The ground commander of the police operation in Atimonan, Quezon, that led to the killing of 13 alleged criminals on Jan. 6 continued to insist on Thursday.
But Supt. Hansel Marantan said he would respect the findings of the National Bureau of Investigation and face the murder charges that the agency reportedly would bring against him.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, who oversaw the NBI investigation ordered by President Aquino, has told reporters that based on the testimony of eyewitnesses, what happened in Atimonan was “definitely not a shootout.”
On Thursday she countered Marantan’s statement in a television interview about the first shot coming from the group of alleged illegal gambling lord Victor “Vic” Siman.
“That’s not what the eyewitnesses say. That’s not what the evidence says. That is explained clearly and detailed in the report,” De Lima said.
De Lima submitted the NBI’s investigative report on the Atimonan killings to Malacañang on Thursday.
She said the report was “very exhaustive” and ran to more than 70 pages, not including voluminous annexes.
De Lima declined to discuss the contents of the report with journalists but said she had ordered an investigation into leaks to the press.
The Inquirer reported on Wednesday that the NBI recommended murder charges against Marantan and all the policemen and members of the Army Special Forces who took part in the operation that led to the killing of Siman and 12 other people at a checkpoint in Atimonan.
“If the NBI is going to file 13 counts of murder against us, we will respect that. We have respected [the NBI] from the very start of the investigation,” Marantan said in an interview with ABS-CBN reporter Gus Abelgas on Wednesday.
“We participated in the investigation… [and] submitted our sworn statements. We also submitted some of our men for questioning,” he said.
“But in the same manner, we maintain our position that it was a shootout, given all the circumstances and the statement of our witness,” he said.
Marantan, who was taken to St. Luke’s Medical Center in Quezon City on Thursday to undergo a medical procedure on his wounded left arm, said the witness testified that the group of Siman fired the first shot, which “triggered the firefight.”
Siman, an alleged operator of the illegal numbers racket “jueteng” in Laguna and Batangas, was supposedly the lone target of the police operation called “Coplan Armado.”
Philippine National Police Director General Alan Purisima doubted the police report of a shootout, pointing out that Siman’s group was wiped out while only one, Marantan, was wounded on the police side.
Relatives of the victims demanded an investigation, claiming that there was no shootout and charging that the victims were summarily executed.
Marantan said the statement of the lone witness would be corroborated by the statements of the Army soldiers who provided assistance to his team during the operation.
“I would like to believe that the slug taken from me came from the firearm of one of those onboard the vehicles,” Marantan said.
“The policemen had no choice but to ‘cover fire’ to extract me from the line of fire,” he added.
Marantan said the operation was not launched because of Siman’s alleged involvement in jueteng but because of his supposed role in gun crimes, robberies and hijackings in the Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon) region.
He said it was part of the security preparations of the Calabarzon police for the midterm elections in May.
“He (Siman) is the missing link in the RCBC massacre,” he said, referring to the killing of 10 people during a robbery at the Cabuyao, Laguna, branch of the Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. on May 16, 2008.
Marantan, however, did not elaborate on Siman’s supposed role in the RCBC case.
He noted that some of the 13 people slain in Atimonan had arrest warrants, including Leonardo Marasigan and Maximo Pelayo.
He said Siman’s group was also involved in the ambush-slay of two police officials in Laguna.
“Imagine how many innocent people will be killed if they were not neutralized by the PNP,” he said.
Marantan did not hide his disappointment at what he described as “character assassination” against him.
He lamented that some people “made a monster” out of his name.
Marantan complained that some government officials had already issued statements against him and the other policemen involved in the incident even before the NBI could finish its investigation.
Asked if he thought De Lima’s statement preempted the NBI’s report, he said: “Yes, that’s right. It’s really sad hearing those kinds of statements.”
“Although we feel bad, we’re not angry with the justice secretary. She might have had some wisdom [in issuing] that statement. But for us accused, we feel that it’s unfortunate that those statements were made pending the investigation,” Marantan said.—With a report from Philip C. Tubeza