Caramoan village chief narrates murder of 4 gold panners

CARAMOAN, CAMARINES SUR—Punong Barangay Mercy Sueno appealed to the Provincial Government of Camarines Sur to stop persecuting residents of Lahuy Island in barangay Gata in this town after four gold panners were shot in the head while eating their dinner last Saturday at about 9:21 PM.

PREVIOUS STORY: BREAKING: 4 gold panners murdered in Caramoan

HELL IN PARADISE. Blood has stained the once-peaceful island barangay of Lahuy in Caramoan.
Photo: Caramoan Islands


In an interview aired over BBS-DWLV and DZRP, Sueno fumed with anger as she relayed the antecedents of the incident.

She said that on December 4, 2013, a group who identified themselves as members of Task Force (TF) Sagip Kalikasan of the Provincial Government of Camarines Sur captured at least 30 gold panners at around 9 AM and brought them to a remote area near the edge of the sea.

Sueno, who at that time was attending to important matters in Manila, was informed by a barangay kagawad of the situation.

Over the cellphone, Sueno appealed to Fermin Mabolo, who is the alleged administrator of Task Force Kalikasan, to release the gold panners, as they were very hungry.

The group of panners was set free at around 3 PM.

The next day, Sueno arrived from Manila. She went to the area where the panners where held captive.
There, the punong barangay met Francisco “Iko” Tria y Ramirez III, who identified himself as the district supervisor of TF Sagip Kalikasan in the fourth district of Camarines Sur.

When she asked for an explanation why the panners were captured, Tria said that the panners did not have a permit to engage in small-scale gold mining.

Thus, they confiscated the mining equipment and ordered them to cease such activity.

Sueno admonished Tria, saying that instead of capturing the panners outright, the officials of TF Sagip Kalikasan should have instead helped them understand how to secure a permit.

“Gold mining has been the main source of livelihood of the residents of Lahuy Island since the 1940s, during the Second World War. When the members of Task Force Sagip Kalikasan confiscated their equipment, their main source of livelihood was effectively eliminated,” explained Sueno.

Around a week after the capture occurred, the members of TF Sagip Kalikasan called for a meeting with the panners.

They were given two kilos of rice each, and were persuaded to stop their mining operation.

Meanwhile, Sueno also attended the meeting, despite not having received an invitation.

The punong barangay, recognizing that the livelihood of her constituents was at stake, assured TF Sagip Kalikasan that within three months, she herself will secure the necessary permit.

From January to March 2014, Sueno sought the assistance of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) to understand and resolve their predicament.
She travelled to the regional office of MGB in Legazpi City to ask for advice. She was told that small-scale mining is allowed, if the miners do not use explosives in the operation, and the mine fits into the size requirements of the office.
She also went to the MGB office in Manila to seek further help.
Just last Thursay, the residents of Lahuy received a visit from MGB representative Rex Nacional, who checked their mine.


Last Saturday, Sueno presented to the residents the documents regarding their permit.

The locals rejoiced at the news, believing that they could once again earn a living because of this development.

To their shock, however, Tria and a group of men armed with M16 rifles and .45 caliber pistols barged into the area at around 11 AM, ordering the miners to stop.

Sueno, who was at the mining site, inquired what the problem was this time.

The confused village chief presented her ID, along with the documents from the MGB regional and national offices. She explained that they were already given a go signal from the government to resume their operation. She also demanded to see Tria’s mission order. There, she discovered that Tria’s obligation was to conduct checkpoint operations.

She reasoned that the place was a mine, and not a road, where Tria’s group was mandated to patrol.
Tria, however, would not listen, according to Sueno.

Instead, he threatened the group that if the mining does not stop, they will return with so-called backups.

Fearing Tria’s threat, Sueno later called Vice Mayor Irene Bries and asked for police officers or members of the army to be deployed in the area, in case violence ensues.

That evening, Sueno’s worst fear happened. She received a call informing her that some miners have been shot dead. The witnesses confirmed that the group involved in the murder was the same that arrived with Tria earlier.


Yesterday, joint elements of the Caramoan police and the Provincial Public Safety Company (PPSC) apprehended eight suspects in the murder at Brgy. Ilawod Gota Village in Caramoan.

The suspects were later identified as Joel Breso y doe alias “Bay,” Angelo Refran y Enciso, 
Luis Palaganas y Cleto Jr., Saetiel Pielago y Buen, Jonah Bolima y Bragais, Servillano Espares y Ebuengga, Florencio Vargas y Venas, and Francisco “Iko” Tria y Ramirez III.

Francisco “Iko” Tria is a former municipal councilor of Sagnay, Camarines Sur. Last election, he ran for municipal mayor, but lost to incumbent Evelyn Fuentebella.


After her radio interview, Sueno went to the Regional Office of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to personally relay her information regarding the incident.

Sueno said that what triggered Tria’s anger was the refusal of the local panners to sell their gold to Tria’s recommended buyer, who was identified as Gege Raygon.

Residents say that they would not sell their gold to Raygon, as her buying price is only 900 pesos per gram which is significantly lower than the price that other buyers would pay. (With report from Ray Dizon, DZRP and Oscar Esmenda)BICOLSTANDARD.COM

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