BY VICTOR REYES and RAYMOND AFRICA
AN enraged Army chief Lt. Gen. Gilbert Gapay yesterday described as “murder” and “rubout” the killing of four Army intelligence personnel, including two officers, in Jolo town in Sulu on Monday.
“We’re enraged and you know we’re frustrated with what happened to the Army personnel who were murdered by the policemen in Jolo. First, there was never a firefight, no gunfight, our men never fired a single shot,” Gapay said.
He said they have witnesses and CCTV footage to prove this.
“It was murder, it is murder,” he said in an interview at the Villamor Air Base in Pasay City, after the arrival of the remains of three of the four fatalities.
Gapay shut down pronouncements by the the PNP that the incident was a “mis-encounter.”
“There is no mis-encounter. Our troops did not fire a shot… If there was mis-encounter, exchange of fire, do you think no policeman will be hit? There was no mis-encounter, it was a rubout,” said Gapay.
Gapay called for the relief of the chief of the Jolo town police chief and the Sulu provincial for command responsibility, and said the policemen involved should be “punished to the max.”
“We are invoking command responsibility here, from the municipal police station commander to the provincial commander of the PNP in Sulu as a minimum because commanders should be on top always of the situation. They are responsible for what their men (did) so we are also invoking command responsibility here,” said Gapay.
Gapay earlier yesterday said the four soldiers who were on official mission were killed without provocation by policemen manning a checkpoint in Jolo, Sulu.
But a police report said the four, who identified themselves as soldiers after they accosted by patrolling policemen, triggered a gunfight by fleeing instead of going to the Jolo municipal police station as requested by the policemen.
The military said there was no firefight.
AFP chief Gen. Felimon Santos Jr. and PNP chief Gen. Archie Gamboa have agreed to let the NBI investigate the incident.
The NBI probe started on Monday night, said Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, chief of the AFP’s Western Mindanao Command. He said there are “several versions” of the incident and a spot report of the police is “a little disturbing.”
The fatalities were identified as Maj. Marvin Indammog, commander of the 9th Intelligence Security Unit in Sulu, and his men, Capt. Irwin Managuelod, Sgt. Jaime Velasco, and Cpl. Abdal Asula.
Indammog is from the Philippine Military Academy Class of 2006 and Managuelod from Class 2009.
Gapay, in the ambush interview, lambasted the PNP spot report released by the police on Monday night that he said put the soldiers in a bad light.
“What we’re angry about is that spot report yesterday, its really very unbelievable… really full of lies, fabricated, misleading, full of inconsistencies,” said Gapay.
Gapay said the slain soldiers were tailing two Abu Sayyaf bombers at that time.
“We are just pinpointing the exact area where this happened. Imagine the opportunity there. Two bombers who were supposed to be captured and neutralized, escaped. You know the potential of these two bombers of sowing terror and executing terrorist attack again, its a missed opportunity,” he said.
Gapay said the situation in Jolo town on Monday was “very tense.”
He said troops were “restless” but they won’t get back at the policemen because “we are very professional.”
“Kudos to our commadners who were able to control emotions in Jolo last night and even up to today. No untoward incident happened, so we are that professional. Emotions dont get in our way,” he said.
Sobejana and Gapay said the soldiers were on official mission.
“Whatever is the reason they were shot by the policemen, we’re having that investigated… What we are sure of is that the four soldiers were doing their job… They were on official mission,” Sobejana said.
Gapay, before the interview, said the soldiers “were on a mission to identify the location of known terrorists in the area.”
“Based on eyewitness accounts, no altercation transpired between the two parties nor was there any provocation on the part of Army personnel to warrant such carnage,” he also said.
Gapay disputed a report from the PNP that the policemen were with anti-narcotics personnel and were supposedly on an anti-drug operation.
A report from the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) Police Regional Office said policemen from the Jolo Municipal Police Station and the Provincial Drug Enforcement Unit of Sulu 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.
The policemen flagged down the vehicle and accosted its passengers who introduced themselves as members of the Armed Forces. The policemen then instructed the four to proceed to Jolo police station for verification. Upon reaching the police station, the men escaped aboard their vehicle.
“When the PNP personnel chased them, the said persons disembarked from their vehicle with their firearms. Subsequently, the said persons lifted and pointed their firearms towards the PNP personnel. However, before they could pull the trigger, the PNP personnel were able to shoot them in defense, thus an exchange of gunfire which resulted in the death of the four armed men,” the report said.
