CAMP VICENTE LIM, Laguna— Careful not to comment on the investigation of the Atimonan, Quezon, operation that killed 13 people, the new regional director of the Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon) police assured the public that he would enforce stricter compliance with proper operational procedures, including the setting up of checkpoints.
“We know that PRO 4A (Police Regional Offices-4A) has been in the limelight for the past two weeks. There is already an ongoing investigation [but] maybe there are also lessons that we can learn from these incidents,” said Chief Supt. Benito Estipona.
Estipona on Monday formally assumed the post vacated by former regional director Chief Supt. James Melad.
Melad and several other police officials from Calabarzon were relieved following the Jan. 6 operation against a suspected illegal gambling syndicate in Atimonan and another operation in San Juan, Batangas, on Jan. 14 that resulted in the death of suspected gun-for-hire member Fernando Morales.
Questions about how the police set up the checkpoint in Atimonan, Quezon, were raised as the operation led to the killing of alleged gambling lord Victor “Vic” Siman and 12 others.
The National Bureau of Investigation, the sole agency tasked by President Aquino with investigating the encounter, ruled out an earlier claim by the police that it was a shootout.
Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas ordered a separate investigation on the killing of Morales, an alleged member of a gun-for-hire gang operated by Siman.
“We will ensure that all operations will observe police operational procedures and that everyone will do his job right,” Estipona said.
Estipona was a classmate of Philippine National Police Director General Alan Purisima, and newly appointed Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Lt. Gen. Emmanuel Bautista, from the Philippine Military Academy Class ’81.
How to motivate
“Historically, Calabarzon has been known for its hard-working police officials, until recently [because of the controversial operations],” said Estipona, a former director of the Southern Police District and deputy director of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group.
“The challenge is actually how to motivate the remaining policemen, who were demoralized after what happened,” he said in a phone interview while on his way to his first police command conference here.
He said the regional police under his leadership would fully support and cooperate with the investigating body.