MANILA, Philippines – The lawyer of the soldiers involved in the January 6 Atimonan bloodbath believes Justice Secretary Leila de Lima crossed the line when she arrived at her own conclusion on the incident.
Crisanto Buela, legal counsel of the members of the 1st Special Forces Batallion, criticized de Lima for issuing a "very biased" statement against the police and soldiers involved in the incident, where 13 men died, including alleged jueteng operator Vic Siman.
"What was supposed to have been an objective re-enactment of the event became a circus. The secretary has absolutely no business being there to lead the re-enactment," Buela told reporters.
"It would have been wise for her not to interfere and let the [National Bureau of Investigation] do its job. While NBI director Nonnatus Rojas has been very careful in his press statements as to the development of the case, Secretary de Lima appeared to be overly excited and made a very biased statement against the police and the Army involved."
De Lima on Thursday said she is convinced that no shootout occurred between the government forces and the suspected criminal elements last January 6.
The Justice secretary said she made the conclusion based on the testimonies of two alleged eye witnesses who accompanied the NBI investigators in the re-enactment of the incident.
According to the witnesses, the policemen and soldiers suddenly pulled out the checkpoint signboards and blocked Maharlika Highway with a military truck, to the surprise of the 13 men on board two Mitsubishi Montero sports utility vehicles (SUVs).
The officers then flagged down the 2 vehicles and a man in civilian clothes, along with 4 uniformed soldiers, approached the SUVs. Finding the doors locked, the man in civilian clothes ordered the passengers to come out.
When they refused, the man then gave the order to shoot the vehicles.
Based on the re-enactment, the initial strafing of the vehicles took no less than 20 seconds. The man in civilian clothes then ordered the law enforcers to cease fire.
However, one of the men on the first SUV at the driver's side fired a shot at the police officers, prompting a second volley of shots from the law enforcers.
They said one of the men, allegedly Tirso Lontok, then emerged from the SUV with his arms already raised, showing that he was ready to surrender.
However, two law enforcers – one in uniform and the other in civilian clothes – still shot Lontok at close range.
Still on investigation stage
In an interview with radio dzMM Friday morning, de Lima said she respects the move of the soldiers and policemen to let their lawyers deal with the NBI investigators.
"Halos wala ng nagsalita sa mga enlisted men. Ang mga abugado ini-insist na nagbigay na ito sa PNP fact-finding team. Magbibigay na lang daw sila ng statement kapag nakita nila ang report ng PNP," she said.
"I don't blame them. Siyempre, they also want to be sure na protektado ang kanilang mga karapatan. They should remember na this is just an investigation stage. Hindi pa ito preliminary investigation, lalong hindi pa ito trial."
Supt. Hansel Marantan, the intelligence officer who supposedly signed the case operational plan that led to the shooting, surrendered his firearm to the NBI investigators on Friday.
However, the NBI team led by Special Investigator 3 Frederico Criste, said Marantan again refused to submit himself to questioning and said he will submit an affidavit to the NBI instead.
The NBI medico legal team, meanwhile, has already examined the wounds sustained by Marantan during the encounter.
Criste said the medico legal team has also talked to Marantan's attending physician to get his medical records.
Marantan has become the main figure among the law enforcers involved in the incident after he was accused of having a jueteng turf rivalry with Siman.
He has repeatedly denied accusations that he plotted the checkpoint operation in order to kill Siman. He has also denied being involved in any jueteng operation.