Members of the Army’s Special Forces in Quezon province served as backup for policemen involved in the supposed encounter in Atimonan town after the Calabarzon regional police command sought the unit’s help in going after a group of guns-for-hire and drug lords, the military said Tuesday.
“The name of Vic Siman was not mentioned until after the encounter,” Col. Generoso Bolina, Armed Forces Southern Luzon Command (SolCom) spokesperson, told reporters in Camp Aguinaldo in a phone interview.
Bolina said the military conducted its own fact-finding investigation to determine the participation of Army soldiers led by Lt. Col. Monico Abang in the Jan. 6 incident that left Siman and 12 other people dead.
In a phone interview in Lucena City, Abang, commander of the 1st Special Forces Battalion, described the operation as a “calibrated use of force,” not an “overkill” as viewed by a National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) official. The NBI is conducting an investigation into the supposed encounter.
“It was justified because we were provoked by a group of armed aggressors who fired at us first,” Abang said.
Bolina said the police request for Army assistance was made through Supt. Ramon Balauag, head of the Quezon police intelligence unit. “He was the one who called up Colonel Abang to ask for augmentation. The 1st Battalion sent one platoon to conduct the joint operation.”
The policemen were to set up a checkpoint because the “group of drug lords … are armed with high-caliber guns,” Bolina said.
Abang and his 24 men are now restricted to quarters at their battalion headquarters in Candelaria town and have been directed to cooperate with the NBI probe. Bolina stressed, however, that they were not relieved.
Abang said reasonable use of firepower was made to subdue the threat from armed aggressors. He insisted that after the first exchange of gun shots that lasted two minutes, the government forces had stopped firing.
“But we were fired at again so some of us resumed firing. The firing only stopped after several shouts of ceasefire were heard,” he said. The exchange of shots lasted more than 10 minutes, he added.
Supt. Hansel Marantan, deputy intelligence chief of the regional police office based in Canlubang, Laguna, called up Balauag in the morning of Jan. 6 and “had asked for help and security for a still unspecified operation on the same day somewhere in the province,” according to a police source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The source said Balauag had informed Senior Supt. Valeriano de Leon, Quezon police chief, on the planned operation. But De Leon was still on vacation in Manila, he said.
Call for assistance
In a phone interview on Monday, Abang said Balauag called him at around 11:10 a.m. on the same day, requesting “Army assistance in the conduct of a checkpoint operation against a group of fully armed elements coming from Bicol.”
Abang said he immediately contacted Capt. Erwin Macalinao, head of the Army’s 3rd Special Forces Battalion based in Unisan town and ordered him and his men to meet him in Atimonan.
Abang said he and his 10 soldiers arrived in the town from Candelaria at around noontime aboard a military truck. Together with Macalinao and his men, they proceeded to Barangay Lumutan to join Marantan and the police force who were already setting up checkpoints in the area, he said.
The police source said Marantan conducted his briefing about the operation along the roadside. “He told us that what we’re after is the private armed group of a certain Vic Siman whom he said is also involved in gun-for-hire, illegal drugs and illegal gambling.”
Abang clarified that only 15 Army soldiers in full uniform and armed with rifles were at the encounter site. Ten others were left at the Atimonan police station at the town proper, nine kilometers away.
He said he only learned that three of those killed were policemen after the victims were identified by Scene of the Crime Operatives.
Purely police matter
“We knew nothing of the circumstances behind the police operation. It was purely a police matter. We only provided assistance and security. As a matter of fact, the Army soldiers were positioned some distance away from the checkpoint where the police were placed as frontliners,” Abang said.
He said the Army contingent left the site shortly before midnight after the police investigators finished their documentation.