MILITARY officials yesterday disputed allegations of the police chief of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) that one of the four soldiers by slain by nine policemen in Jolo, Sulu in June had links to a drug syndicate.
“That is a obviously a desperate attempt by the assailants to besmirch the reputation of Corporal (Abdal) Asula to justify or to divert the attention away from the senseless killing of the soldiers,” said Armed Forces spokesman Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo.
Asula, Maj. Marvin Indamog, Capt. Irwin Managuelod, and Sgt. Jaime Velasco, all assigned with the 9th Intelligence Security Unit, were shot dead by nine policemen near the Jolo police station on June 29.
The four Army intelligence personnel, aboard a sports utility vehicle, were intercepted earlier in the day by the policemen at a checkpoint while they were tracking bombers from the terrorist Abu Sayyaf Group. Since they were in civilian clothes and could not immediately present identification cards, they were told to proceed to the police station.
The soldiers were fired at by the policemen shortly after they parked about 50 meters from the police station.
An official police report on the incident said the four soldiers “lifted and pointed their firearms towards the PNP personnel.” It said the policemen opened fire before the soldiers could pull the trigger of their firearms, leading to a firefight.
“The police earlier invoked self-defense even if investigation by the NBI and eyewitness accounts clearly showed that there was no unlawful aggression or sufficient provocation to warrant the shooting,” said Arevalo.
“And now, the vilification of one of the slain soldiers. The local police are coming up with all sorts of falsities to attempt to shirk criminal, civil, and administrative responsibilities for the murder of the four AFP personnel,” added Arevalo.
During a Senate hearing on Wednesday, BARMM police director Brig. Gen. Manuel Abu, a member of the Philippine Military Academy Class 1989, said Asula had links to a drug syndicate and several of his relatives have been arrested or killed by policemen in anti-narcotics operations.
Army chief Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana said rumors about Asula’s involvement in drugs spread days after the soldiers’ killing. He said he had that investigated and the information turned out to be false.
“The burden of proof is with them (PNP). They have to prove that Asula is involved in drugs. But as far as we are concerned, we didn’t see any involvement (of Asula)… It was alleged by him, by General Abu, so the burden of proof is with him,” said Sobejana, who was chief of the AFP’s Western Mindanao Command (Wesmincom) when the killing happened.
Wesmincom chief Maj. Gen. Corleto Vinluan said, “We have no information that he (Asula) is involved (with a drug syndicate).”
He added, “Let’s say he (Asula) is a criminal, what they (policemen) did was still wrong.”
Vinluan said allegations that Asula had links with a drug syndicate was merely an attempt to “mitigate what they did.”
Meanwhile, Vinluan said he supports the call made by AFP chief Gen. Gilbert Gapay during the Senate hearing for the NBI to immediately file murder charges against the nine policemen.
Gapay has said the military has been waiting for the filing of the charges for two months already, adding “justice delayed is justice denied.”
Vinluan, then commander of the Joint Task Force Sulu, said the charges should have been filed “long ago.”
The nine policemen are under restrictive custody in Camp Crame. They are Senior Master Sgt. Abdelzhimar Padjiri, Master Sgt. Hanie Baddiri, Staff Sgt. Iskandar Susulan, Staff Sgt. Ernisar Sappal, Cpl. Sulki Andaki, and Pat. Moh Nur Pasani, all of the Jolo municipal police station; and Staff Sgt. Ambudzrin Hadjaruddin, Pat. Ajkajal Mandangan, and Pat. Rajiv Putalan, of the Sulu provincial drug enforcement unit.
Vinluan also said the military can control soldiers to prevent them from exacting revenge, but not the slain soldiers’ relatives, noting they are Tausugs who have a different “culture.”
Asula is the only Muslim among the four slain soldiers. He has a brother who is also an Army soldier.
Vinluan said he has asked Asula’s relatives not to take matters in their own hands, but if the judicial process will take too long, they might resort to “rido,” or clan war.