The Atimonan encounter: Overwhelming firepower


The initial Philippine National Police fact-finding report on the encounter between government security forces and an alleged criminal gang on Jan. 6 at a police checkpoint in Atimonan, Quezon province, in which 13 people were killed, threw doubts on claims that there was a shootout.

The PNP report said there was a “deliberate effort to make the crime scene look like the sign of a gun battle.” The PNP inquiry also found that “excessive force was used on the victims, as indicated by their gunshot wounds and the number of bullet holes in their vehicles,” according to a report in the Inquirer.

The report, submitted to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), suggested that what happened was not a shootout but “gangland”-style killings, or possibly an ambush by one gang on a rival gang over “jueteng” (an illegal numbers game) or drug trafficking in southern Luzon.

It did not say who were behind this shootout scenario, which appears to be shifting the blame for this carnage to feuding racket lords rather than to government security forces, including the Army’s task force that joined the PNP-led antijueteng operations.

According to the PNP report, three policemen and three soldiers were among the 13 men killed at the joint police-military checkpoint on Maharlika Highway in Barangay Lumutan in Atimonan.

Local police reported that the security forces flagged down down three sport utility vehicles at the checkpoint, but the occupants opened fire. The leader of the police team, Supt. Hansel Marantan, deputy chief of intelligence of Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon), was hit in the hands and foot, prompting the soldiers and policemen to return fire, killing all the occupants of the first two SUVs.

The Quezon police called the encounter a shootout, press reports said, but the families of the 13 men claimed that the victims were summarily executed.


President Aquino found the early police reports hard to believe and full of “inconsistencies,” prompting him to order the NBI to conduct a separate inquiry to find out what really happened.

Among those killed in the supposed shootout was Victor “Vic” Siman, allegedly a jueteng operator in Laguna and Batangas provinces. According to press reports, Siman was one of the two targets of “Coplan Armado,” a police operation against jueteng and guns-for-hire in southern Luzon. The other target was Mayor Joven Hidalgo of Balete town, Batangas. Hidalgo has denied involvement in jueteng and gunrunning in southern Luzon.

The Inquirer reported that the supposed shootout was triggered by the rivalry between the two jueteng syndicates. The PNP report said the “possibility that an ambush happened cannot be discounted.” The PNP inquiry found that “excessive force” was used on the victims as indicated by 75 bullet entry holes in the first vehicle and 45 in the second.

Eleven victims were shot in the head. Multiple bullet wounds in the different parts of the bodies of the victims caused extensive and fatal injuries, resulting in instant death, PNP investigators said.

“The trajectories of the bullets that hit the vehicles showed that the shots were fired from different directions and at different angles, including from elevated positions,” the report said.

Planted firearm

It said Leonardo Marasigan, driver of the first vehicle, “initially had no firearm but later a firearm was placed near his hands and head.”

One of the slain soldiers, Air Force S/Sgt. Armando Lescano, “initially had a firearm tucked in his waistline, but later a firearm was placed near his hands, the report said. How a member of the Air Force happened to be in the ranks of a syndicate was not explained.

Involvement in the jueteng racket caused the downfall of President Joseph Estrada. Then Ilocos Sur Gov. Luis Singson’s exposé on the payouts in millions of pesos from jueteng syndicates to Estrada led to impeachment charges and his eventual overthrow by people power in 2001.

Credibility at stake

This episode is not lost on President Aquino, who appears determined to go into the bottom of the Atimonan killings when he ordered the NBI to conduct a thorough inquiry. Malacañang’s concern was reflected by the statement from the Presidential Communications Office that the administration’s credibility was at stake in the investigation of the Atimonan encounter.

Malacañang said the Department of the Interior and Local Government and the PNP had responded by relieving police officers involved in the Atimonan operation. “This is no ordinary event, and the policy that we call ‘straight path and good governance’ would be disputed if we failed to convince the people that we had an exhaustive investigation and hold those responsible liable,” it said. Three policemen soldiers and three soldiers were among the 13 killed in the encounter.

Vicente de Guzman, deputy director of the NBI for Metro Manila, said that whatever the military’s witnesses would say would not change the NBI’s finding that what happened in Atimonan “was not a shootout.”

After a reenactment of the Jan. 6 event last week, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima concluded that what happened was “definitely not a shootout.”

