaign to tame the volatile political situation in the province by initiating massive crackdowns on hired and heavily armed political goons.

The campaign yielded thousands of loose firearms either confiscated from or surrendered by politicians, while several armies of hired goons were placed under watch, making that election relatively peaceful compared to the past.