CALAMBA CITY—The initial findings in the investigation of the gun slaying of 13 people in Atimonan, Quezon province, on Jan. 6 have bolstered the suspicions of some residents of this city that a similar incident that happened here two months ago was a police rubout.
The residents have noticed similarities between the supposed clash between policemen and six alleged guns-for-hire in Barangay (village) Lecheria on Nov. 6, 2012, and the Atimonan killings.
Interestingly, both police operations were led by Supt. Hansel Marantan, who was sacked as deputy intelligence chief of the Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon) police following the Atimonan incident that the National Bureau of Investigation is investigating on orders from President Aquino.
Among those killed in the Calamba incident was Nestor “JR” Banog Jr., whom Philippine Daily Inquirer sources in the Philippine National Police have identified as a trusted lieutenant of Victor “Vic” Siman, the alleged operator of the numbers racket “jueteng” who was killed in the Atimonan incident that Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, after an NBI reenactment last Thursday, described as “definitely not a shootout.”
Cause of bad blood
The killing of Banog is reportedly the cause of the bad blood between Siman and Marantan.
Similar to what happened to Siman and his 12 traveling companions in Quezon, the six men who were slain in Calamba were supposedly stopped at a police checkpoint manned by policemen under Marantan’s supervision.
“Hearing how the shootout took place in Atimonan really gave me goose bumps because it was very similar to what had happened here,” said a middle-aged woman, who asked not be identified for her safety.
The woman, who said she was just 30 meters away from the site of the supposed shootout, noted that the incidents in Calamba and Atimonan both happened at checkpoints set up far from populated areas, an apparent violation of police checkpoint procedures.
No exchange of fire
Another Lecheria resident, a man in his 30s, said he did not hear an exchange of gunfire, contrary to the claim of then Laguna police director Senior Supt. Fausto Manzanilla.
Instead, the man said, the gunshots sounded as if they were coming from only one direction.
“Anyone can tell how an exchange of gunfire sounds. What we heard that morning was gunfire coming from one direction,” the man said, adding that the firing lasted “less than two minutes.”
The residents also contradicted the report of the local police that a car chase ensued when Banog and his companions refused to stop at the checkpoint.
“If a car chase really happened, then we would have heard tires screeching. The vehicle of the alleged criminals would have also struck the police [checkpoint sign],” the man said.
The woman said it was not the first time that a gunfight between police and suspected criminals happened in the area, a rise on a concrete road that connects the Calamba city center to the interprovincial highway.
Cops in civvies
The residents said that like what happened in Atimonan, the policemen who shot Banog and his group were in civvies, another violation of police checkpoint rules.
They said that before and after the shooting the policemen ordered them to go home and stay there.
Inquirer sources said the PNP had pointed to Marantan’s involvement in the supposed Calamba shootout, but never really pointed out similarities between that incident and the killings in Atimonan.
But even they expressed doubt that a shootout happened in Atimonan.
Government investigators appear to have cracked the Atimonan case, finding witnesses who give the lie to the police claim of a shootout.
Speaking to reporters in Atimonan after the reenactment of the shootings last Thursday, De Lima said two witnesses—a truck driver and his assistant who claimed to have seen everything that happened at the checkpoint—had told NBI investigators that there was no shootout, although a single gunshot was fired from the lead vehicle in Siman’s group.
Marantan maintains that he was hit when Siman’s group opened fire on the security forces at the checkpoint, drawing retaliatory fire from the policemen and soldiers.
Regional military officials also claim a shootout, but the 15 soldiers from the Army’s First Special Forces Battalion who backed up Marantan’s team have never spoken to the press about what happened at the checkpoint in Atimonan.
The soldiers have been ordered confined to barracks at battalion headquarters in Candelaria, Quezon, with instructions that they cooperate with the government in the investigation.
On Sunday, De Lima urged the 25 soldiers who backed up Marantan’s group at the checkpoint to disclose what really happened there and they would be given government protection.
De Lima said in a text message to reporters that the government is giving the soldiers “a chance to cooperate and possibly be considered state witness.”
“We’re hoping that anyone or several of those who were involved, especially those coming from the ranks of the enlisted men, will genuinely cooperate and speak out the truth,” De Lima said.
“If that happens, [the] government assures him or them, as the case may be, of their safety and proper treatment,” she said.
The soldiers’ superior officers said what happened in Atimonan was a shootout and the soldiers’ lawyer, Crisanto Buela, said on Saturday that the military would present a “credible witness” who would testify that Siman’s group fired the first shot.
Buela first spoke about the witness at a news conference at the NBI headquarters last Friday after the military turned over the soldiers’ firearms to the investigators for ballistic examination.
In a phone interview on Saturday Buela told the Inquirer that the witness will “demolish all the lies and concocted tales of the other witnesses during the NBI reenactment.”
Buela said the witness had signed a statement in which he was saying that someone from Siman’s group fired a shot, hitting Marantan.
He said the witness would be presented to the NBI Tuesday.
“The fire fight was started by the shooter inside one of the vehicles that forced the authorities to retaliate to defend themselves. It was definitely a shootout,” Buela said.
“Our witness is more credible and truthful with the facts. The two alleged witnesses in the orchestrated reenactment peddled fictitious tales,” he said.
Buela said the witness was the same man who was interviewed on national television last week, but Lumutan village chief Leticia Camba said the man, known in the village as “Bico,” could not be found.
The man is not missing, though. Camba said the man may just be avoiding the media people. With reports from Christine O. Avendaño in Manila and Delfin T. Mallari Jr., Inquirer Southern Luzon