The national police commander immediately knew what he had in his hands when he saw the Calabarzon police report on the killing of 13 alleged criminals at a police checkpoint in Atimonan, Quezon province, on Jan. 6: A cover-up.
“All the victims were killed and only one was wounded on their side?” said Director General Alan Purisima, Philippine National Police chief.
That was “too good to be true,” he said at a briefing on the crime situation for Inquirer editors and reporters on Wednesday night.
Most likely, Purisima said, the National Bureau of Investigation, the sole agency ordered by President Aquino to determine what happened in Atimonan, will reach the same conclusion as the police fact-finding team that looked into the killings: No shootout.
The NBI was wrapping up the investigative report on Friday.
The Inquirer learned that NBI officials and lawyers were holed up in a large room in the agency’s headquarters in Manila, finishing the report that Mr. Aquino had been expecting to receive since Wednesday.
“No cell phones were allowed to ensure there would be no leaks,” a highly reliable source said.
The PNP fact-finding team submitted its report to the NBI two weeks ago.
The police investigative report gave no credence to the report on the incident from the Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon) regional police.
Purisima said he immediately doubted the report submitted to him by Chief Supt. James Melad, the sacked Calabarzon police director, about an “encounter” between government security forces and a group of alleged guns for hire led by Victor “Vic” Siman, allegedly also an operator of the numbers racket jueteng in Southern Luzon.
“Encounter” and “shootout” are police-military terms for a fire fight.
There were 15 policemen at the checkpoint, supported by 10 soldiers from the Army’s First Special Forces Battalion.
‘Can this be true?’
A shootout between that kind of force and Siman’s group of 13 men, allegedly heavily armed, would have resulted in several casualties on both sides.
Siman’s group was wiped out, but on the government’s side only the police team leader, Supt. Hansel Marantan, was wounded—and only in the hands and a knee.
“Since the report came from my regional director, I was initially glad. They reported a private armed group and they got them. I thought my regional officers were quite good,” Purisima said in Filipino.
“But then I asked, ‘Can this be true?’” he said.
Asked to elaborate, Purisima said: “Because I’ve never done anything like that. Too many killed.”
Melad’s report would have been credible if there were also casualties on the government’s side, Purisima said.
But only Marantan was wounded.
“If there was an encounter, the site should not be that orderly,” Purisima said, referring to the single-file alignment of the two vehicles of Siman’s group at the checkpoint along Maharlika Highway in Atimonan.
Except for the numerous bullet holes and shattered glass windows, the two vehicles’ positions make them look like they just stopped for a red light.
If the allegedly heavily armed occupants of the vehicles engaged the authorities at the checkpoint, the vehicles should be disarrayed on the road, Purisima said.
“They should be disaligned. But they are aligned,” he said.
The police fact-finding team reported that there was “no shootout” at the checkpoint.
The team also said the “possibility that it was an ambush” could not be ruled out.
NBI investigators said the police report was an interesting reference for them.
In a talk with reporters on Friday, NBI Director Nonnatus Rojas could not say when the agency’s investigators would submit their report to Justice Secretary Leila de Lima for submission to President Aquino.
Rojas said the investigators were still waiting for the results of tests done on the technical aspects of the probe.
“We hope to finish the report soon, but we have to be very careful and thorough in our investigation to come out with the truth,” he said.
Asked if the investigation already had a clear picture of what happened in Atimonan, Rojas replied, “Yes.”
A source told the Inquirer last week that the NBI had found that a “conspiracy” was behind the killings at the Atimonan checkpoint.
The bureau’s investigators also learned from the soldiers who augmented the police team at the checkpoint that police officials tampered with evidence at the scene to make the incident appear like a shootout between the alleged criminals and the authorities, the source said.
Police officials at the checkpoint allegedly took the weapons found on some of the slain men and sprayed the concrete wall of a closed resort at the site with bullets to make the place look as if there had been a fire fight there, the source said.
First posted 12:13 am | Saturday, February 2nd, 2013