MANILA, Philippines—Sen. Panfilo Lacson said on Tuesday there has been information that the 13 men who were killed in a shootout with lawmen in Quezon last Sunday belonged to a group that was allegedly involved not only in the illegal numbers game jueteng but also in assassinations commissioned by prominent and small-time politicians.
Lacson, chairman of the Senate committee on national defense, said the police operatives that intercepted the men aboard two sports utility vehicles (SUVs) based their information on a “long-running intelligence project” of the Philippine National Police (PNP) in Calabarzon (referred to as “Police Regional Office 4-A”) that used “human as well as signal or technical intelligence.”
He said information gathered through intelligence efforts pointed to the group’s “guns for hire and illegal drug activities.”
“There are some big-name and small-time politicians in Southern Tagalog region involved or at least being rendered services by this group,” one of Lacson’s text messages to the Philippine Daily Inquirer read.
Asked whether “rendered services” meant “assassination of political enemies,” the senator replied: “That’s it.”
A PNP officer who was not identified in previous reports said the convoy, allegedly led by Victorino “Vic Siman” Atienza Jr., has members known as guns-for-hire in southern Luzon and some parts of the Bicol region. PNP insiders have told the Inquirer that Atienza had been operating jueteng, too.
The source said Atienza and his group were supposedly en route to Daet town in Camarines Norte to start their own bookie operation when intercepted in Quezon.
Lacson, a former PNP director general, defended Supt. Hansel Marantan, head of the police contingent that engaged the men in a shootout at a checkpoint.
Earlier reports said Marantan was close to the head of a jueteng group that ran afoul with that led by Atienza.
On Tuesday morning, a number of radio anchors questioned Marantan’s involvement in one other encounter between suspected criminals and the police in a checkpoint. One report said Marantan was charged with the killing of three suspected car thieves in Pasig City in 2005.
“Supt. Marantan has been wounded in action. Instead of demonizing him, he should at least be given all the benefit of the doubt, if we can’t commend his efforts,” Lacson said.
“The fight against crime groups and criminal gangs can sometimes be very frustrating, not to mention highly risky, physically and career-wise. Believe me, I know where I speak,” he added.
Lacson urged the PNP “not (to) be deterred or frustrated by all the conflicting conjectures in the media that could put them in a paralyzingly untenable situation.”
The senator also asked media “to exercise caution and prudence in publishing unverified reports and monitor the result of ongoing investigations by different agencies of government tasked to do so.”
He stressed that those killed in Quezon province “were just a part of a much bigger group whose other members are now the subject of a continuing follow-up operation by police intelligence operatives.”
Apart from Atienza, the group killed in Quezon also included three policemen and three military officers.
One of the casualties, Supt. Alfredo Perez Consemino, was acting group director of the Regional Headquarters Support Group of Mimaropa (Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon and Palawan) regional office.
Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III said police operatives involved in the shootout should explain how 13 grown men squeezed themselves inside two SUVs on the lengthy route to Bicol.
“What’s the seating capacity of each SUV?” he asked in a text message.
Pimentel urged the PNP along with the National Bureau of Investigation and the Commission on Human Rights to investigate the encounter.
“If they won’t do it or don’t do a serious one, then I’ll be forced to ask the Senate to investigate this incident,” he warned.