13 men converged in time to rendezvous with deathBy Marlon Ramos, Nancy C. Carvajal
Philippine Daily Inquirer
January 5, the day before they met their end in Atimonan, Quezon province, the victims, coming from various places, met up with Victor “Vic” Siman at Turbina bus terminal in Calamba, Laguna. They boarded two sports utility vehicles belonging to Siman and the group drove to Jose Panganiban in Camarines Norte, according to a relative of one of the victims.
Siman was to see small-scale miner Ronnie “Enor” Habatin in Jose Panganiban, Camarines Norte, about a security agency business. According to the younger brother of Siman, Christopher, he met his brother for the last time on Jan. 4 in his house in Barangay Maunong in Calamba.
The brother said present in that meeting were Paul Quiohilag and several other people.
He also said that while the meeting was on-going, Siman was simultaneously talking to Consemino and Lontok over the phone.
Christopher said, the meeting was about closing a deal with the contract of Greenfield [Estates] for security services.
“They were even happy because it was a (new) project for them,” Christopher told Inquirer.
He said the last time he talked to his brother was in the afternoon of Jan. 5 when he called him from Malvar (Batangas) and told him that their fighting cock lost.
“I didn’t know they were leaving [for Bicol] that night. I only learned about it when I went to his home on Sunday morning,” he said.
Siman had been identified by the police as the sole target of “Coplan Armado,” the police operation to neutralize the alleged “jueteng” lord in the Southern Tagalog region.
Traveling with Siman were Senior Supt. Alfredo Consemino, his security consultant, and SPO1 Gruet Mantuano and PO1 Jeffrey Valdez, Consemino’s aides at the Headquarters Support Services Group in the Mimaropa (Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon and Palawan) police.
According to Patty, Consemino’s second wife, the police official decided to leave his car at home and ride with Siman.
“He said he would not bring his vehicle because Siman had fast cars, he would not be able to keep up,” she said.
Patty said she drove the three men to Sucat Road in Parañaque where they would catch a bus to Alabang.
Meeting at bus terminal
In Alabang, she said the men would take another bus to bring them to the designated meeting place at Turbina bus terminal.
Environmentalist Tirso Lontok Jr. also traveled from Alabang to meet up with Siman and his group in Calamba. So did Paul Acedillo Quiohilag, a real-estate broker and insurance broker who was trying to sell to Consemino an apartment in a condominium building in Alabang.
Consemino and Quiohilag may have met up in Alabang and rode together to join Siman at the bus terminal in Calamba.
If Lontok, Consemino or Siman knew that their trip to Bicol was going to be fraught with danger, they never showed it.
Their families, like those of the rest of their companions, had no reason to suspect they would all end up dead in Atimonan the next day.
Lontok left home early on Jan. 5 in a jovial mood for San Pablo City to attend the civil wedding of a fellow environmentalist, Manny Calayag, his wife Marife said.
Marife said that when her husband left their house in the village of Santa Lucia in Dolores, Quezon, she knew that he would be going later in the day to Bicol in the company of “friends.”
“Jun told me that he would first attend the wedding of a friend and then he would go straight to Bicol,” Marife said in an interview at her husband’s wake.
She said she did not know her husband’s traveling companions, except for Siman, whom she described as a friend of Lontok, but “the family doesn’t know him personally.”
According to Marife, Lontok traveled with Siman to visit Siman’s gold mining business in Jose Panganiban.
She said the friendship started after her husband helped Siman with a problem with New People’s Army rebels in Laguna where Siman operated jueteng.
The civil wedding Lontok attended on the last day of his life was held in a resort in San Pablo City. He arrived at the wedding reception around 11 a.m.
During the whole time Lontok was at the wedding, the groom, Calayag, noticed something “odd” about the behavior of his colleague in environmental protection.
“He bade me farewell at least six times. He was already at the door to make his exit but he kept turning around to embrace me and again and returned to the hall to once more mingle and joke around with his friends,” Calayag said.
He said Lontok posed for photos with all his friends at the reception.
Janet Geneblazo-Buelo, former staff member at Tanggol Kalikasan and one of Lontok’s allies in his advocacies for environmental protection, also recalled how her slain friend hugged her tight several times.
“Though it was natural of Jun to hug and kiss her female friends, he was insistent to plant a kiss and be kissed in return because, according to him, he would be away for a long time,” Buelo told the Inquirer.
Francia Britania-Malabanan, another wedding guest and also a friend of Lontok, also observed something strange about Lontok’s behavior that day.
“He was extra sweet at the wedding. He kissed all his female friends before he finally left,” Malabanan said.
Calayag said Lontok left the reception at around 2:30 p.m. with his cousin and personal driver Ariel Saliva.
“He told me that he would go to Biñan City (Laguna) where he would meet with his associates before they would travel to Bicol. But he never told me what his business was in Bicol,” Calayag said.
Calayag said his friend was killed wearing the same clothes he wore to his wedding.
Saliva, who acted as the Lontok family’s spokesperson following Lontok’s death, told the Inquirer that they did not go to Biñan but that he drove Lontok to Ayala Alabang in Muntinlupa and arrived there at around 3:30 p.m.
