13 killed in shootout with big-time drugs syndicate in Philippines

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Lucena (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - At least 13 alleged members of a big criminal group from Bicol were killed in a gun battle with policemen and soldiers on Maharlika Highway in Quezon province (south of Manila) yesterday afternoon, according to Army officers.

The officers said the fire fight erupted after two sports utility vehicles carrying the alleged gang members tried to smash through a police-military checkpoint near the boundary of Plaridel and Atimonan towns. The exchange of gunfire supposedly lasted for 18 minutes.

Lt. Col. Monico Abang, commander of the Army's 1st Special Forces Battalion, said 11 of the alleged gang members died at the scene of the clash, while two others died on the way to the hospital.

A Quezon police official described the fatalities as members of a criminal gang.

Not much information about the gun battle was available Sunday night.

Bayan Muna Representative Teodoro Casino monitored the report of the fire fight and linked INQUIRER.net's breaking story to his tweet. "This is one hell of a shootout," he tweeted.

In a phone interview, Col. Alex Capina, commander of the Army's 201st Infantry Brigade, said that at around 3:30pm, the security forces set up a checkpoint in Barangay (village) Tanauan, Atimonan, and tried to flag down two black Mitsubishi Montero Sport vehicles.

But instead of heeding the order, Capina said, the occupants of the SUVs opened fire on the security forces, prompting the policemen and soldiers to return fire.

The security forces were soldiers from the Army's First Special Forces Battalion and intelligence officers from the Quezon Provincial Police Office, said Maj. Angelo Guzman, a spokesperson for the 9th Infantry Division based in Pili, Camarines Sur.

Senior Supt. Valeriano de Leon, Quezon police chief, said that no policeman was killed but one of the policemen, Supt. Hanzel Marantan, an official of the Philippine National Police-Southern Tagalog's Special Operations Group, was hit in the hands and a leg.

De Leon said Marantan was taken to a hospital in Lucena City.

"He is now out of danger," De Leon said.

De Leon said the Quezon police received information that members of a big criminal syndicate from Bicol would pass by in the area on Sunday.

"It was a solid tip from a government informer," De Leon said by phone.

Coordination with the military led to the joint police-military checkpoint.

Capina said traffic on the Maharlika Highway was temporarily diverted to the Bondoc Peninsula Highway, exiting in Gumaca town, because of the incident.

Capina said eight .45 cal. pistols, one M-16 rifle and one M-14 rifle were recovered from the alleged gang members.

De Leon said the 13 men slain in the fire fight were members of a big-time drug syndicate.

He said, however, that police had yet to determine if the 13 men killed on Sunday belonged to the same drug syndicate three of whose members were killed in Tagkawayan town in Quezon last month.

On December 17, three motorists from Camarines Norte were slain in an ambush carried out by two motorcycle-riding gunmen along the Quirino highway in Tagkawayan, Quezon.

The three men's car yielded 10 kilos of high-grade "shabu", or methamphetamine hydrochloride, with an estimated street price of 90 million pesos (US$2.2 million).

Capina did not provide other details on the activities of the supposed syndicate, but De Leon said the police would release information after the investigation.

With a report from Juan Escandor Jr., Inquirer Southern Luzon and AFP

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