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Atimonan bloodbath: A turf war gone deadly

March 6, 2013 8:18pm
(Updated 7:30 a.m. March 7) The policemen and soldiers implicated in the January 6 bloodbath in Atimonan, Quezon, were on a take-no-prisoners mission when they opened fire at a two-vehicle convoy at the checkpoint, killing all its passengers.

Worse, they attempted to mislead investigators by tampering with evidence from the crime scene to make it appear the incident was a shootout.

When the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) later asked for their firearms to be subjected under examination, the policemen and soldiers turned over a different set of firearms.

These were among the findings of the NBI—the sole agency tasked by President Benigno Aquino III to probe the incident that left 13 people dead—that are contained in a 64-page report, the contents of which were finally bared to the media on Wednesday.

"Ultimately, the NBI probe reached the conclusion that no shootout occurred, thus, validating the initial result of the PNP (Philippine National Police) fact-finding committee. The probe findings also showed that the victims were summarily executed and all indications point to a 'rub out'," the NBI report said.

At a press conference in Manila on Wednesday, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima revealed details contained in the seven-inch thick NBI report that, aside from its 64 pages, also has a voluminous annex.

She said the NBI recommended charges of multiple murder against ground commander Superintendent Hansel Marantan, former Calabarzon regional police director Chief Superintendent James Andrew Melad, and 19 other members of the PNP as well as 14 members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) who assisted the police in manning the checkpoint.

Marantan's reply

In a statement sent to GMA News, Marantan insisted the incident was a shootout that happened in a legitimate police operation, even as he said his team respects the findings of the NBI.

He said, "I've said it before and I say it again. We respect the findings of the NBI more so of the President. We stand by the chain of command Just the same that we humbly maintain our position that [the incident] was NOT a robout, but rather a lawful performance of duty.  I dont have any bitterness against anyone in the higher echelon nor anger in my soul.  'Truth sometimes is elusive and even diffusive it has its own way of making itself known,' my UST professor once said."

He added, "Please give us our day in the proper forum."

Turf war

As for the "probable motive" of the attack on the victims, De Lima said the incident was a result of a turf rivalry in the region between group led by Vic Siman, who was one of the fatalities, and the group of a certain "Ka Tita", supposedly a club operator in Ermita, Manila, who later became a "video karera" operator in Laguna. The NBI said Marantan is closely associated with and is a known protector of Ka Tita.

"Simply put, Vic Siman was also after the head of Supt. Marantan while the latter was also using his authority as a decorated law enforcer to silence the former. From all indications, they were eventually to cross paths with tragic consequences," the NBI said.

"The Atimonan encounter was a well calculated plan to close the book on Vic Siman under the pretext of Coplan Armado, using government forces and resources. The fault of the other victims was that they were with the wrong company, at the wrong place and at the wrong time," the NBI said.

Investigators also found that prescribed procedures in setting up checkpoints under Section 1 to 9, Rule 25 of the PNP Operational Procedures were violated.

The NBI noted the lack of signage for the main checkpoint, the failure of the personnel manning the checkpoints to be in the prescribed uniform and, the absence of PNP marked vehicles.

The PNP's rules of engagement for checkpoints were also not followed when the operating team "forcibly tried to open the window of the SUV; when, at the outset, they pointed their guns at the two SUVs and subsequently fired at and killed the victims."

Apart from the NBI's recommendations of multiple murder charges, De Lima said she also recommended to Aquino that separate charges of obstruction of justice be filed against some of the implicated policemen and soldiers.

Aside from Marantan and Melad, other PNP and AFP personnel recommended to be charged with multiple murder are:

From PNP
  • SInsp. John Paolo Carracedo
  • SPO1 Arturo Sarmiento
  • Supt. Ramon Balauag
  • SInsp. Timoteo Orig
  • SPO3 Joselito de Guzman
  • SPO1 Carlo Cataquiz
  • PO3 Eduardo Oronan
  • PO2 Nelson Indal
  • PO2 Al Bhazar Jailani
  • PO1 Wryan Sardea
  • PO1 Rodel Talento
  • Chief Insp. Grant Gollod
  • Insp. Ferdinand Aguilar
  • Insp. Everisto San Juan
  • PO3 Benedict Dimayuga
  • PO2 Ronnie Serdena
  • PO1 Esperidion Corpuz Jr
  • PO1 Bernie de Leon
  • PO1 Allen Ayubo

From AFP

  • Lt. Col. Monico Abang
  • Capt. Erwin Macalinao
  • 1st Lt. Rico Tagure
  • TSG Melanio Balauitan
  • Corporal Clark Magusara
  • Private First Class Michael Franco
  • PFC Kirby-Tam Coronel
  • PFC Alvin Roque Pabon
  • PFC Ricky Jay Borja
  • PFC Melvin Lumalang
  • PFC Gil Gallego
  • PVT Marc Zaldy Docdoc
  • PVT Emergin Barrete, and
  • PVT Michard Mangao

'Kill Victor Siman and company'

The NBI report revealed that "the apparent objective of the operation was to kill all the victims."

