President Aquino on Tuesday ordered a “full and exhaustive investigation” of the reported gunfight between security forces and an armed group allegedly involved in illegal gambling in which 13 were killed, among them police and military personnel.
“He (Mr. Aquino) wants to get to the bottom of it,” presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said during a Palace briefing in which he announced that investigations into the incident in Atimonan, Quezon province, on Sunday would be conducted by the Philippine National Police and the National Bureau of Investigation.
“The President has tasked the NBI to be the sole investigative agency on the Quezon incident. The PNP will continue its fact finding with respect to the firearms and vehicles and submit its findings to the NBI,” he said, adding there would be “no whitewash.”
Lacierda declined immediate comment on the military and police officers shot dead along with the alleged criminals in the purported encounter at a highway checkpoint in Atimonan.
“What we are trying to get is the report on the incident in Quezon. So the President is waiting for the full report coming from the PNP, (Justice) Secretary Leila de Lima has also directed the NBI to conduct a parallel investigation,” said Lacierda.
“The President is very interested in this incident, which obviously got national attention,” he said. “The President would like to see what happened, what are the details of the incident.”
Lacierda said Mr. Aquino did not set a deadline for the submission of the results of the investigation. “But that is ASAP,” he said, or as soon as possible. “He wants a full and exhaustive investigation into the incident.”
Lacierda himself wondered why officers of the law would shoot at each other. “Was there involvement of some police and military (in the criminal group)? From there, we will base whatever judgment we will have.”
Among the 13 people killed by the combined Army and police force at the security checkpoint were Victorino “Vic Siman” Atienza Jr., described as an operator of “jueteng”—an illegal numbers racket—and “godfather” of the state-run Small Town Lottery (STL) operations in Laguna and Batangas provinces, Supt. Alfredo Perez Consemino, the acting police director in the region, and two of his aides.
Lacierda confirmed that one of the fatalities, Tirso Lontoc Jr., was a relative of Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala. He said Lontoc worked previously with Alcala in the environmental protection bureau.
Col. Arnulfo Burgos, spokesperson of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, said the military was investigating why Air Force 1st Lt. Jimbean Justiniani and Staff Sgt. Armando Lescano were among those killed.
Burgos said the two were assigned at the Air Education and Training Command in Lipa, Batangas. He denied reports that an AFP intelligence officer was among those killed.
Chief Supt. Generoso Cerbo Jr., PNP spokesperson, would not confirm if Consemino was an officer on the take.
“The investigation will try to find out why these police personnel were in the company of an alleged gambling operator,” he told Agence France-Presse.
Cerbo said the PNP inquiry would look into claims by relatives of the victims that they were summarily killed and not slain in a gunfight.
“The official police report of our personnel on the ground said it was a shootout between the elements of a private armed group and the police and the military,” Cerbo said.
Firearms with permits
“But with this allegation of a ‘rubout’ (slang for summary execution) we have decided to create a fact-finding team to get to the bottom of this incident.”
Cerbo also said 13 of the 14 firearms recovered from the site of the gunfight were covered with necessary permits.
“Where in the world can you find a criminal gang using licensed firearms in carrying out their illegal activity? That just defies logic,” said a police source involved in the inquiry.
Also on Tuesday, the PNP conducted an hourlong reenactment of the encounter in Atimonan, causing a huge traffic jam on the highway.
The Palace was also curious about the involvement of Supt. Hansel Marantan, an intelligence officer of the Quezon police who was wounded in the gun battle.
Marantan, who was with the security group manning the checkpoint, gained notoriety when he was charged with the killing of three suspected car thieves in Pasig City in November 2005.
An Philippine Daily Inquirer source had said that Atienza’s group was “apparently ambushed” by the police contingent headed by Marantan.
Said Lacierda: “I have no information how that will figure in the investigation. What we’re looking into are the details of the investigation proper. So any concerns, for instance, any identity of personalities, that have been linked to this or that person or to this or that incident previously, we will still wait for the results of the investigation. We cannot preempt or speculate as to involvement, as to what those details are.”
Told that Commission on Human Rights chairperson Loreta Ann Rosales was also keen on pursuing an independent inquiry, Lacierda said:
“Perhaps, it would be better to look at the details first, and certainly she will have the opportunity to look into the incident also.
“You can be assured that there won’t be any whitewash. The President is interested in the details of the case and, whatever the results will be, we will look into it and we will make a judgment call.”
Asked about the necessity of allowing both the PNP and NBI to conduct investigations simultaneously, Lacierda said:
“They will conduct a parallel investigation so the details would be there, I would assume that the facts will be common. But, with respect to the scope of the investigation, that’s where perhaps they may differ—in scope. But, as to the facts, as to what we believe would be the details of the incident, we would like to get it straight from both the PNP and the NBI.”
Lacierda said a news report about supposedly missing P100-million jueteng money the criminal gang was said to be carrying would be investigated as well.
“That’s why the NBI would be there also—to investigate as to the motivation of the incident,” he said.
In a report on the incident, Senior Supt. Valeriano de Leon, Quezon police chief, the police team secured P266,317 in cash from the site of the gun battle.
Lacierda answered in the affirmative when asked if the mounting clamor to implement stricter gun control laws in the country would get a boost amid the recent string of fatal cases related to gun use.
“That has been the thrust of the directive of the President … going after the private armed groups. That has been the directive of the President, especially coming into the election campaign season, and also a stricter monitoring of these unlicensed firearms and the implementation of our laws regarding regulation of guns.” With reports from Nikko Dizon, Marlon Ramos, Christine O. Avendaño; Delfin Mallari Jr., Inquirer Southern Luzon; and AFP