The gun battle between alleged criminals and government security forces at a checkpoint in Quezon province late on Sunday was an offshoot of a turf war between rival syndicates involved in the numbers racket “jueteng” in Southern Tagalog, according to Inquirer sources in the Philippine National Police.
At least three policemen and three soldiers were among the 13 alleged criminals who were killed in the alleged gunfight between Army special forces and police at a highway checkpoint in the coastal town of Atimonan in Quezon province.
Relatives of the alleged criminals claimed Monday that there was no gunfight and that the 13 were victims of a rubout.
PNP Director General Alan Purisima confirmed the killing of Supt. Alfredo Perez Consemino, acting group director of the Regional Headquarters Support Group of Mimaropa (Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon and Palawan) regional police, in the clash.
Asked why Consemino was traveling with alleged criminals, Purisima said: “That’s part of the police investigation. We are trying to establish the supposed participation of Superintendent Consemino in that incident.”
Purisima played down insinuations that the 13 alleged criminals were victims of a rubout, or summary execution.
“What rubout? The leader of the PNP team was injured and critically wounded in that incident. They were the ones who fired at the policemen and soldiers manning the checkpoint,” Purisima told reporters.
But two police officials said one of those killed, Victorino “Vic Siman” Atienza Jr., was a known jueteng operator and “godfather” of Small Town Lottery (STL) bookies in Laguna and Batangas provinces.
Jueteng operators use the winning two-number combination from the state-sanctioned STL in their numbers racket.
The two police officials declined to be identified, as they had no authorization to talk to journalists.
“Vic Siman is the godfather of STL bookies in Laguna and Batangas,” one of the police officials told the Inquirer.
“Because he and his group operate bookies, they had been at odds not only with police officials in the area, but also with the legal operators and employees of STL,” the official added.
The police official said one of those slain, Tirso Pada Lontok Jr., was also involved in jueteng in Quezon and Laguna.
Citing intelligence information, the official said Atienza’s group was “apparently ambushed” by the police contingent headed by Supt. Hansel Marantan, an intelligence officer of the Quezon police who was wounded in the alleged gun battle.
Marantan was one of the police officials charged with the killing of three suspected car thieves in Pasig City in November 2005.
A video from a UNTV news crew showed the policemen shooting the suspects at close range while they looked motionless inside the car, leading to speculation that the alleged car thieves were summarily executed.
The PNP official said Atienza’s group collected bets from areas “controlled by another group whose leader is close to Marantan.”
“From what we have gathered, Marantan could be protecting another group of jueteng operators who wanted to get back at [Atienza] for encroaching on their turf,” the official said.
“Vic Siman had actually been the target of two previous assassination plans, but he evaded his attackers,” the official said.
Another PNP official said Atienza and his group were on their way to Daet town, Camarines Norte province, to start their own STL bookie operation when they were caught in the alleged gun battle with security forces.
The official said Atienza’s group was also known to be guns-for-hire in southern Luzon and some parts of the Bicol region.
The group was involved in drive-by shootings carried out by pairs of killers riding motorcycles, the official said.
The official said the policemen and soldiers who were with Atienza at the time of the alleged gun battle could be the group’s “regular contacts or members” of the police and the military.
The two other policemen killed with the alleged criminals were identified as PO1 Jeffrey Tarinay Valdez and SPO1 Gruet Alinea Mantuano, both subordinates of Consemino at the Mimaropa headquarters support group.
Police authorities in Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon) refused to give definite answers about the kind of group the security forces encountered in Quezon.
But a source who declined to be identified because the investigation was in progress said the clash was between two rival groups of bookies that included police and military personnel.
The source said Atienza’s group was traveling to Bicol to launch jueteng operations there when they were waylaid in Quezon.
The source said Atienza operated bookies in Laguna, an information confirmed by other sources in the Calabarzon police who all declined to be identified.
Another source said Atienza owned a security agency in Tagkawayan town, Quezon province, with Consemino as his security consultant.
“Those groups have long been threatening each other since Marantan’s brother went into the bookies racket in Laguna,” the source said.
A police officer who also asked not to be identified confirmed that police and soldiers were involved. “That’s why they are covering it up,” the officer said.
The slain soldier was identified as S/Sgt. Armando Aranda Lescano. Also killed were Leonardo Catapang Marasigan and Maximo Manalastas Pelayo, reportedly military intelligence agents.
But Brig. Gen. Eduardo Año, chief of the Intelligence Service of the AFP (Isafp), denied that Marasigan and Pelayo were military intelligence agents.
“That’s negative,” Año told reporters when asked if there were Isafp members who were killed in the shoot-out.
“There [are] no Isafp personnel involved in that incident. They are civilians who used fake [Isafp] identification cards,” he said, adding that Isafp does not issue IDs to its agents.
Lt. Col. Miguel Okol, Air Force spokesperson, said an investigation was going on to determine if Lescano was indeed an active Air Force soldier.
A fact-finding team from Camp Crame headed by Chief Supt. Federico Castro has been created to investigate the links of the slain policemen and soldiers to the alleged criminals, according to Quezon police chief Senior Supt. Valeriano de Leon.