The NBI quoted eyewitnesses as saying that the operatives still shot two of the victims who were able to get out of the vehicles during the firing. One of them was "already in a desperate act of surrender, with both hands in the air."

"From all indications, the intent of the operatives was not to conduct a usual checkpoint operation, which is to check on possible violation of laws that may be committed by individuals and motorists plying along the road and highways," the report read.

"Rather, the checkpoint was intended to kill Victor Siman and company," it added.

According to an NBI forensic chemist, there were 196 bullet entrance holes on the first Montero SUV (plate number VIC 27) and 61 bullet entrance holes in the second Montero SUV (plate number SFM).

The report said the entrance bullet holes showed that: "[T]here is no indication that any of the passengers of the two vehicles fired shots directed towards the outside."

The bullet holes also revealed that some of the shots were fired at close range —between 8 and 36 inches from the gun muzzle to the target—as evidenced by "tattooing, smudging, and soot,” which are all indicators of close-range firing.

The presence of gun powder nitrates on the shirts of victims Victor Siman, Leonard Marasigan, and Conrado Decillo also supported claims that they were shot at close range or within 36 inches, the report added.

Marantan, who was wounded in the incident, and his men had repeatedly insisted the incident was a shootout, and even claimed his wounds were the result of the exchange of gunfire between his group and the victims.

Coplan Armado

Marantan's camp had insisted the checkpoint was set up as part of case operation plan (Coplan) Armado, which targeted gun-for-hire groups in southern Luzon. Siman and his men were supposedly one of these groups.

An examination of the bullet that hit Marantan showed that it was fired from an Armscor cal.45 pistol registered to Siman's cousin, Gerry Siman.

"[However] There was physical impossibility that Gerry Siman, in his position, could have fired the shot that injured Marantan as the former was found seated in the left side of the third row of the 1st Montero SUV," the report said.

The report also said based on the bullet's trajectory, Marantan could have been shot by someone who was in a prone position outside the left side of the first Montero SUV.

The NBI also gave more weight to testimonies given by truck drivers who were passing by the area when the shooting happened.

The NBI concluded: "All pieces of evidence, from eyewitness accounts to the scientific, technical and forensic results, show the improbability of a shootout."

Tampering with evidence

De Lima also revealed that one of the soldiers on scene claimed to have seen policemen firing the guns of the victims to make it appear the incident was a shootout.

The NBI also compared the spent cartridges recovered from the crime scene with the firearms surrendered by the PNP and AFP that were allegedly used in the shootings.

"Based on the cartridge casings examinations, almost all of the firearms submitted by the PNP and Army personnel were not the same firearms they used during the shooting incident in Atimonan, Quezon," the NBI said, quoting from the firearms investigation report prepared by ballistician Hyasmin Abarrientos.

The NBI said Melad, though not at the crime scene when the killings happened, was also liable for the incident.

"Records will belie any allegation of limited knowledge on Melad's part, considering that he is not only Marantan's superior but also had direct supervision over Marantan from the time of the planning of Coplan Armado until the occurence of the Atimonan shooting incident," the NBI's report said.

"Melad did not confront Marantan about the checkpoint operation and that was despite the fact of the questionable checkpoint operation that resulted in the deaths of all the occupants of the two SUVs," it added.

PAOCC, Dumlao cleared

Meanwhile, the NBI cleared the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission (PAOCC) from any liability in the bloodbath.

"Above discussion would only show that the PAOCC had no hand in the questionable checkpoint operation," the NBI said.

PAOCC executive director Reginald Villasanta earlier said the PAOCC did not approve Coplan Armado, adding that it lacked the documentation required to assess the viability and feasibility of the operation.

These documents included a memorandum directive or endorsement from the mother unit, timetable, and information needed regarding the agents involved and the subjects of the investigation.

He, however, admitted that the PAOCC approved the release of P100,000 for Coplan Armado. He said the fund was “only for intelligence purposes; it was not intended for operations."

Also cleared were Superintendent Glenn Dumalo, with the NBI saying: "Dumlao claimed that he had no personal knowledge regarding the establishment of the checkpoint."

Meanwhile, NBI deputy director for regional operations services Virgilio Mendez said at the press conference that they have so far no information on earlier reports that money supposedly carried by the victims had gone missing and that a third vehicle of Siman's group was able to escape from the shooting.

De Lima said the charges would be filed within the week with the DOJ, which in turn will conduct a preliminary investigation to determine the existence of probable cause to charge the suspects in court or refer the matter to the Office of the Ombudsman. — DVM/KBK, GMA News

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