MANILA, Philippines — The investigation of the killing of 13 people in a supposed gun battle between government security forces and alleged criminals in Atimonan, Quezon province, on Jan. 6 has become test of President Aquino’s good government policy, Malacañang acknowledged on Wednesday.
Secretary Herminio Coloma of the Presidential Communication Operations Office said the Aquino administration’s credibility would be at stake in the handling of the investigation.
Coloma said the President specifically ordered an exhaustive and independent investigation by the National Bureau of Investigation to preclude doubts about the outcome of the investigation.
And so far, the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) and the Philippine National Police have responded by relieving police officers involved in the Atimonan operation, Coloma said.
“This is no ordinary event, and the policy that we call ‘straight path and good governance’ would be disputed if we failed to convince the people that we had an exhaustive investigation, and hold those responsible liable,’’ he said.
The President, who expressed doubts that a shoot-out took place because of “inconsistencies” in the initial police report, ordered a full and exhaustive investigation by the NBI.
Coloma appealed for a stop to speculations in the press about the circumstances surrounding the incident pending the release of the official investigative report.
“Let’s minimize the over-speculation, the intrigue, to allow a smooth flow of the investigation, and to avoid any bias in the final findings of the NBI,’’ he said.
Three policemen and three soldiers were among the 13 people killed in the supposed shootout at a joint police-military checkpoint along a sparsely populated stretch of Maharlika Highway in Barangay (village) Lumutan in Atimonan.
Superintendent Hansel Marantan, leader of the police team at the checkpoint, was the only one wounded among more than 40 policemen and members of the Army Special Forces that allegedly shot it out with the group of alleged illegal gambling lord Victor “Vic” Siman.
Police claimed the victims were members of a gun-for-hire and illegal gambling syndicate. But the families of the victims denied the accusations and charged that the victims were summarily executed.
Police sources said the supposed gun battle was the offshoot of a rivalry for turf between two syndicates involved in the numbers racket “jueteng.”
Coloma welcomed the announcement by Sen. Gregorio Honasan that his committee on public order and dangerous drugs would open an inquiry into the killings upon the resumption of Congress sessions on Jan. 21.
“It’s all right for the Senate to help in the overall efforts to correct whatever system glitch led to the Atimonan incident,” Coloma said.
Honasan said the inquiry would focus on the conduct of the policemen and soldiers at the checkpoint.