Not ‘The Usual Suspects’ Among 13 Slain In Quezon

MANILA, Philippines --- A deeper probe into the shootout in Atimonan, Quezon, last Sunday was set in motion by the Philippine National Police (PNP) yesterday as some of the 13 crime suspects killed in the incident turned out to be three police officers, an enlisted army personnel, supposed civilian intelligence agents, and even a local political operator.

Director General Alan Purisima, PNP Chief, ordered the thorough investigation of the incident as he battled insinuations of a rubout in the violent end of the 13 suspects, whose convoy of three sports utility vehicles (SUVs) were fired at by police and soldiers manning two highway checkpoints.

The fatalities included a police official identified as Superintendent Alfredo Consumino, who heads the Regional Headquarters of Support Group of the Police Regional Office 4-B; and police officers - Senior Police Officer 1 Gruet Lescano, assigned to Lipa City, Batangas, and Police Officer 1 Jeffrey Valdez.

A separate report identified the senior police officer as Noel Mantano.

One of those slain was Staff Sergeant Armando Ciscaño of the Philippine Army and two alleged civilian agents of the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP) identified by police as Leonardo C. Marasigan and Maximo Pelayo.

Brigadier General Eduaro Año, ISAFP Chief, disavowed Marasigan and Pelayo yesterday, saying the two were holding fake ISAFP IDs. ''Yung ID nila peke yun kasi hindi na nagi-issue ng ID yung ISAFP (The IDs they had they had are fake because the ISAFP no longer issues IDs),'' Año said.

Another of those killed was Tirso ''Jun'' Lontok Jr., former municipal administrator of Sariaya town during the term of Mayor Connie Doromal in 2004. In the 2003 elections, Lontok also served as a political organizer in the congressional bid of Proceso Alcala, who is now the Department of Agriculture (DA) Secretary.

The others slain in the reported encounter were Conrado Redreska Decillo, Victor Garcia Gonzales, Victorino Siman Atienza, Gerry Ancero Siman, Jimbeam Dyio Justiniani and Paul Arcedillo Quiohilag.

''We want to establish their background, we would like to know why these policemen from different (assignments) were in one group along with soldiers and civilians and why they were carrying such kinds of firearms,'' said Purisima.

But the official immediately dismissed there was a rubout, saying the wounding of the team leader of policemen who set up the checkpoint, Supt. Hansel Marantan, is clear manifestation of a brief gun battle.

''It was a checkpoint and we have witnesses saying that they were the ones who fired the first shots,'' said Purisima.

Gunmen riding in three black SUVs opened fire on more than 50 army and police troopers who flagged down the vehicles late Sunday in the coastal town of Atimonan.

Eleven suspects died on the spot, including a police colonel who was a regional commander and two other officers, said police spokesman Erwin Obal.

Two gunmen jumped out of one of the cars and fired from a roadside canal, said Lt. Col. Monico Abang, who led an army platoon in the clash. The rest stayed in two vehicles, which troops raked with gunfire on a sparsely populated stretch of the highway.

More gunmen fired from a third vehicle, which turned around and fled, Abang said. Authorities didn't say how many suspects were believed to have escaped.

Security personnel sometimes collude with criminal syndicates to rob banks or traffic narcotics in an underworld that often includes corrupt politicians. Abang said an initial investigation showed that the gunmen were likely members of a gun-for-hire group operating in provinces south of Manila.

Chief Supt. James Melad, director of the CALABARZON (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, Quezon), said there were actually two checkpoints set up in the area, the distance is some 500 meters.

Melad said the gunmen, then on board two sports utility vehicle, ignored the first checkpoint when they were flagged down in Barangay Tanauan in Atimonan town at around 3:30 p.m.

The official said the operation stemmed from the report that a big group of armed men would pass by Quezon coming from Bicol region.

''There was a legitimacy of the operation on our part. There was an intelligence report, we acted on it and they did not stop when they were flagged down on the checkpoint that we set up,'' said Melad.

''We did not even know that there were policemen and soldiers on board. What we have is an intelligence report that they were armed and would pass by in the area,'' he added.

The official revealed that an initial check would already suspicion on the background of slain cops and soldiers, noting that all of them were not assigned in Bicol and in CALABARZON to justify their presence in Atimonan town.

''They were identified through identification cards but we have already checked with our counterparts and we were told that they were not in a regular plantilla of the Armed Forces of the Philippines,'' said Melad.

Allegedly seized from the 13 killed were 14 firearms, M16 and an M14 rifles.

Lawmen are in the process of verification with Highway Patrol Group revealed that the first vehicle with plate number VIC 27 is registered to a certain Gina Mamucud Siman with commemorative plate ''PNPA 88'' and awaiting the result of verification of the second vehicle without plate number and proper coordination with Firearms and Explosive Division (FED) identifying the owners of the firearms recovered. (With reports from AP and Elena L. Aben)