BY VICTOR REYES and RAYMOND AFRICA
A DAY after the Army chief called it a “rubout,” the PNP yesterday insisted that the incident in Sulu last Monday, in which policemen killed four soldiers, is a “mis-encounter.”
But Interior Secretary Eduardo Año supported the rubout pronouncement of Army chief Lt. Gen. Gilbert Gapay, saying there are witnesses who said there was no exchange of fire as the soldiers were unarmed.
“May mga available eye witnesses na nagsasabi na wala naman talagang shootout at ito talaga ay isang rubout. (There are available eyewitnesses who are saying there was no shootout and it was a rubout),” Año said in a phone interview.
Quoting the eyewitnesses, Año also said, “Wala namang hawak na baril yung Army operatives at sinasabi ng mga ating eyewitnesses na pinagbabaril na lang talaga itong mga sundalo. (The Army operatives were not armed and the eyewitnesses are saying the soldiers were just shot),” he said.
PNP spokesman Brig. Gen. Bernard Banac, said the PNP is standing by the police report that the soldiers “pointed their firearms so that prompted the policemen to open fire.”
He said it is an “official report” which is now subject to the NBI investigation.
Año, who served as Army and Armed Forces chief, also vouched for the slain soldiers, saying he knew them during his days as commander of the Army’s Intelligence Security Group and the Army ‘s assistant chief of staff for intelligence.
“Kilala ko sila, alam ko kung papano sila magtrabaho, mag-operate, very professional intelligence officers. (I know them, I know how they do their job, how they operate, they are professional intelligence officers),” he said.
Año also said the situation in Sulu is “tense,” noting that killing two officers and two soldiers “without any reason” is no joke.
He said even if there was no coordination between the police and the military on the soldiers’ mission, “we just don’t shoot people.”
“Kahit yan ay civilian, o kahit yan ay kalaban pa, na hindi nakakapag-cause danger sa iyo, hindi mo talaga basta-basta babarilin ang mga yan. (Whether civilians or the enemy, if they do not pose any danger, you don’t just shoot them),” he added.
An enraged Gapay on Tuesday described the death of the four soldiers as “murder and rubout.” He said the four did not fire a single shot, disputing police claims that it was a “mis-encounter.”
“First of all, we understand the sentiment of Lt. Gen. Gilbert Gapay being the commander of the Philippine Army, the commanding general of the Philippine Army. But I’m also reminding him to be sensible in pronouncing or making any statement because it might add fuel to the situation,” said Año.
He said the policemen involved have been disarmed and are restricted at the Sulu provincial police office.
“We will make sure that first of all justice will really prevail but of course there is a process, so we will also ensure that the due process is observed,” Año said.
On Gapay’s call of Gapay for the relief of Lt. Col. Walter Annayo, chief of the Jolo police, and Col. Michael Bawayan, Sulu provincial police chief, for command responsibility, Año said the Jolo police chief will be relieved.
“If he is not relieved today, he will be relieved (later). He has to be relieved,” said Año.
As to the PNP provincial director, Año said: “Right now, I don’t think so … Let’s wait for the result of the investigation but right now, he has a very important role there, he has to ensure no violence will break out there.”
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Gapay was “just repeating the reports he got from our people on the ground.”
He also said the military and police accounts of the incident are “conflicting.” On Gapay’s call for the relief of the Jolo and Sulu police chiefs, Lorenzana said, “Whilst there is the principle of command responsibility, it must be carefully determined how high in the hierarchy should be accountability be. It has to stop somewhere.”
“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 added.
Gapay has said the soldiers, who he said were tracking Abu Sayyaf bombers when flagged down by the policemen, did not fire a single shot, dismissing police claims that the death of the soldiers was the result of a mis-encounter.
Gapay said nine policemen were involved, four or five of them fired the shots while the rest served as lookout.
The Army named the nine policemen as Staff Sergeant Almudzrin Hadjaruddin and Patrolmen Alkajal Mandangan and Rajiv Putalan, of the Provincial Drug Enforcement Unit; and Jolo town policemen Senior Master Sergeant Abdelzhimar Padjiri, Master Sergeant Hanie Baddiri, Staff Sergeants Iskandar Susulan and Ernisar Sappal, Corporal Sulki Andaki, and Patrolman Moh Nur Pasani.
