PNP sacks Quezon police chief, cops

MANILA, Philippines (4th UPDATE) - The Philippine National Police (PNP) has sacked the police chief of Quezon and the police officials who engaged suspected criminals in an alleged shootout in Atimonan, Quezon on January 6.

Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas made this announcement Wednesday, January 9, as he disclosed that the police violated rules during the incident. These include the following:

1.) The police did not use a marked vehicle at the main checkpoint;

2.) They did not put up any signage at the main checkpoint that would have indicated that it was the PNP that set it up;

3.) Except for one, the rest of the cops at the main checkpoint were wearing civilian clothes.

Roxas said however that the first checkpoint prior to the main one was manned by 4 uniformed PNP personnel and had a marked PNP vehicle.

Other findings are:

1.) About 265,000 in cash was recovered from the scene;

2.) 8 of the 13 fatalities tested positive in paraffin tests;

3.) The first SUV that carried the victims had 186 bullet hits, mostly from M-16 guns. The second vehicle had 50 hits;

Initial reports showed that there were 23 police officials who were involved in the alleged shootout -- 8 in uniform, and 15 intel operatives in civilian. Roxas said 25 Army soldiers in fatigues also took part in the operation.

The police chief of Quezon is Senior Supt Valeriano de Leon. He and the intelligence unit under Supt. Hansel Marantan, who was wounded in the incident, were relieved from their posts and have been ordered to face investigators of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI). Their enlisted personnel, on the other hand, were put under restrictive custody at the PNP regional headquarters in Camp Vicente Lim, Laguna.

PNP chief Director General Alan Purisima admitted that the cops committed "procedural lapses" during the operation. At least 15 police intelligence personnel took part in the operation, according to Purisima.

"Procedures were not followed. There should have been a police vehicle, they should have been in uniform... There is violation of the police operational procedures," said Purisima in Filipino.

Last Sunday, January 6, 13 alleged members of a gang reportedly involved in robbery and illegal drugs were killed by the police in Atimonan, Quezon.

Five of those killed with the alleged criminals were members of the PNP and the military.

'Not normal behavior'

In his first press conference since the incident, President Benigno Aquino III admitted that he had his own doubts that what transpired in Quezon was a shootout.

Also on Wednesday, Aquino told reporters that initial reports convinced him there was an encounter but that the more he learned of details, he said the more he felt that what happened was "not normative or normal behavior."

"Dito parang sa checkpoint mismo, naubos lahat nung supposed to be dadakpin. Subsequently, may mga other information na dumating na parang inconsistent with the purported story, (In the checkpoint itself, those who they were supposed to capture were all killed. Subsequently, other information started to come in that appeared inconsistent with the purported story)," he said.

Aquino added that his doubts led him to task the NBI as the sole agency to investigate the incident, as to avoid any bias or cover-ups within the PNP in investigating their own personnel.

Motive still unknown

The investigation, led by Chief Supt. Frederico Castro of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group, also recovered 14 firearms, 13 of which were licensed. Of the 13 however, only 8 had a permit to carry. An armalite and 4 pistols did not have permits.

Castro's group also found a PNP-issued M-14, which Roxas said was presumably acquired by one of the killed police officials through a mission order he gave himself.

Roxas clarified however that PNP's report is solely focused on finding facts, and that the interpretation of the results would be the responsibility of the NBI.

"PNP is fact finding, whatever the established facts were... but what these facts mean, the conclusion, analysis, background and context, in short the investigation proper, will be done by the NBI," Roxas said in Filipino.

He added that he supports the decision of Aquino to put the NBI in charge.

The PNP is currently awaiting lab reports and reports from Scene of Crime Operatives, before finalizing their own report which they will officially transmit to the NBI, the Comission on Human Rights, and to the Office of the President.

Rubout?

National police chief spokesman Generoso Cerbo earlier 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 the 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.

Roxas said the PNP will submit its findings to the National Bureau of Investigation, which has been tasked by President Benigno Aquino III as the sole agency that will investigate the incident. - with reports from Natashya Gutierrez