A suspected member of the highway gang, who robbed a bus in Barangay Jugno, crossing Silab in Amlan, Negros Oriental, at around 7:20 p.m. Wednesday, was killed in a shootout with policemen.
The fatality was identified as Jonnel Inocerta Sotillo, of Sitio Hayugan in Barangay Malaunay, Valencia, by town police chief, Senior Insp. Wilfredo Villoria, who said he believes he was a member of the highway robbery gang headed by a certain Michael Garsula.
Amlan police chief, Senior Insp. Edwin Tuble, said Sotillo and a companion boarded a Ceres bus, with body number 7412 and driven by Andrew Silorio, in Tiguib, Bindoy. When it arrived in Brgy. Jugno, the two suspects declared a hold-up and divested bus conductor Virgilio Bayabos of around P11,000 in fare money, and the passengers of their belongings. They then alighted from the vehicle at an intersection leading to Silab in Amlan.
A habal-habal driver waiting for passengers at the intersection noticed the commotion on the bus and went to the police station to report it. Tuble and his men conducted a hot pursuit operation against the two suspects, who were armed with a 9mm and KJ 9 caliber pistols and had commandeered the motorcycle of Rogelio Carcuevas, investigations showed.
A firefight ensued and Sotillo was shot in the chest. His body was recovered at a bamboo plantation with a 9mm pistol with an empty magazine, assorted clothing and toiletries, five bags of the passengers he had robbed, a black tablet, three cellular phones, two black bonnets, two knives, a Timex wristwatch and P1,000 in cash, the police added.
A certain Police Officer 2 Bacuac went to the Amlan police station later and positively identify the 9mm pistol as his issued firearm. He said unidentified persons took the gun from him last year.
Sotillo is the cousin of another robbery suspect, whom police identified as Jimmy Inocerta, who was wounded in a shootout with policemen in San Jose but later died in Siaton.
The police is tracking the whereabouts of Sotillo's companion, who managed to commandeer another motorcycle that was recovered yesterday in Malaunay, Valencia.
The Garsula group is suspected to be behind the series of robbery and hold-up incidents in Negros, like the P2 million heist in Dumaguete that victimized a British national, and the murder of a businessman in Sibulan.
The police is also looking into the possible involvement of the group in the murder of PO1 Jay Carpintero, whose remains were laid to rest Oct. 15. Unconfirmed reports said Sotillo and Carpintero had an altercation during a checkpoint inspection in Dumaguete recently, the police added.
In that incident, the suspects commandeered a motorcycle and also abandoned it in Malaunay, Valencia.
The gun recovered from Sotillo will undergo a ballistic examination, the police said.*JG
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