MANILA, Philippines - Were the suspected gang members who were killed in an alleged shootout in Quezon province carrying millions of pesos that have now gone missing?
An ABS-CBN News source revealed that Victorino Siman, the alleged leader of the gun-for-hire group, had a large amount of money with him when the encounter happened.
However, no cash was recovered from the scene, according to police.
Siman and another companion who died in the hail of bullets -- Mimaropa police chief of operations Superintendent Alfredo Perez Consemino -- were business partners in a security agency, the source said.
Siman is also believed to be involved in small town lottery in Quezon.
Police, meanwhile, insisted on Monday that the incident in Atimonan town that left 13 people dead was a legitimate encounter between authorities and a criminal syndicate.
"Yung team leader noong apprehending team was injured and critically wounded. They were the ones who fired at the checkpoint na ginawa ng PNP, then pinaputukan nila 'yung team leader na ikinasugat niya," Philippine National Police Director General Alan Purisima said.
It's the same position taken by Malacañang.
"In the first place, 'yun nga, unang-una checkpoint po 'yon. It was a legitimate checkpoint set up by the PNP and I think, if I'm not mistaken, in cooperation with the AFP. Meron daw po silang tip na nakuha at mukha hong nag-bear fruit naman 'yung tip na nakuha po nila," deputy Presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said.
Police said they were monitoring the alleged members of the alleged gun-for-hire group for some time.
They received a tip the group will pass through Atimonan, Quezon province, after a meeting in Camarines Norte.
The men were on board 2 sports utility vehicles that were were flagged down at a police checkpoint in Barangay Lumotan.
Police Supt. Hansel Marantan attempted to talk to the men in the first SUV.
Police said the suspects refused to have their vehicle inspected and suddenly opened fire.
This was when the alleged shootout erupted, as policemen and soldiers manning the checkpoint returned fire.
The alleged clash lasted for nearly 10 minutes.
Eleven of the suspects died on the spot, while 2 others were declared dead on arrival at a hospital.
Marantan sustained 3 gunshot wounds but is recovering.
"Tinatrabaho po ito ng intelligence community dito sa regional headquarters at tayo lamang ay tinap nila in the implementation kasi they received very reliable info that the certain group will traverse the long stretch of Quezon. So nagkaron po tayo ng checkpoint, legitimate one, meron tayong signage, meron tayong uniformed personnel," said Quezon police provincial director Senior Superintendent Val de Leon.
"Nung sila'y huminto na doon sa lugar ng ating checkpoint, instead of submitting themselves for inspection, they fired upon immediately sa ating opisyal, kaya tatlo yung tama ng opisyal natin," he added.
The fatalities were identified as:
1. Victorino Siman Atienza
2. Gerry Ancero Siman
3. Conrado Decillo
4. Leonardo Catapang Marasigan
5. Victor Garcia Gonzales
6. Supt. Alfredo Perez Consemino, chief of operations of Police Regional Office - Mimaropa
7. Staff Sgt. Armando Aranda Lescano
8. SPO1 Gruet Mantuano
9. PO1 Jeffrey Valdez
10. Tirso Lontoc
11. Maximo Manalastas Pelay
12. Jimbeam Dyico Justiniani
13. Paul Arcedillo Quiohilag
But some believe it was a rub-out and said their relatives are not criminals.
"Nananawagan ako kay De Lima, di ba secretary of justice yun. Sana imbestigahan niya ang nangyari," said Fernando Dimasupil, a relative of one of the fatalities.
The National Bureau of Investigation and the Commission on Human Rights are looking into the incident.
A separate probe by police and the military is also underway because among the fatalities were Consemino, two other police officers, and Lescano, a soldier.
"Gun-for-hire ang Siman group. Titingnan kung may certain involvement but the fact he is in the company of certain personalities who are targets of the intelligence operation. It's not yet safe to assume they are all criminals but they are the first to fire ahead," said de Leon.
Police said 14 weapons were seized from the group after the encounter.
Lescano, an Air Force officer, has no criminal record.
An Air Force official said Lescano was assigned to the San Fernando Air Base just on January 1.
"Hindi siya nagpaalam usually kapag aalis sila o pupunta ng probinsya nagpapaalam," said San Fernando Air Base commander Major General Edgardo Rene Samonte.
PAF officials said Lescano's benefits will be forfeited if it is proven he was a member of a criminal syndicate. - with reports from Jorge Cariño and Gretchen Malalad, ABS-CBN News; ANC