Aquino tasks NBI to probe shootout

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) - President Benigno Aquino III has rejected a recommendation by Justice Secretary Leila de Lima to create a special team of investigators that will investigate the shooting that killed 13 people on January 6, five of whom were members of the Philippine National Police and the military.

The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) will be the "sole investigative agency on the Quezon incident," Malacañang announced on Tuesday, January 8. The Philippine National Police "will continue its fact finding with respect to the firearms and vehicles and submits its findings to the NBI," it added.

National police chief spokesman Generoso Cerbo said that Senior Supt Alfredo Consemino, who was assigned in the regional police headquarters in Mimaropa (Mindoro-Marinduque-Romblon-Palawan area), and two of his aides were among those killed.

Armed forces spokesman Col Arnulfo Burgos also confirmed two of the others shot dead were an air force lieutenant and a sergeant.

Relatives of those slain claimed that what happened was not a shootout but a rubout.

Another of the 13 killed was Victorino Atienza, who operated a highly lucrative illegal gambling operation called "jueteng." Media reports said that Consemino was the gambling lord's business partner.

They also alleged that the police officer who led the team that manned the roadblock may have been working with a rival jueteng operator, and that the killings were part of a turf battle.

De Lima earlier told reporters Tuesday that she had asked the President if he would allow her to create a team of investigators that will investigate allegations of a rubout.

Late afternoon of Tuesday, however, De Lima said: "Just got word from the Palace that the President has tasked the NBI [National Bureau of Investigation] to be the sole investigative body to probe the Atimonan incident."

Like Baleleng?

Thirteen alleged members of a gang reportedly involved in robbery and illegal drugs were killed by the police in Atimonan, Quezon, but their families said it was a rubout because they claimed the victims were not part of the said criminal group.

Those who were killed were Police Supt Alfredo Perez Consamino, SPO1 Gruet Alinea Mantuano, Tirso Lontoc Jr., Leonardo Catapang Marasigan, Conrado Decillo, Victor Gonzales, Maximo Manalastas Pelayo, Victorino Siman Atienza Jr., Gerry Ancero Siman, Air Force Staff Sgt Armando Aranda Lescano, JP Valdez, Jimbeam Justiniani and Paul Arcedillo Quiohilag.

The last time an alleged rubout hit the headlines was in 1995, when 11 members of the Kuratong Baleleng gang were killed by members of the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Task Force. A case was then filed against then police chief superintendent Panfilo Lacson and 11 other police officers.

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) is also doing a separate probe on the Quezon incident.

Interior Secretary Manuel "Mar" Roxas said that the Department of the Interior and Local Government and the PNP will fully cooperate with both the NBI and CHR in their respective investigations.

Roxas met with PNP Chief Alan Purisima for a briefing on Tuesday, and to direct his personnel to look deeper into the firefight, including finding the truth behind the involvement of his own PNP personnel including a ranking police official.

“I want to know very clearly what happened and why there were three policemen and a soldier who, along with alleged criminals, were killed,” Roxas said.

Defining extrajudicial killings 

Meanwhile, De Lima said that the inter-agency committee (IAC) on extra-legal killings, enforced disappearances and torture are studying whether incidents of rubout, election-related violence and violent dispersals should be considered extrajudicial killings.

De Lima said the IAC has agreed on a working definition of extrajudicial killings, which she said should contain these elements: victim was targeted because of political belief, perpetrator is a state or non-state agent and the circumstances or method of attack showed the killing was extralegal.

She added though that they may take into consideration other criminal acts because the Commission on Human Rights has a broad mandate.  

The IAC - headed by the DOJ and is composed of the heads of the Presidential Human Rights Committee, the Department of the Interior and Local Government, Department of National Defense, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, Presidential Adviser for Political Affairs, Armed Forces of the Philippines, Philippine National Police and the National Bureau of Investigation - held its first meeting on Tuesday.

The inter-agency committee will conduct an inventory of the cases in its first 30 days. It will source cases that are unresolved, are under investigation, preliminary investigation and are under trial fom the Ombudsman, the Commission on Human Rights, PNP, NBI, AFP Inspector General, People's Law Enforcement Board, National Police Commission, judiciary and nongovernment organizations.

The committee will come up with guidelines for consideration of "doubtful cases" "with primacy given to the political complexion of the offense committed and the participation of State or non-state forces in the commission of the human rights violation."

The committee will also designate a special oversight team of prosecutors and investigators that will monitor the progress of these cases and also form a special team that will handle new ones. The special oversight team will monitor the development of cases filed at the Office of the Ombudsman or CHR. 

The IAC is tasked every 6 months to submit to the President a progress report, an inventory of pending human rights abuse cases and its recommendations. - with reports from Purple Romero and Natashya Gutierrez/Rappler.com