President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to speed up its probe of the shooting incident in Jolo, Sulu in which police killed four Army troopers.
Duterte gave the order as he grieved over the deaths of four military men, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said in a TV interview.
Killed were Maj. Marvin Indammog, 39; Capt. Irwin Managuelod, 33; Sgt. Jaime Velasco, 38; and Cpl. Abdal Asula, 33. The four were tailing four terrorist suicide bombers when the shooting happened.
Both the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) have already sought the help of the NBI regional office in Zamboanga to look into the case to ensure impartiality and eliminate any suspicion of undue influence.
Duterte was “extremely sad” when he learned about the tragic incident, Roque said.
READ: 4 Army soldiers killed by police in Jolo
The President expressed hope that police and military would avoid a repeat of the incident under his watch, Roque added.
“He said those with same ideology should not kill each other or get involved in an encounter. He said that should be the last misencounter under his term,” Roque said in Filipino.
At least nine police officers who were part of a team that was reportedly involved in the killing of the four soldiers were relieved from their posts, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año announced on Tuesday.
Año said the relieved policemen — Staff Sgt. Almudzrin Hadjaruddin, Pat. Alkajal Mandangan, Pat. Rajiv Putalan, Senior M/Sgt. Abdelzhimar Padjiri, M/Sgt. Hanie U Baddiri, S/Sgt. Iskandar Susulan, S/Sgt. Ernisar Sappal, Cpl. Sulki Andaki, and Pat. Mohammad Nur Pasani — were disarmed and placed under the custody of the Sulu police.
He added that the investigation has to be completed first before determining whether the chief of the Jolo Municipal Police Station will be held liable under command responsibility.
Roque said Duterte signified his intent to meet with the cops engaged in the fatal shooting.
“The President asked Secretary Año to arrange a meeting with the nine cops involved in the killings of four Army personnel, including the major,” Roque said.
Roque said Duterte also wanted to visit Sulu to boost the morale of soldiers following the shooting incident.
The Philippine Army, meanwhile, said it is leaving to the NBI the determination of the motive behind the incident.
“We would not want to pre-empt their investigation,” Army spokesperson Col. Ramon Zagala said.
Zagala added that it is of paramount importance to the PA that the truth behind the incident is known and justice is given to the fallen soldiers.
PA chief, Lt. Gen. Gilbert Gapay ordered all flags in Army camps nationwide to be flown half-staff to honor the four fallen soldiers and also to show sympathy for the families of the slain intelligence troops.
Gapay added that he finds the initial report of the police regarding the incident “fabricated, full of inconsistencies” and “very misleading.”
He was referring to reports that the four soldiers tried to escape after being accosted by Jolo police and that the intelligence personnel tried to fight back when cornered.
He said no firefight took place between the intelligence troops and the police officers.
“There was never a firefight, our men never fired a single shot, there were witnesses, there were CCTVs and we have personnel tailing [the four men], its SOP (standard operating procedure),” Gapay said.
READ: 3 more soldiers killed in 2 battles with NPA fighters
Zagala said the operation was “properly coordinated” with the PNP as they are part of a joint intelligence group in the region.
The soldiers, led by Major Marvin Indammog, identified themselves at a police checkpoint and complied with the cops when they were told to proceed to the police station, Zagala added.
“We believe this is not a misencounter. In the first checkpoint if they had doubts they should have held them there and requested for colleagues they know to proceed at the checkpoint and then they will be verified,” he told the ANC news channel.
The Army on Tuesday afternoon gave the slain soldiers military arrival honors at Villamor Airbase in Pasay City.
Gapay’s comments on the incident were based on a “learned evaluation of information” that was presented to him, the AFP said on Wednesday.
“His (Gapay) point of view is supported by spot reports and eyewitness accounts of two civilians and of a motorcycle-riding soldier who was part of the operation trailing the SUV (sports utility vehicle) boarded by the four intelligence personnel,” AFP spokesman Marine Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo said in a message to reporters.
While there is an initial result of the autopsy of the troops’ remains, Arevalo said the AFP would not reveal it to avoid preempting its announcement.
“We share the grief of Lt. Gen. Gapay and his call for an impartial and thorough investigation and his quest for justice as he minced no words in calling for accountability and liability for those involved in the incident,” he added.
Arevalo said both AFP chief-of-staff, Gen. Felimon Santos Jr. and PNP chief Gen. Archie Gamboa have agreed to revisit each Technique, Tactics, and Procedure (TTPs) to determine if these are current and are followed religiously to prevent the incident from happening again.
Arevalo’s remarks were echoed by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.
“He is just repeating the reports he got from our people on the ground. Of course, the event happened just the other day and emotions are high among the Army troops. The Army leadership in Sulu are trying hard to calm their people while inquiry is going on,” he said in a message to reporters.
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Lorenzana, however, said he would wait first for the results of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) probe before commenting on whether the incident was a case of “murder” or a “rubout.”
“It’s not good to speculate. The accounts from both sides are conflicting. Let’s wait for the NBI investigation,” he added.
Gapay earlier tagged the incident a “rubout” after noting that the four soldiers did not try to escape after being accosted by policemen and drew their weapons after being cornered.
Lorenzana, meanwhile, said Gapay’s calls for the PNP Sulu provincial director and Jolo municipal police station commander to be made accountable for the incident must first be probed.
“While there is the principle of command responsibility, it must be carefully determined how high in the hierarchy should be accountable. It has to stop somewhere,” he added.
Senator Panfilo Lacson said he could relate to Gapay and understands how he feels about the killings, but said emotions are running high at the moment.
“For all they know, their common enemies such as the terrorists and armed insurgents are already celebrating the Sulu incident–and even making plans to exploit it,” he said.
He said the communists could fan “the flames of animosity” between the AFP and the PNP to divide the country’s two major security forces.
Earlier, Lacson called for a speedy but thorough determination of the facts that led to the shooting of four Army officers by police in Sulu.
He said it is wise and proper that both the PNP and AFP have agreed that the NBI take full control of the criminal investigation, and allow the evidence to dictate the findings.
A party-list lawmaker, meanwhile, denounced the PNP’s use of the term “misencounter” to describe the shooting.
“The usage of the term misencounter looks like an early indication of a whitewash. How can the PNP already claim this was a misencounter when they have not even conducted a thorough investigation on this case? The PNP should know better and choose words carefully because this is like adding insult to injury to the family and the brothers-in-arms of the whole Armed Forces of the Philippines,” Puwersa ng Bayaning Atleta (PBA) Party-list Rep. Jericho Nograles said.
Instead of simply dismissing this incident as an unfortunate case of misencounter, Nograles, a deputy majority leader, said the PNP should immediately order a deeper probe on this incident.