JOSE PANGANIBAN, Camarines Norte—Gold miner Ronnie Basar Habitan on Saturday denied that he called Supt. Hansel Marantan to inform him about the visit of Victor Siman and his group hours before they were killed by a joint police-military team at a checkpoint in Atimonan, Quezon province, on Jan. 6.
Habitan also said Siman was not carrying P5 million that reportedly came from him when Siman and his companions were killed at the checkpoint.
He said there were only 12 men in the group, including Siman. So who was the 13th man who was slain in Atimonan?
Habitan, 37, told the Inquirer in an interview in his home here that he could not have called Marantan, the ground commander of the Atimonan operation, because he could never be friends with someone whom he claimed had extorted P1.5 million from him, and because he did not know the phone number of the police officer.
In an interview with the Inquirer in his room at St. Luke’s Medical Center in Taguig City on Jan. 15, Marantan said he did not know that Siman was in the group of armed men whose movement police were monitoring until the last few hours before the clash in Atimonan.
Marantan said an informant tipped him off to the movement of the group, but “there was no mention of Vic Siman.”
He said it was only three hours before the clash that Habitan gave him the information that Siman was traveling with the group.
But Habitan said he had no reason to “betray” Siman because they, together with Supt. Alfredo Consemino, were putting up a new security agency that was supposed to start operating this month.
Siman and 12 others were killed by police and Army soldiers at a checkpoint along Maharlika Highway in Barangay Lumutan in Atimonan in a supposed fire fight that lasted about 20 minutes.
Police reported the clash as a shootout, but families of the slain men claimed the victims were summarily executed.
President Aquino ordered the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to investigate and find out what really happened.
Habitan admitted that he knew Siman ran an illegal gambling operation, and said that Siman had offered him a stake in his illegal business.
Habitan said he refused and told Siman that he was not interested in any illegal business, as he wanted to stay clean and work hard to make a fortune.
He said he had nothing until he hit the jackpot in small-scale gold mining two years ago.
Wearing a large gold necklace around his neck and tucking a pistol with a golden grip, which he stressed was licensed, Habitan said he worked as bagger in a bakery and household helper before becoming a “high-grade” miner.
‘He’s my enemy’
As for Marantan, Habitan said in Filipino: “I met him only once, when he held us up. He is my enemy.”
He said the incident happened in Candelaria, Quezon, on Oct. 4, 2011. Policemen flagged down his car and he said he and his companions were detained after the cops found his licensed gun, a Jericho 9mm pistol.
Habitan said they were taken to the office of Marantan where he saw on a blackboard a sketch of his route, with the places where he might pass marked. Somebody hastily erased the blackboard when they came in.
He said Marantan asked for money and he did not hesitate to come across because he feared for his life. He said two of Marantan’s men accompanied him to withdraw P1.5 million from his Banco de Oro account.
Habitan said he was angered because Marantan, after taking his money, brought illegal firearm charges against him in the provincial prosecutor’s office in Lucena City.
The case was dismissed for lack of probable cause, he said, citing a resolution dated Dec. 13, 2011, written by Assistant Provincial Prosecutor Ma. Nalyn C. Jabat-Mesa and approved by Provincial Prosecutor Dione V. Bustonera.
Habitan said he was planning to bring charges against Marantan for what the policeman did to him in Candelaria.
Habitan said he met Siman, whom he called “Boss Vic,” three months ago through common acquaintances in the military. They became friends and decided to become business partners in a security agency, named New Marc Security Agency, which he (Habitan) bought in November from a Capt. Mario S. Braza for P3.3 million.
Friends and partners
Habitan said he got to know Siman’s family over the last three months. He said he had visited Siman in his home in Laguna.
When Siman came to see him here on Jan. 6, he said, he gave him a gift, a gold lighter that he himself crafted. It was worth P500,000.
To prove his partnership with Siman, Habitan showed to the Inquirer the organizational chart of New Marc Security Agency. The chart showed Habitan as the company’s president, with Siman as vice president. Consemino was general manager; Maximo M. Pelayo, finance manager; Melanie Boral, corporate secretary; and lawyer Michael Pajarillo, legal consultant.
In the new profile and proposal for the security agency that would be named Golden Nor Security Agency Inc., Habitan was president and Siman, vice president.
Consultants for operations directly under Siman were Mario S. Braza and Consemino. Paul A. Quiohilag was the general manager directly under Habitan and Siman.
Of those listed on the two charts, Siman, Consemino, Pelayo and Quiohilag were among those killed in Atimonan.
Habitan said that during their meeting on Jan. 6, Siman submitted a budget proposal of P4.6 million for the operation of the new security agency from January to March this year.
No P5 million
He said he told Siman that he would have his lawyer go over the proposal and he would bring the money to Laguna when the budget was approved.
“I did not give them money,” Habitan said, belying reports that Siman was carrying P5 million when his group was halted at the security checkpoint in Atimonan.
Habitan said he left the running of the security agency to Siman because “that was his expertise, while mine is mining.”
He said that before Jan. 6, Siman visited him twice in his house in Barangay Plaridel here and that Siman bought from him a kilo of gold worth P2.5 million.
Except for a security guard at the gate, Habitan’s two-story house does not stand out among the houses along a narrow street near the town center.
Habitan, who operates a gold processing plant and finances small-scale mining operations, brushed off speculation that the shooting of Siman had something to do with a double cross involving gold trading.
“That’s not true. Boss Vic was very good to me and his family, too,” he said.
Habitan said Siman and his companions arrived at his place in two vehicles, both of which were later raked with gunfire in Atimonan.
According to Habitan, only 12 people were in the group, including Siman.
He said he shook hands with all the 12 before they left at about 12 noon on Jan. 6 so he was puzzled at reports that 13 were killed in the Atimonan incident.
Habitan said he did not know where Siman and his companions had been before they came to see him. But Siman called him the day before to say that he would arrive at 8 in the morning the next day.
But Siman’s group arrived early, at around 6:30 a.m., Habitan said.
His guests left after lunch.