De Lima says 3rd witness bolsters ‘no-shootout’ storyBy Christine O. Avendaño, Nancy C. Carvajal |Philippine Daily Inquirer
A third witness has surfaced to bolster the testimony of the two witnesses who earlier said that no shootout occurred in a Jan. 6 encounter in which government forces killed 13 members of an alleged criminal group at a checkpoint in Atimonan, Quezon, according to Justice Secretary Leila de Lima.
De Lima said the third witness was the third man in the truck that the two earlier witnesses were riding and which happened to be passing through the site of the incident at the exact time that the encounter occurred.
Like his two companions, the third witness said he saw members of the joint police and military team at the checkpoint firing at the people inside two SUVs in cold blood.
According to De Lima, there were three men inside the truck—the driver and helper who earlier went to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) with their story, and their supervisor who gave his official statement to the NBI the other day.
De Lima described the third witness’ statement as “material” and “revealing.”
“So we now have three witnesses and this would further bolster (the no shootout claim) and thus, we will stand by our reenactment (of what happened that day),” she said.
De Lima said the NBI would not be able to submit its report on the investigation into the Atimonan 13 incident to President Aquino before he was to leave for Switzerland last night because it had not yet completed its investigation. She hoped the NBI report would be ready by the time Mr. Aquino returns home next week.
She said the NBI continued to follow information and leads and was not ready to wrap up its investigation. She said she had been told by NBI probers that the Atimonan incident was something that was “very deep.”
Meanwhile, De Lima wanted to know which one of the soldiers involved in the Atimonan encounter produced the witness, Rolando Vico, who claimed it was the victims who fired first at the lawmen manning the checkpoint and not the other way around.
Vico had also claimed he did not see the truck that whose three occupants claimed that no shootout had happened.
‘Good vantage point’
“If he is truly a witness, where was his location during the incident?” De Lima said, noting that the three witnesses who went to the NBI had a “good vantage point” of the incident because they were inside the truck.
Vico, an employee of a prawn hatchery located near where the incident occurred, was accompanied by Crisanto Buela, a lawyer for the military component of the checkpoint team, when he gave his statement to the NBI the other day.
He said he was standing at least 25 meters away when he saw a passenger from the first of the victims’ two cars firing at the lawmen manning the checkpoint.
According to Buela, Vico had also testified that he did not see a truck passing by the area around the time of the shooting.
However, a sketch submitted by Buela’s clients to the NBI showed a truck in the middle of the road between the two Monteros and the government forces.
Buela claimed that Vico had volunteered to come forward to “refute the testimony of the masked witnesses.”
“I saw a light come on inside the car and a policeman who was dressed in civilian clothes fall,” Vico said in his statement to the NBI.
No one in vehicle
He said he did not see anyone from inside the first car get out of the vehicle after the police-military contingent at the checkpoint ordered the passengers to get down from their vehicles.
Moments later, he said he heard a series of gunshots come out from inside the first car.
“’Come out, come out,’ the police-military ordered, but no one came down from the vehicle and suddenly someone from inside the car shot at the police in the checkpoint,” Vico said.
According to an NBI agent who did not want to be named, some of the details in Vico’s testimony actually “[corroborated] the other witnesses’ accounts.”
“He said the victims did not roll down their windows, which was also the statement of the earlier witnesses,” the agent said.
Vico also said he saw policemen, not soldiers, approaching the two vehicles, as the earlier witnesses said.
“I saw three policemen in civilian clothes and not soldiers going near the cars,” Vico testified.
He said he heard around three gunshots from inside the first of the victims’ vehicles and a man in civilian clothes being hit and falling and then the policemen and soldiers in the checkpoint shooting back at the two vehicles.
Vico said he did not fear for his life or that of his family’s, and that he had no plans of seeking government protection.
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