'We have eyewitness to prove shootout'
MANILA, Philippines - It was not an ambush, but a shootout.
And they have a witness to prove it.
Supt Hansel Marantan, who headed the operation in Quezon that killed 13, has still refused to speak to investigators. But his camp insists they have one witness, a bystander, who will testify that the first shot was fired from the vehicle.
And the military is also standing by this version of the incident.
Crisanto Buelo, Marantan's counsel, said their witness is a resident from the area, a farmer who witnessed the incident.
"We will present him at the right time," Buelo said on Friday, January 18.
When asked why his single witness should be believed over the number of witnesses of the National Bureau of Investigation, Buelo said, "It's because my clients are telling the truth."
Buelo initially said the witness is now under the custody of the Philippine National Police, but later changed his statement, saying the witness was in nobody's custody at the moment.
Marantan, who has been relieved following the killings in Quezon, is the only policeman from the checkpoint who was injured in what was originally reported as a shootout.
Initial investigations however say it was more likely an ambush. After a re-enactment in Atimonan, Quezon, last January 17, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said the incident could not have been a shootout. The 13 victims appeared to have been killed in cold blood, she said.
Marantan is reportedly to linked to a criminal gang, the rival gang of Victor "Vic" Siman who was killed in the incident.
Also on Friday, Col Monico Abang, commander of the Special Forces battalion that backed up the police in the Atimonan operation, turned over the 15 firearms used by the military in Atimonan to the NBI, mostly M14s and M16s.
He was unresponsive to questions about the incident but offered few details, which he said he provided in his affidavit that he submitted to the NBI.
Abang supported Marantan's testimony that the incident was a shootout. He called it a "military encounter."
He said he saw police protect an injured Marantan.
"I didn't see him fall, but I saw him being carried away by his companions," he said.
Abang also denied seeing a truck in the vicinity, where eye witnesses supposedly were when the killing happened. The witnesses in the truck have come forward and told the NBI that Marantan had ordered his men to fire after the men inside the two SUVs that pulled up at the checkpoint refused to come down.
The leader of the battalion at the checkpoint also admitted to firing a warning shot, about the same time the first shots were fired. But when asked why he fired a warning shot when there was already a volley of gunfire, Abang refused to respond.
Marantan has still refused to speak despite submitting himself for medical examination and turning in the gun he used to the NBI.
Marantan insisted that the checkpoint was part of an operation that was approved by the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission that targeted criminal gang members, specifically Siman.
On Friday, PAOCC executive director Chief Supt Reginald Villasanta denied that the agency approved the operation called "Coplan Armado," which targeted organized criminal gangs, specifically Siman.
Villasanta said they gave the operation P100,000 for intelligence gathering but they never authorized it because of lack of documentation, feasibility, timetable, and information.
NBI officials said they are likely to finish with the investigation by next week. - Rappler.com