‘13 killed in cold blood’: Definitely no shootout– DOJ chief
Edu Punay, Sandy Araneta, Sandy Araneta a (The Philippine Star) - January 18, 2013 - 1:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Two of the 13 had their hands raised in surrender but were shot at close range. The rest were killed, as Justice Secretary Leila de Lima described eyewitnesses’ accounts of the incident, “in cold blood.”

De Lima joined the re-enactment yesterday morning of the killing of 13 persons last Jan. 6 at the boundary of Atimonan and Plaridel towns in Quezon.

Security forces said the 13, in a two-vehicle convoy, refused to stop at a checkpoint set up on Maharlika Highway and opened fire first, prompting the security team to return fire.

As two eyewitnesses recounted, however, there was initially no checkpoint sign.

Instead a military truck blocked the highway, forcing three vehicles to slow down. A policeman in civilian clothes approached the lead vehicle, a Mitsubishi Montero sport utility vehicle, and ordered all the passengers to get out. No one did.

A third vehicle made a U-turn and managed to flee. And just in time. As recounted by the witnesses, a man in civilian clothes shouted, “Fire! Fire!”

For about 20 seconds, the joint police-military contingent sprayed the lead SUV with bullets. A shot rang out from inside the vehicle, and the security forces resumed firing.

Two men got out from the second Montero SUV. Believed to be environmentalist Tirso Lontok Jr. and Air Force 1Lt. Jim Beam Justiniani, the two raised their hands in surrender. They were shot at close range by a man in uniform with a rifle and another in civilian clothes with a handgun.

A man then ordered the security team to resume firing, this time to include the second vehicle. This third shooting phase lasted about 10 seconds.

When the shooting was over, the lead vehicle had 146 bullet holes; the second had 50.

All 13 men were killed, although the security team claimed two died on the way to a hospital.

Among the 13 were alleged jueteng lord Vic Siman, two of his cousins and a driver, three policemen, two airmen, and two men bearing identification cards of the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

A woman who claimed the body of one of the slain policemen said he was supposed to be escorting Siman in transporting P100 million in cash.

The security team belatedly reported finding only about P200,000 in cash from the two SUVs.

“Based on eyewitness accounts and other circumstances, it would not be erroneous to say that they were killed in cold blood,” De Lima told The STAR yesterday.

Earlier after the re-enactment, she also told reporters, “Definitely, no shootout.”

The witnesses told probers of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) that the checkpoint sign was placed along the highway in Barangay Lumutan only when the shooting started.

At least three eyewitnesses and their families have been placed on the governmen’s Witness Protection Program.

De Lima, whose department has jurisdiction over the NBI, said the witnesses had initially refused to surface, fearing for their safety.

“What we can say at this point is that our witnesses are credible,” she said. “These are eyewitnesses and we see no reason to doubt them. Earlier at the site, they were very certain in their narration of the incident.”

The witnesses were reportedly on a slow-moving truck that was overtaken by the slain men’s convoy.

With the eyewitnesses’ story, De Lima said it was inevitable that the NBI would look into the possibility that the security forces tampered with the crime scene and planted guns on the slain men to make it appear that they opened fire first.

She expressed hope that the security forces involved – about 50 soldiers and policemen reportedly led by Superintendent Hansel Marantan – would cooperate with the NBI.

Marantan was the only member of the security team who was wounded. He has refused to turn over his gun to probers or subject himself to questioning and physical examination.

A police fact-finding team had earlier complained that the Calabarzon police command, which has jurisdiction over the provinces of Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon, had refused to cooperate with the investigation.

President Aquino has ordered the relief of Calabarzon police commander James Melad and the Quezon police chief.

De Lima, who was with NBI Director Nonnatus Rojas at the re-enactment, said she would ask Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas, whose department has jurisdiction over the Philippine National Police, to compel the police officers involved to cooperate in the NBI probe.

All 25 soldiers and 24 policemen at the supposed checkpoint have been grounded.

De Lima said some of those involved in the incident may be tapped as witnesses. – With Michelle Zoleta

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