He said he did not know who Lontok went to see or what happened next, as he only dropped his cousin off then drove back home to Dolores.
“He just told me to leave him there in Alabang because he would meet friends who would travel with him to Bicol,” Saliva said.
The next day, Saliva said Lontok texted him at around 2 p.m. informing him that his group was already in Calauag, Quezon, on its way back home.
Saliva said Lontok asked to meet him at a branch of a popular fast-food chain in Tiaong town so that it would be faster for them to get back home to Santa Lucia in Dolores.
Saliva said he went to the restaurant at around 3 p.m. and waited for Lontok.
Lontok never arrived.
Saliva said he learned at around 7 p.m. that Lontok was one of 13 men killed in a shooting incident in Atimonan that he heard over the radio earlier.
He said Lontok did not tell him who he was traveling with and why they were going to Bicol.
In an earlier interview, however, another relative of Lontok told the Inquirer that Lontok told his wife, Marife, that he was going to spend the night in Camarines Norte, but did not tell her exactly where.
The same relative also told the Inquirer that Lontok was a friend of Vic Siman, who was also killed in the shooting in Atimonan. Their friendship started after Siman asked Lontok to iron things out with communist rebels harassing his Small Town Lottery (STL) operation in Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon).
Lontok, who also advocated farmers’ rights, was known to have access to the communist movement in Southern Luzon.
According to his relative, Siman apparently asked Lontok’s help again when his STL operation in Camarines Norte was being threatened by the NPA in the province.
The widow of Consemino had no inkling that her husband was in grave danger that day.
She said she last spoke to her husband on Saturday, Jan. 5, when she asked him to drive their 18-year-old son to the Philippine National Police Academy (PNPA) in Silang, Cavite. Consemino is an alumnus of PNPA.
“My son said his father left after dropping him off. The next thing we learned: something happened to him,” the widow said.
The widow said she and her husband rarely talked about his work, “because every time he’s home, his attention was focused on his family. All he did at home was to cook and feed us,” she said.
She said she knew Vic Siman was her husband’s business partner in a security agency.
Siman’s family declined to talk about his whereabouts before Atimonan, except to say that he left home on a “business trip” on Jan. 5.
Siman left with an undetermined number of cousins and bodyguards in SUVs. Four of Siman’s companions—Victorino “Tonet” Siman Atienza Jr. and Gerry Ancero Siman, both his cousins and bodyguards; Leonardo Catapang Marasigan, a distant relative and also a bodyguard; and Conrado Redresca Decillo, his driver—were also killed in Atimonan.
The two SUVs found at the crime scene were later found to be registered in the name of Siman’s wife, Gina Mamacud Siman.
According to Air Force SSgt. Armando Lescano’s daughter Eloisa, she did not know much about her father’s work except that he sometimes worked as a security escort as “sideline.”
On Jan. 5, she said her father left in the morning to go to Bicol on a “security” job.
She said she did not know who were traveling with her father and who he was providing security for.
One o’clock in the morning: Siman arrived in two sports utility vehicle Mitsubishi Montero convoy at the bus terminal.
Consemino and the others boarded the other Montero which became the second vehicle with Leonardo Marasigan as driver.
Siman with Decillo as driver, Maximo Pelayo, Gerry Siman, Jimbeam Justiniani and Victoriano Atienza were on the first Montero.
1:15 the convoy left the terminal for Camarines Norte.
The two convoy vehicle first stop was at around 7:00 in the morning in an unidentified restaurant in Gumaca, Quezon for breakfast.
After the break, the group immediately proceeded to their destination and arrived there past 9:00 in the morning.
“The house of Habatan was described as a mansion and was heavily guarded,” (parang mansion at maraming gwardya).
The meeting with Habatin started at around 10:20, with discussions focusing mostly on Habatin’s acquisition of the old security agency NewMarc in Laguna. Formerly owned by a Capt. Marck Braza, the agency was now known as Goldenor Security Agency.
A source said Siman and Consemino were Habatin’s “industrial partners” and they discussed how Habatin could get back P3.3 million he said he had overpaid to Braza.
The source said Siman and Consemino assured Habatin that Braza would return the money, even in installments.
“He was mad because Braza was in bad faith, sold the security agency to Habatin for more than what was stated in the contract,” the source said.
The meeting also discussed the group’s latest contract—providing security for Greenfield Subdivision in Alabang.
Habatin was the financier of the security agency and he gave Siman P5 million to pay the bond for the Greenfield contract.
“Apart from the money, the group also received tokens from Habatin,” the source said.
The source said Habatin also gave Siman and Consemino a gold lighter each worth P500,000 as belated Christmas gifts.
Habatin asked Quiohilag to find in Manila an apartment with a kitchen that he could buy, the source said.
Habatin wanted a kitchen because he always carried fish whenever he traveled to Manila, the source said.
The group had lunch with Habatin and then left at around 1 p.m. for the trip back to Laguna, the source said.
The source said the last contact with Atimonan 13 was at 3 p.m., while they were in Gumaca, Quezon.
“I was told they had lunch in Habitan’s house when I inquired if they had eaten,” the source said.
The source said the next contact with Atimonan 13 was at 6 in the evening, by then no one from the group picked up the calls.