The four men died on the spot, the BARMM police report said. It did not say if there were policemen-casualties.
PNP spokesman Brig. Gen. Bernard Banac said the PNP is extending its condolences to the families of the slain soldiers during that “unfortunate incident of a mis-encounter” in Jolo, Sulu.
Banac also said all the policemen involved in the incident have been restricted to quarters.
He also said the BARMM police report did not say how man policemen were involved and who fired their guns.
Asked if he considers the incident as a “mis-encounter,” he said, “Yes we consider this a mis-encounter — a case where our cops might not have been able to identify properly those soldiers are our colleagues, part of the security forces. So, this is really just a very unfortunate incident.”
He said strict coordination will always be observed to prevent similar incidents from happening in the future.
The remains of Indammog, Managuelod and Velasco were airlifted yesterday afternoon to Villamor Air Base in Pasay City where they were given arrival honors.
Asula’s remains remained in Sulu where burial rites were held.
Gapay said, “Today we honor and remember their sacrifices for the country. We mourn and condole with their bereaved families and we ensure that the necessary assistance will be given to them.”
Gapay described the killing of the four soldiers as a “tragedy” and a “great loss for our pursuit of peace in the Sulu region.”
“The Philippine Army is strongly demanding for an impartial investigation to get to the bottom of this without any intention to create animosity between the Army and the PNP.
However, we are a professional organization and we will not let this pass. The Army seeks that justice be served for our fallen heroes,” said Gapay.
Army spokesman Col. Ramon Zagala said the Army chief “is enraged and demands that a full-blown investigation must be conducted on the death of four soldiers in the hands of PNP forces.”
Citing reports from the field, Zagala said the Army intelligence personnel “were hot on the trail of Abu Sayyaf members, bomb makers, and suicide bombers in Sulu province” at that time.
Zagala said the team was flagged down by the Jolo town policemen who were manning a checkpoint at around 2 p.m.
“Even after properly identifying themselves, the police personnel approached and fired at them for still unknown reasons,” said Zagala.
Sobejana, told of the PNP report, said there are “several versions” of the incident.
“It’s so very sketchy as of now, that’s why I requested the National Bureau of Investigation to investigate to uphold impartiality, determine the facts and give justice to the four soldiers who were killed,” he said.
Sobejana declined to further comment, saying the NBI investigation has started.
“The spot report is a little disturbing but I do not want to comment against it… We decided to have it investigated by a third party. If we are going to speak, it may preempt the result of the investigation,” said Sobejana.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said the NBI regional office in Zamboanga City is handling the investigation.
“I’ll expect an initial results in 10 days,” he added.
AFP spokesman Brig. Gen. Edgard Arevalo said Indammog’s group introduced themselves as soldiers when they were flagged down by the the policemen at the checkpoint in Barangay Bus-bus.
Arevalo said the policemen asked for the identification cards of the soldiers as they were in civilian attire, which Arevalo was required in the operation that they were conducting.
Arevalo said the soldiers were then told to proceed to the Jolo police station about 500 meters away from the checkpoint “for further identification.” The soldiers were escorted by a police vehicle.
‘COPS OPENED FIRE’
Arevalo said the soldiers did not stop in front of the police station for security reasons.
“They moved further away from the police station,” said Arevalo of the soldiers who stopped near the town’s fire station, about 50 meters away from the police station.
Arevalo said Indammog alighted from the vehicle to talk to the policemen who, however, opened fire. Arevalo said the rest of the soldiers were inside the vehicle during the incident.
Arevalo said the soldiers did not escape or tried to escape, contrary to the statement of the police. “They have no bad intention, except they moved a little further from that the exact spot of the police station.”
Arevalo also disputed the PNP claim that the soldiers attempted to draw their firearms. He said it was “clear that there was no firefight that occurred.”
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said it was a “very unfortunate incident” but declined to further comment.
Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, a former Armed Forces chief, said he has ordered Gamboa to disarm the policemen involved in the shooting.
“This is a very unfortunate incident that should have not happened. The AFP and the PNP have been working closely in the fight against the terrorists. I want to know what really happened and no stone must be left unturned,” said Año.
“I already gave instructions to Police Gen. Archie Gamboa to disarm the policemen involved, restrict them under the custody of the Sulu provincial director. They will be investigated by the CIDG (Criminal Investigation and Detection Group) and I will request a parallel investigation by the NBI,” said Año. – With Ashzel Hachero