A team that manned the checkpoint two weeks ago was composed of 40 PNP and Army Special Forces personnel. The Army joined in the operation in response to the call of the police for augmentation. Troops from the Army’s Southern Luzon Command responded.


Military doctrine

A military source explained to the Inquirer the basic difference between the military and police doctrines in dealing with armed enemies.

When soldiers are fired upon, they are trained to neutralize by forcing them to surrender through overwhelming firepower, or what we call volume of fire or sustained fire. In the course of this sustained fire, the enemy either surrenders or dies, the source said. “With law enforcement, the police doctrine is: You immobilize the enemy…. Of course, you can’ just change the military doctrine to suit a police operation,” he said.

Did we need all that firepower of a trigger-happy Special Forces battalion to overpower three carloads of jueteng operators? That’s the danger of calling in the Army to wipe out racketeers. That makes the police irrelevant. We are not in a state of war or national emergency stemming from an invasion or insurrection.

Follow Us

Follow us on Facebook Follow on Twitter Follow on Twitter

More from this Column:

Other Stories:

Recent Stories:

Complete stories on our Digital Edition newsstand for tablets, netbooks and mobile phones; 14-issue free trial. About to step out? Get breaking alerts on your mobile.phone. Text ON INQ BREAKING to 4467, for Globe, Smart and Sun subscribers in the Philippines.

Short URL: http://opinion.inquirer.net/?p=45297

Tags: Atimonan 13 , Atimonan town , Maharlika Highway , National Bureau of Investigation , Philippine National Police

Copyright © 2014, .
To subscribe to the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper in the Philippines, call +63 2 896-6000 for Metro Manila and Metro Cebu or email your subscription request here.
Factual errors? Contact the Philippine Daily Inquirer's day desk. Believe this article violates journalistic ethics? Contact the Inquirer's Reader's Advocate. Or write The Readers' Advocate:
c/o Philippine Daily Inquirer Chino Roces Avenue corner Yague and Mascardo Streets, Makati City, Metro Manila, Philippines Or fax nos. +63 2 8974793 to 94


  • UN warns banana fungus spreading from Southeast Asia
  • Massive infra spending set
  • ‘No real progress in PH if dynasties not dismantled’
  • Cardinal Tagle to faithful: Join politics to clean it
  • Our Lady of Piat: Centerpiece of Cagayan’s gifts to Christianity
  • Sports

  • Federer would skip tennis to be with wife, newborn
  • Manny Pacquiao in PBA? If so, he’ll wear No. 17
  • PSC sets Blu Girls US training
  • Power Pinoys settle for 7th place
  • Successful coaches to get raise
  • Lifestyle

  • ‘Labahita a la bacalao’
  • This is not just a farm
  • Clams and garlic, softshell crab risotto–not your usual seafood fare for Holy Week
  • Moist, extra-tender blueberry muffins
  • The truffled mac ‘n’ cheese, eggs benedict, chicken leg confit are excellent
  • Entertainment

  • Why Lucky has not bought an engagement ring for Angel
  • Derek more private with new girlfriend
  • ‘Community’ star happy with return of show’s creator
  • Jealousy is kid stuff
  • Mommy-daughter adventure continues
  • Business

  • PH presses bid to keep rice import controls
  • PSEi continues to gain
  • Number of retrenched workers rose by 42% in ’13
  • PH seen to sustain rise in FDIs
  • Gov’t subsidies to state firms fell in first 2 months
  • Technology

  • Smart phone apps and sites perfect for the Holy Week
  • Tech company: Change passwords or suffer ‘Heartbleed’
  • Filling the digital talent gap
  • SSS to shut down website for Holy Week
  • Another reason to quit social media this Holy Week: your safety
  • Opinion

  • Editorial cartoon, April 17, 2014
  • A humbler Church
  • Deepest darkness
  • ‘Agnihotra’ for Earth’s health
  • It’s the Holy Week, time to think of others
  • Global Nation

  • First Fil-Am elected to Sierra Madre, Calif. city council
  • UC Irvine cultural night to dramatize clash of values in immigrant family
  • Filipino sweets and info served at UC Berkeley Spring Fest
  • Milpitas, California kids wrap up a successful run of ‘The Wiz’
  • Netizens welcome Japan’s visa-free travel plan
  • Marketplace