MANILA, Philippines - There was no shootout.
Instead there was excessive use of force, and 13 men in a two-vehicle convoy drove into an ambush by a joint police-military contingent in Atimonan, Quezon last Jan. 6.
This is the conclusion of a fact-finding committee created by Director General Alan Purisima, chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP), to investigate the incident that killed an alleged jueteng lord along with three policemen, two airmen, and two intelligence agents who were disowned by the military.
The committee, led by Chief Superintendent Federico Castro of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group, is also recommending administrative charges against 15 policemen at the checkpoint as well as the former head of the Quezon provincial police, which could lead to their dismissal from the service.
Among the findings of the committee, apart from excessive use of force, is that standard operating procedures for checkpoints were violated.
Doubts were raised on the actual positions of two fatalities found outside the vehicles. Inconsistencies were noted in the positions of some of the fatalities who supposedly fired guns.
The committee could not determine the nature of the wounds suffered by Superintendent Hansel Marantan, who reportedly headed the police team at the checkpoint, because he refused to submit himself for physical examination. Marantan was the only member of the contingent wounded in the supposed encounter.
“All the facts presented in this case indicate the possibility that an ambush occurred instead of a shootout,” a source privy to the work of the fact-finding committee told The STAR last night.
Purisima will get the four-page report today from the committee. The report will be forwarded to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), which is the principal agency handling the probe.
Among those to be recommended for inclusion in the charge sheet are Marantan, head of the Calabarzon Regional Special Operations Group (RSOG); Senior Superintendent Valeriano de Leon, who was sacked last week as Quezon police chief; and Chief Inspector Grant Gollod, who was also relieved last week as police chief of Atimonan town.
Sources said Director James Melad, police chief of Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, Quezon), may be spared despite Marantan’s pronouncements that the operation to apprehend jueteng lord Vic Siman at a checkpoint in Atimonan was cleared with Melad and De Leon.
As RSOG chief, Marantan reported directly to Melad, who is said to have rushed to the scene of the killing from his headquarters at Camp Vicente Lim in Laguna, a drive of several hours from Atimonan.
Gollod served as deputy of Marantan when the latter headed the Quezon police Provincial Mobile Group.
A police official said the maximum penalty in an administrative case is dismissal from the service. Some or all of the 15 could also face criminal charges that relatives of the 13 slain men reportedly plan to file.
Purisima sacked all 15 policemen manning the supposed checkpoint but spared Melad.
The PNP fact-finding committee will include in its report pictures taken at thesite indicating tampering with evidence.
A police official said the PNP report does not speculate on possible motives for the killing although evidence pointed to a rubout rather than a shootout.
“The report will only enumerate the evidence we gathered at the crime scene, which would be investigated further by the NBI,” the official said.
Yesterday The STAR came out with two pictures taken at the scene. The first showed one of the 13 fatalities sprawled on the pavement outside one of the Mitsubishi Montero sport utility vehicles. The second photo showed the same body, but with a pistol near his hand.
The official said the two photos were taken before and after the arrival of Scene of the Crime Operatives to inspect the site.
'Benefit of the doubt'
Meanwhile, Sen. Panfilo Lacson urged the public yesterday to wait for the final reportfrom the NBI and not prejudge the policemen at the checkpoint.
“Let us give them the benefit of the doubt,” Lacson told radio station dzBB, saying it was hard to be “convicted in the bar of public opinion.”
He recalled the same condemnation when he was accused of leading a police teamthat killed members of the Kuratong Baleleng gang in 1995, when P30 million in cash supposedly went missing.
“I just hope the police officers will not lose their will and (allow) criminality to prevail,” he said.
Lacson admitted that Melad and Superintendent Glenn Dumlao, who reportedly hatched the operation plan for the case against Siman, were his former men in the defunct Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Task Force.
For his part, Sen. Ramon Revilla Jr. urged the appropriate Senate committees yesterday to conduct a probe, in aid of legislation, into the Atimonan incident. – With Christina Mendez