FOUR soldiers were killed by policemen manning a checkpoint following an alleged confrontation and a chase Monday afternoon in Jolo, Sulu.
This was confirmed by Armed Forces of the Philippines-Western Mindanao Command (AFP-Westmincom) Commander Lt. General Cirilito Sobejana.
The fatalities were identified as Major Marvin Indamog, Captain Irwin Managuelod, Sgt. Eric Velasco, and Cpl. Abdal Asula both members of the Philippine Army Intelligence Group.
Reports reaching Camp Crame showed the incident occurred at around 2:40 p.m. in Sitio Marina, Barangay Walled City, Jolo.
According to the Sulu police initial report, Jolo municipal cops and a policeman assigned to the Sulu Provincial Drug Enforcement Unit spotted a Gray Montero SUV boarded by four armed men.
The soldiers were accosted and confronted by policemen manning the checkpoint wherein they introduced themselves as members of the AFP.
The cops stopped the soldiers’ vehicle and ordered them to go to the Jolo police station “for verification.”
However, after arriving in the police station the soldiers suddenly fled towards the direction of Martirez, Bgy. San Raymundo in Jolo, Sulu.
When the PNP personnel chased them, the soldiers allegedly disembarked from their vehicle, lifted and pointed their guns to the PNP personnel but before they could pull the trigger, they were shot by the policemen resulting in their sudden death.
“When the PNP personnel chased them, the said persons disembarked at 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 ensued which resulted in the death of the four armed men,” the PNP report said.
AFP-Westmincom Commander Lt. General Cirilito Sobejana said the soldiers were performing a legitimate operation based on information relayed to him by the 11th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army.
Sobejana added they will ask the National Bureau of Investigation to conduct an investigation regarding the matter.
PNP Spokesman Brig. Gen. Bernard Banac said all the policemen involved in the fatal shooting have been ‘restricted to quarters’ as part of preparations for the investigation that will be conducted by NBI.
Banac added the PNP ordered Police Brig. Gen. Manuel Abu, Regional Director of PROBAR to give all administrative and operational support to NBI that they will be needing for the investigation.
Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said they will let the NBI do the probe on the incident.
The Defense Chief described the incident as very unfortunate.
Lorenzana, however, declined to issue any more additional comments on the issue pending the ongoing investigation on the incident.
"Very unfortunate incident. No additional comments (for now) while (the) inquiry is ongoing. The reports coming in are still very hazy," Lorenzana said in a message to reporters.
Department of the Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año, meanwhile, said the incident should have not happened as 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. I already gave instructions to (PNP chief) 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)," he added.
Meanwhile, the Philippine Army said its commander, Lt. Gen. Gilbert Gapay, is enraged over the incident.
"The Commanding General, Philippine Army is enraged and demands that a full-blown investigation must be conducted on the death of four soldiers from the hands of PNP forces," Army spokesperson, Col. Ramon Zagala, said in a statement Tuesday.
Gapay, in a separate statement, said that even after properly identifying themselves, the police personnel approached and fired on them for still unknown reasons.
"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," Gapay said.
He added that there were no agents from the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency involved and the mission was not an anti-drug operation.
"The Army grieves and condoles with the families of our fallen men. There will be no let-up in our quest for truth and justice," Gapay said.
The leaderships of the Philippine National Police and Armed Forces of the Philippines have allowed the NBI to step in after both sides gave conflicting versions.
“Nag-usap na po ang hepe ng Philippine National Police, si Police General Archie Gamboa, at ang ating AFP Chief of Staff si Gen. Felimon Santos Jr., at nagkasundo sila na hingin nga po ang tulong ng National Bureau of Investigation upang magkaroon ng separate at impartial, independent investigation dito,” Brig. Gen. Edgard Arevalo, AFP spokesperson, said in a television interview over CNN Philippines.
For his part, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra confirmed the NBI's participation in investigating the fatal incident.
"I understand that the police and the military have agreed to let the NBI handle the investigation of the alleged misencounter in Jolo. The (NBI) regional office will handle that. I need to ask the NBI OIC chief if a department order will still be necessary, " Guevarra said.
The local office of the NBI in Zamboanga City was already dispatched to start the investigation.
Initial reports from the Sulu Provincial Police Office said the policemen involved claimed self-defense, after the soldiers supposedly lifted and pointed their firearms first to the police.
The report added that the incident occurred when the soldiers allegedly tried to flee the police station after they were brought in for questioning.
The Army, however, refuted the claims, calling the initial police report as “fabricated” and “misleading.”
Army Spokesman Col. Ramon Zagala Jr. maintained that the troops could not have engaged the policemen in a firefight as they had "properly coordinated and identified themselves" as soldiers.
Arevalo also denied the troops tried to leave the police station.