LUCENA CITY, Philippines–The lawyer of Army soldiers in the controversial Atimonan shooting incident on January 6 strongly refuted the supposed personal account of two eyewitnesses, who pointed to an unidentified man in “soldier’s uniform” as the one who allegedly shot Tirso Lontok Jr. while the environmentalist was raising his arms, apparently an act of surrendering himself to authorities.
“The testimonies of the witnesses are not true. There were no soldiers near the vehicle. The checkpoint was being manned by policemen because it was a police operation,” lawyer Crisanto Buela, said in a phone interview on Friday.
Buela said the Army soldiers, members of the First Special Forces Battalion led by Lieutenant Colonel Monico Abang, were posted some distance away from the checkpoint because they were only acting as a support group to the policemen.
“The cops were the ones who flagged down the vehicles and not one of the soldiers,” Buela said.
Buela insisted that the checkpoint was a legitimate police operation against the 13 men onboard the two sports utility vehicles flagged down at the checkpoint.
On Thursday, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima confirmed the report that Lontok and another victim stepped out of the second Montero vehicle with arms raised but were still shot by a “uniformed soldier with rifle and a civilian with handgun” manning the checkpoint.
Lontok’s body, which bore a total of 14 gunshot wounds, was found in a roadside ditch, where it had rolled after he was shot, according to a police report.
De Lima’s confirmation only added more grief to Lontok’s family and friend.
“It only confirmed our theory that what had happened was not a shootout but a massacre. Kuya Jun and his company were mercilessly killed. We demand justice for all of them,” Ariel Saliva, Lontok’s cousin, told the Inquirer.
Saliva and some members of the Lontok clan on Thursday traveled all the way from Dolores, Quezon at the foot of Mount Banahaw to watch the reenactment of the shooting conducted by the National Bureau of Investigation along the Maharlika Highway in Barangay Lumutan, Atimonan.
During the reenactment, Saliva and his relatives were spotted silently watching the proceedings in the company of media people, who were behind the cordon placed around the encounter site by police and NBI agents.
Manny Calayag, Lontok’s best friend, shook his head in utter disgust and pity for his former comrade in Mount Banahaw protection advocacy.
“He already raised his hands but why was he still gunned down?” Calayag said.
He branded the unidentified soldier at the checkpoint who shot his friend as a “law enforcer and executioner at the same time.”
“Jun was not even spared the chance to defend himself and tell his would-be killer that he has done nothing wrong or unlawful. Instead, he was peppered with 14 bullets that snapped the life of my bosom buddy,” Calayag said.