June 17, 2024

All five suspected hijackers who were killed in a firefight with police authorities along the Palispis-Aspiras Highway in Taloy Sur, Tuba, Benguet on June 30 have been identified.
The Police Regional Office-Cordillera identified the suspects, all residents of Pampanga, as Nicolas Esguerra Cuellar, 41 years old; Mark Ian Tolabut Gonzales, 38; David Rapal; Relly Castillo; and Ryan Pangilinan.    
The first suspect to be identified was Gonzales, who was recognized by his older brother and two of his minor sons who came to Tuba Municipal Police Station on July 4.
His brother said Gonzales, who is his adoptive brother, was previously jailed for violation of Republic Act 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 and was released from prison in May 2021. He took care of his brother’s children while he was in jail.  
He said the suspect did not go home to his boarding house for almost a week prior to the incident. The suspect’s remains were cremated and brought to his hometown.
Cuellar was identified by his estranged wife and his brother, who both came to Tuba MPS on July 7.  
His wife said Cuellar had a previous case of theft when they were still together 10 years ago.
Further investigation revealed that Cuellar’s common-law partner told police that she came to know about Cuellar’s death through the wife of Rapal.
She added that on the morning of June 28, Pangilinan fetched Cuellar for a supposed construction work in Bulacan.
Cuellar’s common-law partner added the suspect was detained at the Pampanga Provincial Jail for violation of RA 9165 on April 10, 2019 and was released on May 17 this year. 
The suspects were involved in an alleged car theft on June 30 when they hijacked a six-wheeler truck in Betag, La Trinidad, Benguet.
Authorities caught up with them in Taloy Sur, Tuba where the suspects, some wearing police uniforms, exchanged gunfire with the police, leading to their deaths.
PRO-Cor spokesperson Capt. Marnie Abellanida said investigation of the case is ongoing. – Ofelia C. Empian