It was an “overkill” and the killings were “unjustified.”
That’s how Virgilio Mendez, deputy director for regional services of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), described on Monday the killing of 13 people in a supposed shootout between government security forces and alleged criminals in Atimonan town, Quezon province, on Jan. 6.
Mendez was careful not to describe the killings as an “ambush” or “rubout,” as the NBI, which President Aquino has ordered to investigate the supposed shootout, would recommend what charges to bring against those responsible and not describe what really happened.
He declined to discuss details of the NBI investigation, as the bureau’s investigative team had yet to turn in its report, which would include forensic, autopsy, and ballistic findings.
But a source in the bureau said a partial report had been submitted to the President and it indicated that all the 13 victims were in their vehicles when the “more than 40 Army Special Forces and policemen opened fire.”
“The shooting lasted only for a few minutes and began not more than five minutes after the victims arrived at the second checkpoint,” the source said.
Early in the investigation, an NBI source said three checkpoints were set up along Maharlika Highway in Barangay Lumutan, Atimonan town, to intercept the traveling group of Victor “Vic” Siman, alleged operator of the numbers racket “jueteng” in provinces south of Manila.
The first checkpoint was manned by uniformed police, who waved Siman’s group of three sports utility vehicles through.
The second checkpoint was manned by a team of policemen in civvies led by Supt. Hansel Marantan, chief of intelligence of the Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, Quezon) police, with Army special forces as backup.
The third checkpoint was intended to divert traffic away from the area, with uniformed officers telling motorists to take a detour on the coast.
Checkpoint of death
It was at the second checkpoint that the supposed shootout happened.
The source said the security forces told Siman and his group to get off their vehicles.
“When they refused to get off, someone cried, ‘Fire.’ Then the security forces raked the vehicles with gunfire,” the source said.
“Then somebody cried, ‘Ceasefire.’ But somebody fired from one of the vehicles, and [Superintendent] Marantan was hit. So the security forces opened fire again. Then they stopped firing,” the source said.
“The fire that hit Marantan came from the victims, according to witnesses, but this has to be supported by the technical findings,” the source said.
The report from the Quezon police said Marantan was hit in the hands and foot. The report said the third SUV fired on the security forces then turned around and fled.
There’s been no mention of a third vehicle since Jan. 7.
The NBI source said a military truck was used to block the vehicles of Siman’s group after it passed the first checkpoint, 350 meters from the second checkpoint, where the killings happened.
Another source said the Army was informed of the “arrival of the armed group from Camarines Norte at around 11:10 in the morning by [a certain] Chief Inspector Balawag.”
The Army Special Forces, based in Candelaria town, Quezon, arrived at around 1:50 p.m., the source said.
“The victims arrived at around 3:15 and shooting began around 3:20,” the source said.
At least 42 soldiers and policemen were at the checkpoint when the shooting happened, the source said.
No report yet
Mendez said the NBI had not yet received the report of an investigative team from the Philippine National Police (PNP).
“It will be a good source and reference,” Mendez said, referring to the police report that the PNP had said would be submitted to the NBI.
PNP Director General Alan Purisima was reticent about the report Monday.
In a news conference at PNP headquarters, Purisima neither confirmed nor denied reports that the Atimonan incident was an ambush by government security forces.
Purisima said it was up to the NBI to make the conclusions.
He said he returned the report to the investigative team because he was not satisfied with its form, but not necessarily the substance.
“It wasn’t organized well… I gave them until the end of the day to be clear in their report. The report should be written in a way that could be understood by everyone, not just policemen,” Purisima said.
Reporters persisted in getting Purisima to say whether the Atimonan incident was an ambush but he parried the questions.
“The results of the task force report said there were 13 people dead, there were two SUVs. These are just the general facts,” he said.
Purisima also said that the task force investigated the incident without any affidavits from the policemen who manned the Atimonan checkpoint.
“We had no time anymore to wait for their affidavits. What we used for the investigation were the initial interviews with the policemen there,” Purisima said.
But Purisima reiterated that the policemen who figured in the supposed clash were likely to face administrative charges because of the obvious lapses, especially in the conduct of the checkpoint.
Asked if the incident, reportedly the offshoot of a war for turf between two jueteng syndicates in southern Luzon, has placed fighting the numbers racket on the priority list of President Aquino, Purisima said the PNP had always “fully supported” Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas in his fight against jueteng.
“But to eradicate jueteng, we have to remove the shield. The shield is the STL (Small Town Lottery). If we remove the shield, then and there you will know what the PNP can do [against jueteng],” Purisima said.
The bad blood between the main characters in the Atimonan incident could be traced to the deaths of six alleged jueteng bet collectors in Calamba City two months ago, a Philippine Daily Inquirer source said Monday.
The source said Siman had long suspected that Marantan wanted him dead.
The source, who is close to the Siman family, said Siman’s friends in the PNP had warned him that Marantan and his men were “casing and trailing Siman” after the police official reportedly received information that Siman had hired somebody to kill him.
“Marantan apparently believed the rumors that Siman paid a hired assassin to kill him after Marantan’s group killed six employees of Siman’s gambling operations in Calamba,” the source said, referring to the Nov. 12, 2012, incident in Barangay Lecheria.
The police said the six men were members of a gun-for-hire group that was behind the murder of Insp. Romeo Criste, operations officer at the Cabuyao City police. He was shot dead in Sta. Cruz town, also in Laguna, on Oct. 19 last year.
“Although Siman was engaged in illegal gambling, he was not known to be a killer or a leader of a gun-for-hire group as the Calabarzon police portrayed him to be,” the source said.
Several police sources identified Siman and his group as the syndicate behind the jueteng operations in some parts of Laguna and Batangas.
The group supposedly used the results of the STL in Laguna for its bookies operations.
Fearing for his safety, Siman invited Supt. Alfredo Consemino, deputy director of the Headquarters Support Group of the Mimaropa (Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon, Palawan) police, to come with him to Camarines Norte on Jan. 5 when Siman was supposed to meet a local gold trader regarding a mining venture that Siman planned to put up in the province.
He said Siman and Consemino, who was also killed in the supposed shootout in Atimonan, were “close friends” who had known each other for years.
“Vic Siman thought traveling to Camarines Norte would be safer if Consemino were with him. He knew Consemino had many friends in the PNP, being a police officer himself,” the source said.
Not really stopped
“If their group was really stopped at the checkpoint, Consemino would have just stepped out of the vehicle and identify himself as a police officer. That’s why we cannot buy Marantan’s claim that it was the group of Siman and Consemino who started the alleged fire fight,” the source said.
The source said Siman had also invited the police official to invest in the small-scale mining business that the former wanted to operate in Camarines Norte.
He said he tried to discourage Siman from putting money in the mining operations, warning him about the investment scams that had victimized a number of businessmen in the past.
“But Siman was enticed to invest in the mining operations when his contact gifted him with a small gold bullion worth about P1 million,” the source said.