Soldiers eyed as Atimonan state witnessesBy Nikko Dizon
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Army soldiers of the 1st Special Forces Battalion who were involved in the bloody Atimonan incident that left 13 people dead have been offered to become state witnesses, government and military sources said.
Sources also said that before he left for Davos, Switzerland, last week, President Aquino met with Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Emmanuel Bautista and Southern Luzon Command (SolCom) commander Maj. Gen. Alan Luga, who has jurisdiction over the battalion.
Mr. Aquino had wanted to find out from the military officers and men what exactly transpired in Atimonan on Jan. 6.
Mr. Aquino also supposedly talked with Col. Monico Abang, the battalion commander who is among the military officers and men being investigated by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).
“The soldiers were encouraged to tell everything they know. They might know something that has not been said before. That’s why they were being offered to turn state witnesses,” the source said.
Abang and his men have been restricted to quarters at the Army headquarters in Fort Bonifacio.
Three Philippine Daily Inquirer sources said in separate interviews that there are still “things that have not been said” in the media that the soldiers know.
In an interview last week, Mr. Aquino confirmed that he met with military officials over the Atimonan incident but declined to mention who he spoke to and what was discussed.
As this developed, the lone witness who claimed that the Atimonan incident was a shootout has sought the protection of the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC), claiming that several men have been looking for him.
Rolando Vico Jr., 40, of Barangay (village) Cabugwang in Tagkawayan town, on Tuesday maintained that the Atimonan victims who were in a convoy had fired first at the policemen and soldiers manning a checkpoint who then retaliated.
“There are men looking for me. I do not know if they are real law enforcers. Some of them said they are with the CIDG (Criminal Investigation and Detection Group). Some said they are NBI agents. I do not know if I can trust them. I do not want to just believe them,” he said.
VACC founding chairman Dante Jimenez said his organization would take care of Vico until he is safely under the government’s witness protection program.
A police official present during the Atimonan incident said they had expected three vehicles to pass the checkpoint.
“We were expecting three vehicles, two Monteros and a pick-up,” the police official said.
The police official said the third vehicle was reported to have passed the first checkpoint which was at least 500 meters away from the second checkpoint but suddenly disappeared. With reports from Jeannette I. Andrade and Nancy C. Carvajal