ATIMONAN, Quezon , Philippines – Probers have identified the 13 men killed in an armed encounter with security forces last Sunday in Quezon – and the rogue’s gallery includes three police officials, an Air Force soldier, and two men bearing the ID cards of military intelligence officers.
The slain military and police officers were in the company of Southern Luzon’s reputed top jueteng lord, Victorino Siman, of Calamba, Laguna, who was also killed.
Siman appeared to be the owner of the Mitsubishi Montero sport utility vehicle with license plate “VIC27” and a commemorative plate of the Philippine National Police Academy (PNPA).
Investigators are looking into reports that the military and police officers as well as the other fatalities were serving as Siman’s bodyguards or partners in transporting P100 million in cash earned from illegal gambling operations in Southern Tagalog and Bicol.
The joint military and police teams that figured in the armed encounter did not report finding cash in the two Montero SUVs.
Amid suspicions of a rubout, Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Director General Alan Purisima ordered the creation of a fact-finding team to look into the killing.
Quezon police chief Senior Superintendent Valeriano de Leon said the fact-finding team would come from Camp Crame and would be headed by Chief Superintendent Federico Castro, deputy director of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG).
Malacañang said it supported the claim of the PNP that the incident was a legitimate operation carried out in coordination with the Armed Forces.
Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said the Palace shared the position of the PNP that the incident was a shootout.
“They received a tip and it seemed the tip bore fruit,” Valte said.
She said it would be up to the PNP to conduct the investigation and that it was moving even without an order from President Aquino.
Identification cards recovered from the fatalities and follow-up operations identified several of the 13 as police Superintendent Alfredo Consemino of EM’s Barrio, Camp Vicente Lim in Calamba City; Special Police Officer 1 Gruet Mantuano of Calapan City, Oriental Mindoro; PO1 Jeffrey Valdez of San Jose, Occidental Mindoro; Air Force Staff Sgt. Armando Lescano of 407 Lt. Ano Street, Fernando Air Base in Lipa City; and two men bearing ID cards of the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP) – Leonardo Marasigan of Maunong, Calamba, and Maximo Pelayo of Crossing Tigaon, Camarines Sur.
ISAFP officials, however, disowned the two, saying the service does not issue ID cards to its personnel.
Consemino, a member of the PNPA Class ’86, was reportedly a partner of Siman in a security agency.
The other fatalities were identified as former Sariaya municipal administrator Tirso Lontoc Jr. of Sta. Lucia, Dolores, Quezon; Conrado Decillo of Maunong, Calamba; Victor Garcia Gonzales of Pulong Balon, Candaba, Pampanga; Gerry Ancero Siman also of Maunong; Jimbeam Justiniani of Quezon City; and Paul Quiohilag of Biñan, Laguna.
According to Quezon Rep. Danilo Suarez, who sought a congressional inquiry into the incident, Lontoc was a relative of Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala.
Most of the victims were hit in the head.
Military and police sources said Siman, apart from engaging in illegal numbers games such as jueteng and loteng, operated a group of guns-for-hire.
The group was used not just for paid assassinations but also for harassing Siman’s rivals in illegal gambling, the sources alleged.
A senior security officer said Siman enjoyed the protection of military and police officials.
The joint military and police contingent manning a checkpoint at the border of Plaridel and Atimonan towns in Quezon reported that the two-vehicle convoy refused to stop at the checkpoint last Sunday afternoon and instead opened fire.
A brief gunfight left 11 of the men dead at the scene while two others died on the way to a hospital.
The teams at the checkpoint also reported recovering eight caliber .45 pistols, a baby Armalite and an M-14 rifle from the 13 men. There was no mention of any cash found.
Leading the joint contingent at the checkpoint along Maharlika Highway in Barangay Tanauan were police Superintendent Ramon Balauag and Lt. Col. Monico Abang of the Army’s 1st Special Forces Battalion.
Military and police officials said Sunday that they had received intelligence reports of a crime group on its way from Bicol to Quezon to meet with a prospective client looking for guns-for-hire.
Lontoc was known as an environment advocate. When Eddie Rodriguez was Quezon governor, Lontoc had organized a group called the Luntiang Alyansa sa Bundok Banahak to protect Mt. Banahaw. He also launched a province-wide clean-up campaign called “Quezon Laban sa Basura.”
Police sources claimed that after the death of Interior secretary Jesse Robredo, Siman had coordinated with Lontoc to revive jueteng in Iriga City, Camarines Sur.
The area is infested with communist rebels and Siman’s group met with local leaders of the New People’s Army to ensure security for the jueteng operations, the sources claimed. The group was allegedly returning from Bicol when the shootout occurred.
Police sources said Siman used to work for Empresse, which operates small town lottery (STL) in Calamba. The STL operation was allegedly used as a front for jueteng.
Empresse fired Siman over a misunderstanding, the sources said. Siman and his group then allegedly took over the Empresse bookies’ operations.
Sources told The STAR that Siman did not only operate jueteng in the Bicol region, Batangas and Laguna, but was also involved in gun-for-hire and illegal drugs activities in these areas.
However, the Intelligence Group (IG) in Camp Crame has no records of Siman being involved in gun-for-hire activities.
“Siman and his group were pushing for the entry of their jueteng operations in Quezon at the time of their ambush,” a source told The STAR.
“They wanted na i-bookies ang STL operation in Quezon. Surely, the ambush had something to do with jueteng,” the source added.
Reports also had it that Siman and his group had collected bond money for the soon-to-be-opened government’s Loterya ng Bayan project. However, he reportedly did not remit properly, earning him the ire of gambling lords in the areas.
A member of the checkpoint contingent was hit in the hand and feet. Superintendent Hansel Marantan of the Quezon police regional intelligence office was also part of the team that figured in a controversial shootout with armed suspects in Parañaque in 2008 where a civilian and his daughter driving past the scene were killed.
Marantan was also involved in a shootout in 2010 in Candelaria, Quezon where eight suspected robbers were killed. At the time he headed the 415th Quezon Police Provincial Mobile Group.
The PNP is following up reports that a brother of Marantan operates STL in Calamba.
In April last year, four suspected robbers were killed in a police operation along a diversion road in Barangay Gulang-Gulang, Lucena City.
Chief Superintendent Melito Mabilin, head of MIMAROPA (Mindoro, Masbate, Romblon, Palawan) police regional office, said Consemino, Valdez and Montuan were on a holiday break and were supposed to return to work yesterday.
“We are coordinating with their families and I asked a personnel to accompany them to Quezon for confirmation,” Mabilin said.
Suarez said he has asked his staff to draft a resolution, to be filed this week, seeking an inquiry into the incident.
“There’s more than meets the eye in this alleged shootout. I know that guy Consemino to be the regional police commander for Mimaropa. He could just have introduced himself to those manning the checkpoint and the whole thing could have been avoided,” he said.
Suarez said he knew Lontoc.
“He is a relative of Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala (a former Quezon congressman). I know him to be a good person. He once worked for a mayor of Sariaya town. That is why this story is a puzzle to me. Malalim ito (This is deep),” he said.
A source said the slain Air Force man has no criminal record and had just returned to duty from a vacation in Nigeria.
Another fatality, Justiniani, was said to be a PAF flight instructor in Lipa City. – Non Alquitran, Cecille Suerte Felipe, Alexis Romero, Ed Amoroso, Aurea Calica, Jess Diaz