LEGAZPI CITY (22-Jan-2013) – Bicol’s number eight most wanted person (MWP) has been arrested in Masbate, according to the regional office of the Philippine National Police (PNP) here.
A police report released Monday identified the arrested MWP as Felix Espinosa Jr., 37, a native of Cawayan, Masbate.
Facing a murder charge before the Regional Trial Court in Cataingan, Masbate, Espinosa has been a fugitive since escaping from the Masbate Provincial Jail while being detained for the same criminal offense about five years ago.
A crack team of the PNP Regional Special Operations Task Group (RSOTG), armed with a warrant of arrest, collared him at his hiding place in the mining village of Syndicate, Aroroy town.
Supt. Renato Bataller, the PNP regional spokesman, said that as the number eight MWP in Bicol, Espinosa carried a P90,000 bounty for his arrest offered by the Department of Interior and Local Government.
“He surrendered peacefully when cornered by lawmen to become the second MWP to be arrested in by the RSOTG this month as part of the intensified police campaign to ensure the peaceful and orderly conduct of the May 2013 elections in the province,” Bataller said.
Masbate is classified as a “risk area” or “hot spot” in the forthcoming polls, he added.
RSOTG is a special police unit organized and deployed by the police regional command to augment the local police force in the implementation of the “Safe and Fair Elections (SAFE) 2013” project of the PNP in Masbate, which is known for its long history of political-related violence.
Last Jan. 6, Eduardo Brioso, who is also accused of murder and Bicol’s number nine MWP, was also nabbed by the Task Force’s operatives in Baleno town.
Brioso had been in hiding for about four years.
Bataller said going after wanted criminals in Masbate is one measure being adopted by the PNP in line with its SAFE 2013 project.
Wanted criminals, he said, are often times recruited by political warlords in the province into private armed groups (PAGs) being used to ensure the victory of their candidates through violent means.
Senior Supt. Heriberto Olitoquit, Masbate provincial police director, has reported that there are two PAGs that have been activated by certain local politicians since as early as last October and four others have been monitored to be regrouping and waiting activation.
Disarming and disbanding PAGs is another mission of the RSOTG.
Last Jan. 12, on the eve of the start of the election period and implementation of the Comelec gun ban, the suspected leader and a member of one of these private armies were arrested and charged in court for illegal possession of firearms, ammunition and explosives.
The arrest of Ariel Arozobal and his brother Ramie, the PNP Bicol believes, is a big blow to the Arizobal Group, one of the reported active PAGs in the province with around 20 members and said to be behind several incidents of harassments and intimidations against supporters and followers of the candidate opposite their employer.
Police investigators are also looking into the possibility that the group was behind the murder last December of two candidates for town councilors under the Nationalist People’s Coalition in the municipality of Aroroy and Baleno.
The two were arrested in a raid conducted by the RSOTG on their safehouse in Dimasalang, Masbate where two high caliber guns, a huge volume of ammunition and a rifle-launched grenade were recovered.
The arrest of the two and seizure of the arms cache in their possessions are a big boost to the campaign for a peaceful, honest and credible May elections in the province, Bataller said. (PNA)