Ex-Calabarzon police chief, 11 soldiers cleared in Atimonan bloodbath

(Updated 2:09 p.m.) The Department of Justice (DOJ) has cleared former Calabarzon police director Chief Superintendent James Melad in the January 6 bloodbath in Atimonan, Quezon, which left 13 people dead.

Multiple murder charges, however, were recommended against 14 other police officers, including Superintendent Hansel Marantan, the ground commander of the team that figured in a supposed shootout with the victims.

In a resolution signed by Prosecutor General Claro Arellano, the DOJ panel found "probable cause" to charge Marantan and 13 police officers for multiple murder, and a soldier and police officer for obstruction of justice.

Aside from Melad, 11 soldiers were also cleared of the charges.

The recommendations were the result of a six-month preliminary investigation conducted by a DOJ panel after the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) on March 11 filed criminal complaints against the involved government forces.

The complaints were filed by the families of the 13 victims who were gunned down at a checkpoint by a joint force from the local police and military. The families filed the complaint with the help of the NBI.

The implicated members of the Philippine National Police were:

former Region IV-A police director Chief Supt. James Andres Melad, former Region IV-A deputy intelligence head Supt. Hansel Marantan, Senior Insp. John Paolo Carracedo, - Senior PO1 Arturo Sarmiento, Supt. Ramon Balauag, Senior Insp. Timoteo Orig, Chief Insp. Grant Gollod, Senior PO3 Joselito de Guzman, - Senior PO1 Carlo Cataquiz, PO3 Eduardo Oronan, PO2 Nelson Indal, PO2 Al Bhazar Jailani, PO1 Wryan Sardea and PO1 Rodel Talento.
Implicated from the Armed Forces of the Philippines were:

Lt. Col. Monico Abang, Capt. Erwin Macalinao, 1st Lt. Rico Tagure, Cpl. Rogelio Tejares, Private First Class Michael Franco, PFC Alvin Roque Pabon, PFC Ricky Jay Borja, PFC Melvin Lumalang, PFC Gil Gallego, Private Marc Zaldy Docdoc and Private Emergin Barrete.
In its investigation report, the NBI said there was no indication that the implicated government forces "desisted or prevented their group from shooting the victims" even if one of them was already raising his hands in surrender.

Apart from violation of Article 247 (Murder) of the Revised Penal Code, nine of the implicated men were seperately charged for violation of Presidential Decree No. 1829 (Obstruction of Justice).

Dragnet, not shootout

The complainants said what Marantan's group carried out on that day was not a checkpoint operation but a "dragnet," and that no one from the implicated individuals tried intervening, showing a "concerted effort to perpetuate the commission of the crime."

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said the incident was probably the result of a turf rivalry in the region between the group led by Vic Siman, who was one of the fatalities, and the group of a certain "Ka Tita," supposedly a club operator in Ermita, Manila, who later became a "video karera" operator in Laguna.

The NBI said Marantan is closely associated with, and is the alleged protector of Ka Tita.

Investigators also found that prescribed procedures in setting up checkpoints under Section 1 to 9, Rule 25 of the PNP Operational Procedures were violated.

The NBI noted the lack of signage for the main checkpoint, the failure of the personnel manning the checkpoints to were the prescribed uniform and, the absence of PNP marked vehicles.

The PNP's rules of engagement for checkpoints were also not followed when the operating team "forcibly tried to open the window of the SUV; when, at the outset, they pointed their guns at the two SUVs and subsequently fired at and killed the victims."

The NBI report revealed that "the apparent objective of the operation was to kill all the victims."

"Desperate act of surrender"

The NBI quoted eyewitnesses as saying that the operatives still shot two of the victims who were able to get out of the vehicles during the firing. One of them was "already in a desperate act of surrender, with both hands in the air."

According to an NBI forensic chemist, there were 196 bullet entrance holes on the first Montero SUV (plate number VIC 27) and 61 bullet entrance holes in the second Montero SUV (plate number SFM).

The report said the entrance bullet holes showed that: "[T]here is no indication that any of the passengers of the two vehicles fired shots directed towards the outside."

The bullet holes also revealed that some of the shots were fired at close range —between 8 and 36 inches from the gun muzzle to the target—as evidenced by "tattooing, smudging, and soot,” which are all indicators of close-range firing.

The presence of gun powder nitrates on the shirts of Siman, Leonard Marasigan, and Conrado Decillo also supported claims that they were shot at close range or within 36 inches, the report added.

Marantan, who was wounded in the incident, and his men had repeatedly insisted the incident was a shootout, and even claimed his wounds were the result of the exchange of gunfire between his group and the victims. — KBK, GMA News