Suspended Region 4 police chief welcomes relief over Quezon, Batangas shootings
CAMP VICENTE LIM, Laguna, Philippines — Chief Superintendent James Melad, the regional director of the Calabarzon police, accepted on Wednesday the decision of Malacañang to relieve him from his post in the wake of the controversies surrounding the police operations in Atimonan, Quezon and in San Juan, Batangas that led to the deaths of a total of 14 people linked to crimes.
“That’s an order from the President so I have to go,” Melad said in a phone interview Wednesday.
Melad said he was taking the relief order “positively,” in order to “speed up the investigation on both sides.”
Just a week after the alleged shootout with lawmen that killed 13 persons in Atimonan on Jan. 6, questions were again raised over the death of Fernando “Pandoy” Morales, in San Juan on Monday in the hands of the Batangas police.
Morales, who was killed when he reportedly tried to resist arrest, was identified to be one of the minions of alleged Southern Tagalog gambling lord Vic Siman, who was one of those killed in Atimonan, Quezon last Jan. 6.
As of Wednesday, Chief Superintendent Benito Estipona, formerly director of the Southern Police District, has been picked to replace Melad as regional police director of the Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon).
Melad said he has not yet received an order for his next assignment.
Asked the reason for his relief, Melad said he was not certain whether it was prompted by the Atimonan, Quezon shooting or the Batangas killing.
Malacañang ordered the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to look into the Atimonan shootout, while Philippine National Police formed a separate fact-finding team.
Morales allegedly belonged to a Batangas-based private armed group called “Batang Kubo,” which had links to Siman’s group.
But a ranking police source in Calabarzon denied that the Batangas operation was a “hot pursuit” against the remaining members of Siman’s group.
“There’s a separate coplan (case operation plan) for Batang Kubo. We’ve been discussing that way back the time of General (Gil) Meneses,” who was regional director in 2011 before Melad assumed office, he said.
The source, who asked not to be named for not having been authorized to publicly speak on the matter, said there was nothing extraordinary with the police serving an arrest warrant at around 1 a.m. if that was their only chance to arrest a wanted person.
The entire Calabarzon police force was placed in hot water following the two fatal shootings and their alleged failure to cooperate with the investigating teams.
But Melad denied they were uncooperative to the investigating teams. “That is false. I gave instructions to our R7 (Regional Investigation and Detection Management Division) to channel all reports to the DIDM (Directorate for Investigation and Detection Management in Camp Crame).”
Superintendent Roy Camarillo, a medical doctor and head of the regional crime laboratory, said they had also forwarded the pieces of evidence to Camp Crame, except for the firearms of the fatalities and the operatives that were recovered from the Atimonan site.
The guns, he said, were still being examined here and would be turned over to Camp Crame on Thursday.
“I hope (the PNP fact-finding team) investigated both sides (the operatives and the fatalities) before they came out with the conclusion,” Melad said, although he admitted that he was not able to see the final report of the fact-finding team submitted to Malacañang on Tuesday.
“Did they check whether these men had permits to carry (firearms)? For the police and army personnel, did they have letter orders (to carry guns outside their areas of assignments)? How come none of those were recovered?” said Melad, who is set to submit himself to the NBI probe on Wednesday.
Another official in the region complained that the PNP fact-finding team concluded its report based solely on interviews and ocular visits without looking at the final report from the crime laboratory and the statement of the operating team leader, Superintendent Hansel Marantan.