The motive for the police-military operation that resulted in the killing of 13 people in Atimonan, Quezon province, on Jan. 6 has not been established, but several theories have been advanced.
It was part of the government’s intensified effort to eradicate private armed groups (PAGs), but it went awry.
Among the priorities of the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission, or PAOCC, is to disband PAGs immediately, if possible, to prevent their use in May’s midterm elections.
The PAOCC has admitted giving Supt. Hansel Marantan, the leader of the police team in the Atimonan operation, P100,000 for intelligence gathering to build up his “Coplan Armado,” the operational plan to arrest Victor “Vic” Siman, allegedly an illegal gambling lord who also headed a PAG in Southern Luzon.
“Marantan pushed the right buttons by going to the PAOCC. He knew that if it’s about PAGs, he’d get support and funds,” a source who has knowledge of PAOCC operations told the Inquirer recently.
But Marantan overdid it and the operation turned into a bloodbath.
It was the end of a battle for turf and control of the multimillion-peso numbers racket jueteng in Southern Luzon.
Siman was expanding in the areas dominated by another alleged jueteng operator, Cenen “Tita” Dinglasan, in Laguna province, and Marantan was allegedly Dinglasan’s protector.
Some people believe Marantan and Dinglasan are siblings but, according to various police sources, the two are not, although they are “very close, more than siblings.”
Siman operated small town lottery (STL) outlets, which he set up as fronts for his jueteng operations.
STL is a government-sanctioned lottery that generates tax revenue from franchise holders. Jueteng operators who use STL as cover for their real business report minimal income; the smaller the income, the smaller the taxes.
To keep their taxes low, jueteng operators hiding behind STL use their STL bet collectors as bet collectors for their illegal bookie operations.
“Using the same collectors for STL and bookie [operations], only a small portion of the collection is declared as STL bets. The bulk of it goes to the bookie collection and to its operator,” the source said.
Theorists have offered a curious angle:
The operation was revenge for the killing last year of journalist and former tourism official Nixon Kua to please a powerful friend of Kua.
Kua was shot dead in Greenfields Estate in Laguna in July last year, allegedly by the group of Siman on a contract put out by some rice smugglers whom the journalist had displeased.
While waiting for the group of Siman to arrive in Atimonan, Marantan was overheard telling his closest ally in the operation, Chief Insp. Grant Gollod, Atimonan police chief, that the operation had go-signal from Kua’s powerful friend.
It gets curiouser: Siman and Camarines Norte gold miner Ronnie Habitan, a principal character in the Atimonan drama, were partners in Marc Security Agency, a private security company that was trying to win a contract from the Ayala-run Greenfields Estate.
Marantan, whose Coplan Armado had only Siman for a target, monitored all of Siman’s activities, including getting into legitimate private security operation to provide a cover for his gun-for-hire business.
“Siman owning a legitimate business might jeopardize the case Marantan was building against him,” the source said.
So Marantan, allegedly a target of Siman’s group, which lost a collector to a police operation led by Marantan in Calamba City in November last year, used Coplan Armado as cover to bring the fight to Siman.
And, the theory goes, Marantan ended the fight in Atimonan.
The theory of double-cross and skimming profits off gold sales involves gold miner Habitan who, Marantan claimed, was his tipster on the movement of Siman’s group on Maharlika Highway in Quezon on Jan. 6.
Marantan visited Habitan in the gold miner’s house in Jose Panganiban town, Camarines Norte, that morning. Nobody else knew Siman was on the road to Laguna.
Siman, according to this theory, may have double-crossed Habitan in some deal and may have been cheating him in the sale of gold. It is not implausible that the gold miner wanted to hit back on Siman.
Habitan had heard of that theory and denied he was Marantan’s tipster. He said he could not have offered to help a police officer who once extorted money from him and that he was preparing to bring charges of extortion against Marantan.
Habitan also denied having differences with Siman. He said Siman had been good to him.