MANILA - Senator Leila de Lima on Sunday assailed the "purifying treatment" supposedly given to 12 policemen who were granted bail in connection to their involvement in the alleged rubout of 13 men in Atimonan, Quezon in 2013.
"It is truly disturbing that, with a change in administration and a change in the leadership of the police force, we are witnessing, not just current cases of killings attributed to the police being whitewashed as 'legitimate operations', but even seeing those who were already investigated and charged in the past receive the same 'purifying' treatment," De Lima said in a statement.
Last Thursday, Police Supt. Hansel Marantan and 10 others charged for multiple murder in the so-called "Atimonan massacre" were given temporary freedom after a court issued their release orders. All accused were allowed to post bail of P300,000 each.
In January 2013, Marantan served as the ground commander of a police operation targeting alleged jueteng lord Vic Siman. Thirteen men, including Siman, were killed at a checkpoint along Maharlika Highway in Atimonan, Quezon. Marantan claimed Siman and his group first opened fire.
De Lima, who was Justice secretary at the time, insisted that the victims were murdered in the guise of a legitimate checkpoint operation "to protect the gambling operations of a police officer’s relative."
She claimed that Marantan, who was then deputy intelligence chief of the Calabarzon police, has a sister who allegedly controls jueteng operations in Laguna and that the killings were apparently done to eliminate her rival, Siman.
Investigators also revealed that the bodies and firearms of the victims were "arranged to make it appear as a shootout,” De Lima noted.
She decried that the suspects were granted bail despite these findings and the affirmation of charges by a lower court, the Justice department and the Court of Appeals.
"Here we are today, witnessing the release on bail of the suspects: police officers who appear to have used their position to legitimize killings connected with protecting an illegal gambling operation. I cannot help but wonder what is happening to our criminal justice system?" De Lima continued.
She went on to say that she is "deeply worried" about the state of the country, where policemen are accused of killing Filipinos with impunity and kidnapping foreign nationals.
"Are these the public officials and public servants we are supposed to entrust our life, safety and well-being to? Is this what governance and justice is today? Is it any wonder that people’s perception of right and wrong; of what is just and unjust; and of who is innocent and who is guilty has been so distorted that they can no longer tell the truth from the lies?" she said.
De Lima, who is detained for illegal-drug charges that she has repeatedly denied, added that she pities the public.
"I may be the one whose physical freedom is being limited; but it is the Filipino’s fundamental rights to life, liberty and security that is truly under attack," she said.
OPERATION LEADER FIRES BACK
Marantan, for his part, insisted that he and his men conducted a legitimate operation against Siman's private armed group.
He also lamented that De Lima was quick to judge operatives involved in the incident.
“Magta-trial pa tayo, you’re coming out with a conclusive statement already. Sabi niya murder, it’s a massacre. These are all conclusive statements pending investigation, you do not do that,” he said in an exclusive interview with ABS-CBN News after gaining temporary freedom.
“Kawawa yung mga tao mo, hahabulin nila ang statements mo. Kawawa din ang mga sibilyan, yung aggrieved parties, mga complainant, pinaasa niyo ang mga tao niyo, murder yan, makukulong si Marantan, pinaasa sila kaya galit na galit sila,” Marantan added.