The body of slain former mayor Rose Furigay was brought home to Lamitan City, Basilan, on July 31, but closure is nowhere near the horizon.
Contrary to what is being claimed by partisans on social media, the feud between Furigay and her suspected murderer, Dr. Chao Tiao Yumol, did not spring from the latter’s campaign against corruption and the trade in illegal drugs in Lamitan.
Sources familiar with the story say it originated from Yumol’s bitterness over the shutdown of his clinic in 2019 for operating without a permit.
Per the sources, the killing of Furigay and of two others at the Ateneo de Manila University on July 24 was a result of a grudge held by Yumol after his clinic was closed by the then mayor on orders of the health ministry of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM). Lamitan is under the administrative jurisdiction of BARMM.
The gangland-style slaying on July 29 of Rolando Yumol, the suspect’s father and a retired policeman, raised fears that the on-campus murders could escalate into a bloody family feud in Basilan. But police officials were quick to take security measures, saying there had so far been no evidence to ascertain that the two incidents were related.
The body of the elder Yumol has since been buried, reportedly attended only by friends and neighbors.
Social media sideshow
On social media, a sideshow is all but upstaging the killings.
Certain people using fictitious names are trying to portray the suspect Yumol as a “hero” and a “victim” whose actions were justified because of the alleged injustice he suffered at the hands of Furigay and her husband, now the mayor of Lamitan, in the course of Yumol’s supposed campaign against drugs and corruption in the city.
Observers point out that the murders also underscored the prevailing culture of impunity in the country—a culture made worse during the term of President Rodrigo Duterte, who had justified the killing of suspected traffickers during his brutal war of drugs.
How it began
This was how the whole thing started, according to a source in Lamitan:
Sometime in 2019, a number of residents complained that Yumol was overcharging animal-bite patients by as much as P8,000 for simple treatment. This prompted BARMM health authorities to investigate, and they discovered that Yumol’s clinic in Barangay Maligaya had no permit to operate.
The BARMM health office issued a cease-and-desist order for Yumol to stop operations on April 5, 2019, and gave him one month to apply for a permit. Yumol refused to comply, forcing BARMM Health Minister Saffrullah M. Dipatuan to direct Mayor Rose Furigay to implement the closure order.
The mayor padlocked the clinic.
The source said the shutdown angered Yumol, who turned into a vocal critic of the mayor and her husband, then Vice Mayor Roderick Furigay.
But earlier, sources said, the couple and Yumol were friends, with the latter often seen visiting City Hall when Roderick Furigay was mayor.
Roderick Furigay was the first mayor of Lamitan when it became a city on June 8, 2007. He served three consecutive terms (2004 to 2013) and was succeeded by his wife, who also served three terms until 2022.
He again took over as mayor after winning in the May 9 polls.
Graft and corruption
The source in Lamitan said that after the closure order was enforced on his clinic, Yumol began attacking the Furigays, making the local media rounds and accusing them of graft and corruption.
Yumol accused the couple of taking a cut in almost all procurement and services contracts approved by the city government, according to a source who knows the Furigays. At one time, the source recalled, Yumol even accused Rose Furigay of immorality.
The couple denied the allegations, and when the corruption charges did not prosper, Yumol came up with the allegation that they were the biggest drug lords in Lamitan, the source said.
In a 2020 YouTube video, Yumol presented an alleged letter from the Philippine National Police (PNP) stating that the Furigays were “high value individuals suspected as drug personalities.” But he could not say who wrote the letter and how he got hold of such a sensitive document.
Sources said Yumol failed to present sufficient evidence to back his claim that the Furigays were into the trade in illegal drugs except to say that ranking military and police officials in Basilan were protecting them.
But the timing of Yumol’s drug accusations was suspect, sources pointed out: He began accusing the Furigays of drug trafficking when Duterte’s war on drugs went into high gear and thousands of extrajudicial killings were occurring.
It was the time when unverified “white papers” were being peddled to the media by certain officials linking a significant number of military, police and local politicians to the drug trade without evidence.
Because of Yumol’s accusations and at the Furigays’ request, the Basilan Provincial Peace and Order Council, Provincial Anti-Drug Abuse Council, and Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council passed a joint resolution on Nov. 19, 2020, clearing the couple of involvement in illegal drugs.
But despite the resolution, Yumol continued with his attacks and even accused Basilan Gov. Jim Hataman Salliman of coddling drug traffickers in the province.
Still, Mayor Furigay earned accolades for her performance as chief executive. In her nine years as mayor, Lamitan was a recipient of the Department of the Interior and Local Government’s Seal of Good Local Governance for four consecutive years.
As a result of Yumol’s accusations, the Furigays and some City Hall employees filed more than 70 cyberlibel cases against him. One case resulted in his arrest by police outside Basilan on Sept. 24, 2019.
Yumol claimed that aside from suing him for libel, the Furigays twice attempted to have him killed and employed goons to attack and hurt him.
The Furigays’ lawyer, Quirino Esguerra, denied the accusations and said they “have always resorted to legal processes to redress the violations [of] their rights.”
For the on-campus shooting that killed Rose Furigay, her executive aide Victor Capistrano, and security guard Jeneven Bandiala, Yumol has been indicted for multiple counts of murder, frustrated murder, car theft, illegal possession of firearms, and malicious mischief.
The killings occurred before the start of the Ateneo Law School graduation ceremony. A daughter of the Furigays, a graduating student, was severely injured; another parent was also hurt.
No strangers to guns
Another source who knew the Yumol family said he was not surprised that Yumol would be involved in a violent incident involving firearms. He said the family members were no strangers to guns as their father was a cop with a rank of special police officer 4 (equivalent to police executive master sergeant) who retired from the service 13 years ago.
Yumol’s brother, identified as Chin Chu Yumol, is serving a murder sentence at San Ramon Penal Colony in Zamboanga City. There are conflicting reports as to why he is in prison: Per one version, he killed a Tausug over rivalry for a love interest; per another, he mowed down six men with an M-14 rifle during a fraternity shooting incident in Sulu.
The presence of Chin Chu Yumol at the Zamboanga prison was mentioned by Antonio J. Montalvan II, a social anthropologist, writer, and university professor in his column “Razor’s Edge,” in which he complained that murder suspect Yumol was now being “glorified into a hero” by social media trolls.
On the day he was shot dead, Rolando Yumol had a .45-cal. pistol on him but was not able to fire it, police said. Two men riding tandem on a motorcycle shot him while he was sweeping his yard in Lamitan around 6:30 a.m.
Basilan Rep. Mujiv Hataman condemned the killing and appealed to residents to be calm and cautious in their social media posts.
“It is our hope that this latest act of violence would not progress into a series of violent actions,” Hataman said. “Let us not allow killings to be normalized in our culture, especially that our innocent citizens are getting dragged into it,” he said.
Sammy Santos is a former print journalist and a native of Zamboanga City. —Ed.