There was no shootout. But there was a deliberate effort to make the crime scene look like the site of a gun battle. And the possibility of an ambush cannot be ruled out.
Those are among the findings of the police investigating team that looked into the supposed shootout between government security forces and alleged criminals that left 13 people dead in Atimonan town, Quezon province, on Jan. 6.
The report by the Philippine National Police fact-finding committee also found that excessive force was used on the victims, as indicated by their gunshot wounds and the number of bullet holes on their vehicles: Vehicle 1 with 174 entry bullet holes; vehicle 2 with 45 entry bullet holes. Eleven victims were shot in the head.
The PNP submitted the report to the National Bureau of Investigation on Tuesday. President Aquino ordered the NBI to investigate what appear to be gangland-style killings.
Investigators said that one of the victims, Leonardo Marasigan, driver of the first vehicle, “initially had no firearm but later a firearm was placed near his hands and head.”
The investigators identified the firearm as a .45 cal. pistol, which was unfired. But they said Marasigan’s right hand tested positive for gunpowder.
They said one of the slain soldiers, Air Force SSgt. Armando Lescano, “initially had a firearm tucked in his waist, but later a firearm was placed near his hands.”
“An M16 that was initially slung behind the headrest of the seat in front of SPO1 Gruet Mantuano in the lead vehicle was later found between his legs,” the investigators said.
Spent cases of assault rifle ammunition reported by police to have been recovered from the first vehicle were actually recovered from the second vehicle, they said.
The investigators said they doubted that all the firearms reportedly recovered from the victims were actually used because of the firearms’ location in relation to the positions of their bodies when they were found.
They said they also doubted that two men whose bodies were reportedly found outside the vehicles were actually found there.
It was also doubtful that the victims actually had guns in their hands when they were shot, the investigators said.
The muzzle of a firearm recovered from one of the vehicles was taped, they said.
They said the M16 found between the legs of Mantuano was pointed “muzzle down,” indicating that the rifle had not been raised during the supposed shootout.
The investigators also said the Quezon provincial police crime scene investigators received “a standby call about the incident at 4:00 in the afternoon from Deputy Police Provincial Office Supt. Renato Alba,” but were not called to the site until 4:25 p.m., 45 minutes after the supposed shootout.
The crime scene investigators arrived at the scene at 5:45 p.m., the investigators said.
But the investigation did not begin at once. The investigators were told to wait for Chief Supt. James Melad, chief of the Calabarzon police.
Three policemen and three soldiers were among the 13 men killed at the joint police-military checkpoint along Maharlika Highway in Barangay (village) Lumutan in Atimonan.
Local police reported that the security forces flagged down three sports utility vehicles at the checkpoint, but the occupants of the SUVs opened fire.
The leader of the police team, Supt. Hansel Marantan, deputy chief of intelligence of the Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon) police, was hit in the hands and foot, reportedly prompting the policemen and soldiers to return fire, killing all the occupants of the first two vehicles.
Occupants of the third vehicle also fired on the security forces then turned back and fled, local police said.
The Quezon police called the encounter a shootout, but the families of the 13 men charged that the victims were summarily executed.
President Aquino himself observed “inconsistencies” in the early police reports, and ordered the NBI to find out what really happened.
The PNP investigation is a separate inquiry into the supposed shootout, in which among those killed was Victor “Vic” Siman, allegedly an operator of the numbers racket “jueteng” in Laguna and Batangas provinces in southern Luzon.
Siman is one of the two targets of “Coplan Armado,” a police operation against jueteng and guns for hire in the Southern Tagalog region.
The other target was Mayor Joven Hidalgo of Balete town, Batangas province. Hidalgo has denied involvement in jueteng and gunrunning in southern Luzon.
Sources in the PNP have told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that the supposed shootout was triggered by a turf war between two jueteng syndicates in Southern Tagalog.
One of the sources told the Inquirer that Siman’s group appeared to have been ambushed by the other group.
In their report, the PNP investigators said the “possibility that an ambush happened cannot be discounted.”
The PNP probers said “excessive force” was used on the victims, as indicated by 175 bullet entry holes on the first vehicle and 45 on the second vehicle.
“The multiple gunshot wounds in the different parts of the bodies of the victims caused extensive and fatal injuries resulting in instant deaths,” the investigators said.
The trajectories of the bullets that hit the vehicles showed that the shots were fired from different directions and at different angles, including from elevated positions, they said.
But how Marantan was hit could not be ascertained, “since he refused to submit himself for physical examination,” the investigators said.
They said Dr. Arturo de la Peña, director of St. Luke’s Medical Center, refused to turn over to the investigating committee the slugs recovered from Marantan.
The fact-finding committee recommended the filing of criminal charges against the policemen and Army special forces who took part in the supposed shootout.
They also recommended administrative charges against the policemen involved.
Recommended charged were Melad; Marantan; Senior Supt. Valeriano de Leon, Quezon police director; Supt. Ramon Balauag, chief of intelligence of the Quezon police; Supt. Glenn Dumlao, commander of the Regional Public Safety Battalion of the Calabarzon police; Chief Insp. Grant Gollod, Atimonan police chief; Senior Insp. Ferdinand Aguilar, leader of the police team at first of three checkpoints in Atimonan at the time of the supposed shootout; and Insp. Evaristo San Juan, team leader at the third checkpoint.
The PNP investigators also said the policemen violated checkpoint rules.
They said that the police used no marked vehicles at the second checkpoint, where the supposed shootout happened.
There were also no signs at the second checkpoint.
The fact-finding report was signed by the chairman of the investigating committee, Chief Supt. Federico Perez Castro, and its members—Senior Superintendents Rene Diaz Ong, Rosvi Cunanan Manulid, Allen Bantolo Bantolo, Reuben Theodore Casenas Sindac and Philip Gil Mallare Philipps.