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Firefighter’s death ‘taints meaning of volunteerism’


By VINCENT GO AND REYNARD MAGTOTO, VERA Files

The family of a volunteer fireman who was mistakenly shot and killed by Makati policemen said his killers, and even the media, have tainted the meaning of volunteerism.

Romualdo Infante, father of Ronald, said his son's death has also left his family and community at a loss because it was he who led and rallied them to be a firefighting group.

Ronald Infante and his companion Jenny Almanon were killed in an alleged shootout by Makati policemen who said the two were trying to hijack an LBC delivery van in Barangay Bangkal in Makati on April 1.

Ronald was the chief of the Manila SETBA fire volunteer brigade. SETBA stands for Severino Reyes, Tayabas and Batangas Streets, the area in Sta. Cruz, Manila where the firehouse is located.

Retired Police Senior Inspector Edwin I. Ramos, Infante's uncle, said it was impossible for Ronald to commit the crime. "Ronald belongs to a family with a good reputation in the community," he said.

Funeral of Ronald Infante

To fire volunteers, Infante was known by his call sign, "Severino Bravo." Hundreds of them showed up to pay their last respects at his funeral Saturday, accompanying his remains as they were led from Sanctuary Funeral Homes on Batangas St.

The funeral procession stopped at the scene of the killing in Bangkal, where family and friends lit candles and said a minute of prayer. It proceeded to the Manila North Cemetery where Infante was laid to rest.

Romualdo Infante said his son had turned their family into a volunteer firefighting family. He apologized to volunteer firefighters during the wake, saying the circumstances surrounding his son's death have tainted the meaning of volunteerism.

He also criticized the media for not checking his son's background.

Ronald's cousin Mary Grace Ramos-Lorilla said," He was the peace maker in the family and objective in all things."

Investigators earlier told reporters police tried to stop Infante and Almanon from hijacking an LBC delivery van.

But Mary Rose Infante, Roland's wife, denied the allegation saying her husband and his mechanic Almanon were on their way to collect payment from clients.

Ronald Infante and Jenny Almanon were found dead along Lacuna St. in Barangay Bangkal in Makati. The scene of the crime is near Makati View Apartelle which had a CCTV that recorded the incident. The National Bureau of Investigation already has a copy of the footage but Mary Rose said she has yet to view it.

Apartelle manager Au Relucio said that police officers had also requested a copy of the CCTV footage "Mayroon silang hard disk na isinaksak para kopyahin. Pagka-plug nila, umugong (They inserted a hard disk to copy but after plugging, it hummed)," Relucio said.

Based on earlier media reports, it was PO3 Ronaldo Villarama, SPO1 Rolando Concha Jr. and SPO1 Angelo Mendoza who went to the Apartelle. The footage was no longer available following attempts of several police officers to have their copy.

Infante was licensed to carry the .40 Glock found in his possession. There is speculation that another firearm, a 9 mm Browning pistol, was planted at the scene.

His wife said Infante always carried a gun for protection. That day, he asked her to accompany him, but she declined because it was already getting dark. Infante then looked for a companion and borrowed a motorcycle from a friend.

When Infante failed to return home, Mary Rose called his mobile phone several times but it was only at 1:40 a.m. of April 2 when someone answered the call but never introduced himself.

When she asked if she could talk to her husband, the response was, "Hindi na pwede, malamig na (You can't, he's cold already)." It was then that Mary Rose started becoming hysterical.

No money was retrieved from Infante's body but his wife insists that her husband was carrying some P3,000 in cash. Infante's wallet and watch are still missing but four identification cards were retrieved.

According to Mary Rose, they were never handed a statement of the complainant, which was released only when Makati City police officer-in-charge Supt. Jaime Santos scolded his officers about the incident.

The police report was released on April 5, when fire volunteers held a rally at the Makati Police Precinct 3 in Evangelista St. Bangkal. The volunteer fireman trained their hoses at the police station, sprayed water, and shouted justice for Infante.

Mary Rose explained that what they did is a water salute, holding the hose upward, for Ronald.

"Hindi nila binomba yung building pero syempre mababasa kasi yung hangin (they did not direct the hose at the building but of course (the office) got wet because water was blown by the wind)" she said.

Ronald Infante had wanted to become a fire volunteer and started tagging along with his father and other fire volunteers at the age of 12.

Infante's wife is also a volunteer and officer-in-charge of Manila SETBA. They owned their first fire truck in 2004 when they started their SETBA Brigade. Now they have eight units of fire trucks.

The Infante family is also engaged in business. Ronald buys and sells parts and accessories of fire truck units as well as other trucks, spare parts, sirens, uniforms, helmets, hose and equipment.

(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. VERA if Latin for "true".)

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