MANILA, Philippines – Commission on Human Rights (CHR) Chairperson Etta Rosales on Saturday said she is certain that there was excessive use of force by the police and military officials involved in the Atimonan, Quezon shooting incident that left 13 men dead last January 6.
"There was excessive use of force. It was pretty obvious," Rosales said in an interview with ANC’s “Dateline Philippines”.
Rosales said looking at the CHR-Region 4's own investigation on the incident, she saw that bullets entered all sides of the two vehicles carrying alleged members of the Vic Siman gun-for-hire group, signifying that the shootout was anticipated.
"There were bullet holes on both sides of the car, sa likuran, harapan... So pinaligiran."
"Ang tingin namin, ‘Oops, mukhang pinaghandaan.’ Talagang inatake on all sides," she said.
Rosales also noted the violations of the joint police and military forces stationed at the checkpoint.
She said the setting up of checkpoint in the area was not coordinated with the Plaridel municipality in Atimonan.
She also said that as stated in the Philippine National Police (PNP) Manual on Operational Procedures, officers manning a checkpoint should be in proper uniform and should use only marked, and not private, vehicles.
She added that the checkpoint did not have proper signages for people to know that it was a checkpoint.
Rosales also noted that even if the 13 men onboard the two vehicles were indeed members of a crime syndicate, they should have just been arrested and allowed due process, not killed.
"You arrest them in order to investigate them, not to kill them," she said.
"A person, no matter how karumal-dumal, is deemed innocent until proven otherwise."
"Kailangan mo silang kunin ng buhay upang sa ganun maimbestiga mo sila kung 'yung hinala mo ay tama ba. And if it's correct, you investigate them then you prosecute them and then you convict them," she added.
CHR to conduct public inquiry
Rosales said the CHR is planning to conduct a public inquiry into the controversial January 6 Atimonan clash.
The legitimacy of the case operational plan or coplan raised doubts amid allegations that Supt. Hansel Marantan, the regional intelligence officer who led the operation, was engaged in a jueteng turf rivalry with Siman.
Marantan, who was the lone police officer injured in the shooting incident, has repeatedly denied that the gun battle was a rubout.
Rosales said she will invite all stakeholders, including operatives involved in the encounter and witnesses as resource persons, in the public inquiry eyed sometime in late February in order to get everyone's side of the story.
She added that the CHR-Region 4 officials are already finishing their report so that they can already submit it to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), which is the lead agency handling the investigation into the bloody gunfight that led to the deaths of 13 men.
De Lima's 'no shootout' claim not yet a conclusion
The CHR chairperson defended Justice Secretary Leila de Lima against criticisms that her 'no shootout' claim on the Atimonan incident was a premature conclusion.
De Lima earlier said she is convinced that no shootout occurred last January 6, as three witnesses, whose identities are being withheld, have come forward to shed light on the incident.
Accompanied by the witnesses, NBI officials conducted a re-enactment of the gun battle between joint police and military forces and an alleged gun-for-hire group led by Vic Siman.
Crisanto Buela, legal counsel of the members of the 1st Special Forces Batallion involved in the Atimonan bloodbath, criticized de Lima for issuing a "very biased" statement against the police and soldiers involved in the incident.
With this, Rosales said: "I think her opinion was anchored on the facts that she saw on the ground... She came out with an opinion that was not empty. The conclusion is not yet there. She's not saying na 'Ito na 'yun, tapos na ang imbestigasyon.'"
Human rights violations
Rosales noted that heavy sanctions will be imposed if the subjects are found guilty of committing human rights violations.
She added the police officers and soldiers involved in the January 6 incident cannot simply claim they were following command responsibility.
"Under the human rights perspective, you're not a robot. You don't automatically obey ‘pag sa nakikita mo may malaking problema," she said.
"May posiyon ka, tao ka ‘di ba? Eh makatao ka rin dapat," Rosales added.