MANILA, Philippines - The two vehicles had 184 bullet holes and all the windows were rolled up. How could the 13 passengers have opened fire on a police-military checkpoint?
Such details prompted the Philippine National Police (PNP) to conclude in a preliminary report that a purported shootout in Quezon last Sunday was a rubout, reliable sources said last night.
President Aquino ordered the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) yesterday to handle the probe of the incident. Malacañang vowed there would be no whitewash as relatives of the 13 men slain in the scomplained.
“The President has tasked the NBI to be the sole investigative agency on the Quezon incident. (The) PNP (Philippine National Police) will continue its fact-finding with respect to the firearms and vehicles and submit its findings to the NBI,” presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said.
In a press briefing, Lacierda said the President was intently following the proceedings of the investigation and awaiting official results.
He said the Palace would allow simultaneous investigations to be conducted by the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) and the National Police Commission (Napolcom), aside from the one being
undertaken by the PNP.
“There won’t be any whitewash. The President is interested in the details of the case and whatever the results will be looked into, and we will make a judgment call. But certainly we can assure you that there will be no whitewash insofar as the PNP and the NBI investigations are concerned,” Lacierda said.
He said even the supposed involvement of Superintendent Hansel Marantan, who was implicated in the 2005 Ortigas shooting incident, would also be part of the probe.
“I have no information how that (2005 Ortigas shooting) will figure in the investigation. What we’re looking into are the details of the investigation proper. We will still wait for the results of the investigation,” he said.
Lacierda said the probe would also include the alleged P100-million jueteng money that was reported to be missing.
“Whatever would be the results of the investigation, if it’s (jueteng money) going to be part of that, we don’t know yet right now. That’s why the NBI would be there to investigate as to the motive of the incident,” he said.
He said although the President did not specify a timetable, Aquino “wanted a full and exhaustive investigation.”
He said the Quezon incident should not be seen as a test case on the leadership of PNP chief Director General Alan Purisima, who assumed office last month.
Asked if the investigation would also include politicians, the Palace spokesman said, “We will leave it with the NBI because obviously there will be some.”
“And, again, if it’s going to be an exhaustive probe beyond the incident itself, that’s something that we will wait for (Justice) Secretary Leila de Lima to submit to the President,” he said.
Lacierda said the parallel investigations would have different scopes, although the facts would be common.
Prior to the naming of the NBI as the sole investigative agency into the incident, De Lima said she would create a special team composed of fiscals and NBI agents to look into the Quezon shootout.
She said she was just awaiting the go-signal from the President before creating the task force that would conduct an investigation upon the request of the families of civilians killed in the encounter.
She said an independent probe by the DOJ and NBI might be needed to dispel doubts on the credibility of the ongoing police investigation and clear nagging questions that there was something deeper to the incident.
But although the special team was yet to be created, agents from the NBI-Death Investigation Division (DID) went to the incident site yesterday to start gathering information.
The CHR has also sent a team to Quezon to gather details. CHR chair Loretta Ann Rosales said investigators would look into what really happened and determine if human rights violations had been committed.
24 cops, 25 soldiers to be summoned
The PNP fact-finding team is set to summon 24 police officers and 25 Army soldiers who participated in the supposed encounter, a prober who refused to be identified said yesterday.
The fact-finding team, led by agents from the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group and the Regional Intelligence Division 4A, has been gathering the names of police and military operatives involved in the firefight.
“The fact-finding team will conduct an ocular inspection and reenactment at the crime site to possibly draft a sketch of the incident,” the prober said.
He said the probe team has started investigation to identify the police and military men who participated in the exchange of fire.
He added the officers and their firearms would be subjected to paraffin and ballistic tests, respectively.
On the other hand, the military has yet to conduct its own inquiry into the involvement of Special Forces (SF) soldiers in the Quezon incident.
“We are still waiting for the outcome of the investigation being conducted by the PNP,” Col. Arnulfo Marcelo Burgos Jr., spokesman for the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), said.
Two Air Force intelligence agents – S/Sgt. Armando Lescano and 1Lt. Jimbean Justiniani, of the 554th Air Police Squadron – were among the 13 men killed in the supposed shootout.
The other fatalities were police colonel Alfredo Consemino; his aides Senior Police Officer 1 Gruet Mantuano and Police Officer 1 Jeffrey Valdez; alleged ISAFP agents Leonardo Marasigan and Maximo Pelayo; Tirso Lontoc Jr.; Conrado Decillo; Victor Gonzales; Gerry Siman, Paul Quiohilag and alleged gambling lord Vic Siman.
13 of 14 guns registered
The Quezon police have reported that 13 of 14 firearms seized from the shootout scene were registered and covered with proper documents.
Senior Superintendent Valerio de Leon, head of the Quezon police, said there was no record for the 14th firearm – a 9mm Armscor pistol with serial number 133 and loaded with a magazine containing nine live ammunition when recovered.
De Leon said aside from the 9mm Armscor pistol, the firearms included 11 units of .45-caliber pistol, a baby Armalite and an M-14 US rifle.
He said only the .45-caliber pistol of Consemino had an expired license dated April 14, 2012.
Police said the baby Armalite was registered to Victor Siman while the M-14 US rifle was registered to PNP-Camp Crame. Investigators are checking if the long firearm was issued to Consemino.
Probers said two of the 11 .45-caliber pistols were issued to Justiniani and Lescano.
The report also showed the items recovered from the slain men, including total cash amounting to P266,317.
Alcala confirms victim a relative
Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala has confirmed that one of the 13 fatalities in the shootout was his relative.
“He was a distant relative of mine,” he told reporters, referring to Lontoc, who he said had helped him promote high value crops among farmers around Mt. Banahaw when he was a congressman.
Alcala said he was surprised to hear that a relative was among the 13 alleged criminal elements killed by the joint military and police teams.
“I was surprised because I knew him to be a good man,” he said.
The secretary was set to visit Lontoc’s wake yesterday, and to inquire about what really happened, before taking any action.
Lontoc was an environmentalist and one of the leaders of Luntiang Alyansa ng Bundok Banahaw, which advocated the protection of Mt. Banahaw.
As such, he reportedly had contacts with communist rebels operating in the Mt. Banahaw area. There were speculations Siman had asked him for help in resolving some issues with the rebels.
Jueteng, guns-for-hire, drugs
Former Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Oscar Cruz, founder of the Krusadang Bayan Laban sa Jueteng (KBLJ), believes the Quezon incident was related to jueteng.
Cruz said the 13 fatalities were not included in the KBLJ list of personalities involved in jueteng operations, although the KBLJ had heard about Siman.
Meanwhile, Sen. Panfilo Lacson said that the slain men were part of a bigger ring involved in illegal drugs and gun-for-hire activities.
Lacson, former police chief and head of a special anti-crime task force, said the operation in Quezon capped a “long running intelligence project” of the Police Regional Office 4-A on guns-for-hire and drugs. – With Edu Punay, Jess Diaz, Rhodina Villanueva, Christina Mendez, Evelyn Macairan, Ed Amoroso, Cecille Suerte Felipe, Jaime Laude, Sandy Araneta