Their names were not in the police report released on Tuesday.
The fatalities are Maj. Marvin Indammog, commander of the 9th ISU, and his men — Capt. Irwin Managuelod, Sgt. Jaime Velasco, and Cpl. Abdal Asula. Indammog and Managuelod belong to the Philippine Military Academy Class of 2006 and 2009, respectively.
Armed Forces chief Gen. Felimon Santos Jr said he and his PNP chief Gen. Archie Gamboa agreed to fully cooperate in the NBI investigation.
“All suspects are already under the PNP’s custody. We will wait for the findings of NBI,” said Santos.
“The AFP will also determine if there are SOPs (standard operating procedures) and other system (that were) violated and improve (these) to avoid similar incidents,” Santos also said.
Gamboa appealed for calm amid “speculation and misrepresentation of facts, some possibly done on purpose, that tend to erode the police-military unit by driving a wedge between Sulu PNP and the 11th ID, Philippine Army.”
He said all nine policemen involved are now restricted to quarters at the Sulu PPO to ensure their availability in the probe.
Army spokesman Ramon Zagala said there was no mis-encounter “because the Army intelligence personnel identified themselves as soldiers when they were flagged down by the policemen.
“Mis-encounter, by definition, is friendly forces engaging each other without knowing it, they have mistaken the other side as the enemy when they are friendly forces,” Zagala said.
“Our soldiers clearly identified that they were military (personnel),” said Zagala, referring to the incident in Sulu.
Banac, in an interview over ABS-CBN News Channel, said, “Let me clarify the term `mis-encounter.’ The PNP did not know that the four officers in the SUV were our colleagues. So in that sense there was a mis-encounter because firing against our colleagues can be called a mis-encounter in that sense,” said Banac, however, said that in “military parlance,” mis-encounter would mean “two friendly forces firing at each other.”
“(But) That we really did not know that we actually belong to one unit,” he added.
The police report on the incident released on Tuesday said the policemen were patrolling in Barangay Bus-bus, Jolo town when they spotted a gray Mitsubishi Montero with four men on board at around 2:40 p.m. Monday.
The policemen flagged down the vehicle and accosted its passengers who introduced themselves as members of the AFP. The policemen then instructed the four to proceed to Jolo police station for verification.
Upon reaching the police station, the men tried to escape. After a chase, the men on board the vehicle alighted and pointed their firearms towards the policemen. An exchange of fire led to the death of the four men.
The military said the soldiers parked near the police station. It said Indammog alighted from the vehicle to talk to the policemen but the soldiers were fired upon without any provocation.
Zagala said, “There was no action to flee but he was shot … Capt. Managuelod who was inside the vehicle, he was on his laptop when he was killed. There are many questions as to why they did this but at the end of the day, we believe this is not a mis-encounter,” said Zagala.
Zagala said soldiers who responded saw no policemen at the scene when they arrived at the crime scene. “If they knew that these were not soldiers, why would they leave?”
Asked if the policemen were covering their tracks for immediately withdrawing from the scene and coming up with an erroneous report, Zagala said: “We believe so. Our commanding general has already said that the report is inaccurate, misleading, and to a point he even called it fabricated.”
Banac said based on the official report, said the Army operatives made the proper coordination with the PNP and have identified themselves as from the Armed Forces.
“They should have been allowed (to pass). That’s the normal sequence… But, again it ended in a very unfortunate incident… We want to know the truth, we don’t want to hide anything,” he said.
Banac said the NBI investigation will also cover the allegation that the nine policemen involved in the incident left the crime scene immediately after. He said the proper procedure in such incidents is for the policemen to wait for reinforcement or the crime scene investigators so that the crime scene will be preserved.
“If the crime scene was not taken care of, again this will be subject to another investigation because in handing evidence, we are very strict on this. If this was not done, then again our cops there would be held liable,” Banac said.