MILITARY officials are moving to calm down the division-sized troops deployed in Sulu in the aftermath of the “killing” of four soldiers, including two Army junior officers, by members of the Jolo Municipal Police Station.
Defense Secretary Delfin Loren-zana said emotion still runs high over the death of the four soldiers on Monday in what the police claimed was a “misencounter,” but which Army chief Lt. Gen. Gilbert Gapay has called a “murder” or “rubout.”
“The event happened just the other day and emotions are high among the Army troops. The Army leadership in Sulu [is] trying hard to calm their people while the inquiry is going on,” said Lorenzana, who earlier described the incident as “unfortunate.”
The defense secretary said the principle of command responsibility must stop “somewhere” following the call of Gapay for the administrative relief of the chief of police of Jolo and the provincial director of Sulu.
“While there is the principle of command responsibility, it must be carefully determined how high in the hierarchy should accountability be. It has to stop somewhere,” he said.
The defense chief said it would not be good to speculate on what happened, given the conflicting reports of both sides, which should allow the National Bureau of Investigation to conduct and finish its investigation into the incident.
National Police chief General Archie Gamboa has given his personal assurance to Armed Forces Chief of Staff General Felimon Santos Jr. that the police will cooperate in the ongoing probe, with the involved policemen already been disarmed of their guns and restricted to quarters.
Both Gamboa and Santos are in Cebu on Wednesday attending the meeting of the regional inter-agency task force, which is working on ways to contain the increasing number of Covid-19 cases in the province that is under enhanced community quarantine.
NBI in charge
There had been speculation that the policemen may have interfered with the mission of the soldiers, who were tracking alleged suicide bombers.
“I have talked with General Gamboa and his commitment is full cooperation with the investigation of NBI as we agreed. All suspects are already under PNP’s custody. We will wait for the findings of NBI,” Santos said.
“The AFP will also determine if there are SOPs [standard operating procedures], and other system violated and improve the same to avoid similar incidents,” the top military chief said.
The Army believed that its four men were killed by the policemen, who had earlier flagged them down at a checkpoint and directed to proceed to the Jolo police station for further verification, which the soldiers did.
Gapay described the incident as a rubout and not a misencounter, citing initial reports and the confluence of events before and after the alleged “shootout” as earlier claimed by the Jolo police.
Lorenzana understood the outbursts of the Army chief.
“He is just repeating the reports he got from our people on the ground,” he said.
Echoing the line of Gapay, Army spokesman Col. Ramon Zagala said the involved policemen may be covering their acts over the incident as he cited circumstances and even procedures, which they failed to follow before and after the death of the soldiers.
“Our commanding general has already said that the report is inaccurate, misleading, to a point, he even called it fabricated because within an hour they were able to send it out,” Zagala told ANC, referring to the report by the police.
Senate probe sought
The Senate was urged to initiate an investigation into the incident.
Sen. Francis Pangilinan said in a statement, “This incident is alarming. The anti-terror bill is not even a law yet now, and things like this happen. What is the recourse of ordinary citizens” who may be victims of abusive authorities, as critics of the enrolled bill fear.
“An independent and impartial investigation will help bring out the truth so that the victims and their families find justice,” he added.
Based on initial reports, Pangilinan noted at least two versions of the incident are coming from the military and police.
According to one, the slain four Army intelligence men, including a major and a captain, were trying to locate a suspected foreign suicide bomber believed to be with the local Abu Sayyaf Group when their vehicle was stopped at a police checkpoint in Jolo.
Despite identifying themselves and clarifying that they were not hostile forces, police personnel still fired at them.
The other version from the police report narrates that Jolo policemen were on patrol with anti-illegal drug agents in Barangay Bus-Bus when they spotted an SUV with four armed men, who later fled. Before the men could pull the trigger, the police shot at them in defense.
“This incident is disturbing because it appears that the police are quick in pulling the trigger without careful judgment. If they can do this to their fellow uniformed men, how much more to the ordinary civilians who are unarmed and defenseless?” Pangilinan said.