4 Army soldiers killed by police in Jolo

Four Army troopers, including two officers, were killed when police in Jolo, Sulu, fired upon them Monday afternoon, with police and military officials giving differing accounts of the incident.

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'MISENCOUNTER'. The bodies of three Philippine Army officers lie alongside their vehicle after a gunfight with police anti-drug operatives on Monday in Jolo, Sulu. Philippine Army photos
An Army statement said its commander, Lt. Gen. Gilbert Gapay, was enraged by the death of four soldiers at the hands of the police and demanded a full-blown investigation.

Gapay, in a separate statement, said that even after the soldiers properly identified themselves, the police 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.

The soldiers killed have been identified as Maj. Marvin Indamog, Capt. Irwin Managuelod, Sgt. Eric Velasco and Cpl. Abdal Asula.

"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.

On the other hand, an initial police report said members of the Jolo Municipal Police Station and the Provincial Drug Enforcement Unit of Sulu were patrolling Barangay Bus-Bus when they spotted a a sports utility vehicle with four armed men who were not wearing uniforms.

They were instructed to go to the Jolo Municipal Police Station for questioning, but upon arriving at the station, they allegedly defied the order and fled.

A chase ensued and when they were cornered in an area in downtown Jolo, those onboard the vehicle disembarked and pointed their firearms at the police, according to the report.

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 suspects," the report said.

The Army has refuted these claims, saying the initial report was “fabricated” and “misleading.”

Army spokesman Col. Ramon Zagala Jr. said the troops could not have engaged the policemen in a firefight as they had "properly coordinated and identified themselves" as soldiers.

Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesman Edgard Arevalo also denied the troops tried to leave the police station.

In a phone interview with CNN Philippines, Armed Forces of the Philippines Western Mindanao Command Chief Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana defended those on board the vehicle saying they were AFP personnel assigned to the 11th Infantry Division and were on an official mission.

Another photo shows no visible firearms near the bodies of the soldiers. Philippine Army photos
Sobejana said the vehicle the soldiers were riding was initially stopped at a PNP checkpoint where they immediately identified themselves as soldiers, and the parties agreed to have the soldiers go to the police station to clear things.

Citing several versions of the incident, Sobejana said he asked the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to investigate what really happened to ensure impartiality.

“We don't want any escalation of hostilities out of the incident. Our interest is to know the facts and [to make sure] justice is given," he added.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana described the incident as "very unfortunate," but declined to comment while an inquiry was in progress.

Philippine National Police (PNP) spokesman Police Brig. Gen. Bernard Banac described the incident as “a case of misencounter.”

"Yes, we consider it as misencounter, a case where our cops might not have been able to identify properly those soldiers [as] our colleagues... This is really just an unfortunate incident... for maybe lack of proper identification and lack of communication between and among ourselves," Banac told CNN.

"This thing could have been prevented. This is a big lesson for us. We will take this seriously so this won't happen again.”

Banac said the PNP would fully cooperate with the NBI.

The police involved in the shooting have been disarmed and placed in the custody of the Sulu Provincial Police Office.

Senator Ronald Dela Rosa— who previously served as chief PNP— urged ground commanders on both sides to “diffuse tensions and prevent it from escalating” pending results of a probe. He also offered to mediate between the police and the military.

Malacañang declined to comment on the incident but presidential spokesman Harry Roque said President Rodrigo Duterte might visit the wake of the soldiers.

Th remains of the slain army personnel were flown to Manila on Tuesday afternoon.

The Department of Justice has ordered the NBI to investigate the incident.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said he expects the NBI to submit an initial report of its investigation of the incident in 10 days.

Guevarra said the NBI's Zamboanga regional office will look into the incident after the agency was asked to step in to ensure impartiality in the investigation.

Their remains were later flown to Villamor Air Base in Pasay City and given military honors. Philippine Army photos
In a statement, Banac, said the PNP and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) have agreed that the NBI Regional Office in Zamboanga City will conduct and lead the investigation to ensure impartiality and eliminate any suspicion of undue influence.

"As an immediate administrative action, all personnel involved in the incident, particularly from the Jolo MPS (Municipal Police Station) are restricted to quarters in preparation for the NBI’s investigation," Banac said.

Rep. Manuel Cabochan III of Magdalo Party-list group on Tuesday supported the call for an independent and impartial investigation into the incident.

"It seems that the police are fast in pulling the trigger but lack the exercise of careful judgement. This is worrying because if this can happen to soldiers what more to ordinary civilians," Cabotchan said.

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Topics: Philippine Army , Philippine National Police , Gilbert Gapay , Armed Forces of the Philippines , Bernard Banac , Misencounter
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