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Activist priest urges media to keep spotlight on Atimonan, Quezon killings

Fr. Robert Reyes. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO/RAFFY LERMA

LUCENA CITY, Quezon, Philippines — Activist priest, Fr. Robert Reyes, urged the media on Monday, to keep up the coverage of the killing of 13 people in a supposed shootout in Atimonan, Quezon province, last Jan. 6 to prevent any whitewash that had once thwarted justice in the infamous “Kuratong Baleleng” gang rubout in 1995.

“[Reporters] should continue their coverage and they should dig deeper because the brutal murders of the victims have patented shadows of the Kuratong Baleleng ghost, which we should all fight and exorcise,” Reyes said in a phone interview.

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He asked whether the Philippine National Police was being haunted and influenced by the “ghosts” of its Presidential Anti-Crime Commission (PACC) and Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Task Force (PAOCTF).

The Kuratong Baleleng case refers to an alleged shootout between policemen from the Task Force Habagat of the PACC/PAOCTF and 11 suspected members of the dreaded Kuratong Baleleng gang on May 17, 1995, on Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City.

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Sen. Panfilo Lacson was at the time a police chief superintendent and head of Task Force Habagat.

Relatives of the victims claimed the supposed shootout was actually a rubout.

Last month, the Supreme Court upheld the ruling of a Quezon City court clearing Lacson and 33 others of murder charges in the case due to insufficiency of evidence.

The family of Quezon environmentalist Tirso Lontok Jr., one of those killed at a joint police-military checkpoint in Atimonan, also asked journalists not to abandon coverage of the supposed shootout.

“What happened was not a rubout but the merciless massacre of innocent people. Only the vigilance of the media can help the victims’ families in their guest for justice,” said Ariel Saliva, a cousin of the slain environmentalist and spokesperson for the Lontok family.

Reyes, also called the “running priest” for organizing and running marathons to raise public awareness of social and political issues, lamented that summarily executing suspected criminals has persisted as a practice among law enforcers.

He said the “rubout culture” has been reinforced by a politicized justice system that has been protecting and exonerating the guilty.

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“No wonder, cases of summary executions remain unsolved, while the victims are reduced to mere numbers, or statistics, like the Atimonan 13,” Reyes said.

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TAGS: and Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Task Force, Atimonan, Crime, Kuratong Baleleng rubout, News, PACC, Paoctf, Philippine National Police, Police, police checkpoint, police operations, Presidential Anti-Crime Commission, Quezon shootout, Regions, Shoot-out, shoot-out casualties, Shooting
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