“The team will also look into how the shoot-out [happened],” De Leon said by phone.
Quezon police identified the others killed in the alleged gun battle as Gerry Ancero Siman and Conrado Redresca Decillo, both of Calamba City, Laguna province; Victor Garcia Gonzales, of Pulong Balon, Candaba town, Pampanga province; Jimbeam Dyico Justiniani, of Quezon City; and Paul Acedillo Quiohilag, of 608 Mabini, Biñan town, Laguna province.
Quezon police spokesperson Erwin Obal late on Sunday claimed that gunmen riding in three black SUVs opened fire on more than 50 Army and police troopers who flagged down the vehicles at the checkpoint in the sparsely populated stretch of Maharlika Highway late Sunday.
Obal said Marantan, an officer with the Philippine National Police Special Operations Group in Southern Tagalog, was hit in the hand and foot, prompting the security forces to return fire.
Eleven of the alleged gunmen died on the spot, including Consemino, Valdez and Mantuano and the soldiers Lescano, Marasigan and Pelayo.
Relatives of at least two of the slain men claimed the alleged gun battle was actually a rubout.
“It was not an encounter but ‘salvage’ of innocent persons. They are not criminals. The police are lying,” a sibling of one of the victims told the Inquirer in an interview at a funeral parlor in Lucena City.
“They were all mercilessly killed. We demand justice for all the victims,” a relative of Lontok said in another interview.
Lontok, of Barangay (village) Sta. Lucia in Dolores town, Quezon, was formerly an executive assistant to former Mayor Connie Doromal of Sariaya town, Quezon.
Lontok was known in Quezon as an official of the environmental group Luntiang Alyansa sa Bundok Banahaw that advocated for the protection and rehabilitation of Mt. Banahaw.
Lontok’s relative said Lontok and Atienza were friends. The relative said Lontok, who was known in Quezon to have access to the communist New People’s Army (NPA), once helped Atienza in dealing with insurgents in Laguna who had been harassing Atienza’s STL operation in Calamba City.
The relative said on Saturday that Atienza again sought Lontok’s help to stop the insurgents from harassing his STL operation in Camarines Norte province.
The relative also said that Marantan was a former friend and business associate of Atienza.
Lt. Col. Monico Abang, who led an Army platoon in the clash, claimed late on Sunday that when the security forces flagged down the SUVs at the checkpoint, two men jumped out of one of the vehicles and fired on the troops from a roadside canal. The rest stayed in two vehicles, which the security forces raked with gunfire.
“They rolled down their windows and started firing, so we had to retaliate,” Abang said by cell phone from the scene of the clash. “They were clearly outnumbered and outgunned.”
Abang claimed more gunmen fired from a third vehicle, which turned around and fled.
Authorities didn’t say how many alleged gunmen were believed to have escaped.
Abang said the Army and police set up the checkpoint after an informant told police that members of a syndicate involved in illegal drugs, gambling and kidnapping for ransom would pass through Atimonan.
Abang said an initial investigation showed that the alleged gunmen were likely members of a gun-for-hire group operating in provinces in Southern Tagalog.
Most of the dead were identified through identification cards found on their bodies. Gerry Siman was identified through his ATM card.
Lescano, the slain soldier, had no listed place of assignment in the police report. He is said to be a resident at 407 Lt. Ano St., FAB, Lipa City.
Capt. Neminardo Perez, commander of the 554th Air Force Squadron at Fernando Air Base, confirmed Monday that Lescano was a member of his staff, but declined to give more information.
Rogues in the service
That police officers rode with the alleged criminals is not strange in a country where security personnel sometimes collude with criminal syndicates to rob banks or traffic narcotics in an underworld that often includes corrupt politicians.
Chief Supt. Melito Mabilin, Mimaropa regional police director, said in a telephone interview Monday that news of the death of Consemino, Valdez and Mantuano startled him.
He said he ordered an investigation to find out why the three Mimaropa policemen got involved in a gunfight with security forces in Quezon.
Mabilin said Consemino and Valdez were on holiday leave and were not expected to report back for work until Monday.
Mantuano was supposed to report for duty in Naujan on Sunday, Mabilin said.
No derogatory record
Mabilin said an investigation into Consemino’s background yielded nothing that could link him to any criminal group.
“We’ve checked all his records, even from our counterintelligence unit, but there was no derogatory report found against [him],” Mabilin said. “I assume he has not been involved in any criminal activity. I also know the guy,” he added.
But the Mimaropa police have not yet received the report on the gun battle from the Calabarzon police, Mabilin said.
Chief Supt. James Melad, Calabarzon police director, said the regional police were still investigating the gun battle and had yet to determine if the three policemen were involved with criminals.
Melad confirmed the account of the gun battle from the Quezon police.
He said the authorities recovered 11 .45 cal. pistols, a 9mm pistol, an M14 rifle and an M16 carbine from the scene of the clash. With a report from AP
Originally posted: 8:17 pm | Monday, January 7th, 2013