De Lima vows to probe officials behind Quezon 'mission'

MANILA, Philippines - Following reports that the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission (PAOCC) allegedly authorized the operation in Quezon that killed 13, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said that the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) will investigate it as part of its probe.

"That should be looked into by the NBI, definitely, because isa nga sa mga question na dapat malaman is what was that mission all about. Who authorized... Kaya tini-trace din nga namin ‘yung well, ‘yung naging ruta nung mga sasakyan na ‘yon na nandoon ‘yung mga namatay (That's why we're also tracing the route of the vehicles used by the men that were killed)," de Lima said.

She said they would also verify the denials of PAOCC Executive Director Reginald Villasanta and Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa that they approved the operation.

“We at PAOCC have nothing to do with the operation. If it was approved by the commission, we should have been involved in every step of the way,” Villasanta said, noting that not a single PAOCC operative was present during the Atimonan operation. “Executive Secretary Ochoa has no knowledge about the project proposal. In fact, the proposal did not even reach him because it was already turned down at the level of the PAOCC executive director,” said PAOCC deputy executive director Senior Supt. Ranier Idio.

De Lima explained that they would trace who had authorized the operation, assuming it was an authorized mission and if so, what the objective was. If unauthorized, Supt Hansel Marantan, who was manning the checkpoint and was injured in the shooting, would have to explain the basis of his operation, de Lima said.

A probe on Marantan -- who has also been involved in several shooting incidents in the past -- will also be a focus of NBI's investigation.

On Sunday, January 6, 13 alleged members of a gang reportedly involved in robbery and illegal drugs were killed by police in Atimonan, Quezon in what was initially reported as a shootout.

But some news outlets, quoting Marantan, have reported that the shooting was a police operation code-named "Coplan Armado" approved by the PAOCC, that targeted Victor "Vic" Siman. Siman was one of the victims of the shooting, and was allegedly involved in jueteng, or illegal gambling.

The NBI has been assigned by President Benigno Aquino III to be the sole agency to investigate the incident.

Who supervised?

De Lima herself, as Justice Secretary, is a member of the PAOCC but she admitted that she did not know if missions like the Quezon operation, should have the imprimatur of the PAOCC. She said she knew nothing about the mission.

"Nothing has been imparted or referred or mentioned to any of us, I think, as the regular members of the PAOCC about that mission. Kaya nga aalamin ko, kapag mga ganoon ba, assuming mission ‘yan ng PAOCC or it is something na clinear o kailangan i-clear ng PAOCC, anong level ‘yan," she said,

Marantan, as head of the regional level in Calabarzon, has said that the mission was signed by himself, regional police director Chief Supt James Melad, and Glenn Dumlao, the head of the Special Concerns Task Group, and was approved by his superiors.

His superior, Senior Supt. Valeriano de Leon, denied he knew anything about the operation.

Dumlao involvement

De Lima said they would also investigate Dumlao, who became a state witness after he was one of the policemen accused of murder in 2000. De Lima admitted that she did not know Dumlao was back in the Philippine National Police (PNP), but vowed to find out what his involvement was, if any, to the mission.

"I think one thing is clear. He’s not personally present in that mission but alamin natin if he’s ever part of that mission, what or who thought about it, who planned it or who probably -- what supervised that," she said.

According to de Lima, formal interrogations and interviews will begin as soon as the initial results of the NBI are submitted.

"We will first wait for the results of the steps undertaken by NBI and then, when we consolidate all of this and try to evaluate all of this, we will consider setting up certain proceedings so we can call in those that we can to shed further light or to clarify certain facts that will be gatherd by our various investigating teams," she said.

The NBI has yet to give a date when they will release their report, but the PNP, which is tasked to do fact-finding, is expected to submit their report by Friday, January 11, which they will forward to the NBI. -