Senate sets probe of Jolo shooting incident

Three of four soldiers killed by police officers in Jolo, Sulu this week, who were subjected to autopsy completed Tuesday, each suffered from three to eight gunshot wounds, the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) said Thursday.

READ: 4 Army soldiers killed by police in Jolo

SHOOTOUT OR RUBOUT? This undated handout photo received from the Army on June 30, 2020 shows bodies of slain soldiers lying next to a vehicle in Jolo, Sulu. The Army accused police of shooting to death the 4 soldiers. Authorities were investigating whether it was a case of rubout or misencounter. AFP
READ: Philippines probes deadly police shooting of soldiers 

In the Senate, Senator Risa Hontiveros filed a resolution calling for an investigation of the incident, with another opposition senator, Francis Pangilinan, saying the Senate should probe the shooting to give justice to the victims.

NBI Deputy Director Ferdinand Lavin said a forensic examination showed one soldier suffered eight gunshot wounds. He said three gunshot wounds were found on the other two.

The bodies of the three -- Major Marvin Indamog, Captain Irwin Managuelod and Sergeant Eric Velasco -- were brought to Manila on Tuesday. The body of the fourth soldier, Corporal Abdal Asula, was immediately buried in accordance with Islamic tradition.

Meanwhile, Lavin said agents from NBI Western Mindanao immediately inspected the crime scene at downtown Jolo, upon their arrival on Tuesday.

Lavin said the NBI found two or three eyewitnesses who claimed they were near the site when the shooting happened.

However, statements of the witnesses should be properly assessed and counter-checked from the pieces of tangible evidence collected so far, he said.

Hontiveros said the Jolo shooting further fed the public’s distrust toward the PNP since this was not the first time this happened.

She cited the incident of Winston Ragos, another former military man gunned down by members of the police in Quezon City last April in the middle of the lockdown in Metro Manila.

“Our policemen should not be trigger-happy,” Hontiveros said.

In the resolution, Hontiveros said the two recent incidents demonstrated a disturbing pattern of police behavior that requires long-term strategic measures and legislative action.

“Extensive reform has to be done to restore the public’s trust in our institutions,” she urged.

Hontiveros also cited Philippine Army spokesperson Colonel Ramon Zagala’s statements saying none of the AFP personnel fired a single shot, amid reports the incident was a “misencounter.”

“Colonel Zagala revealed that the roughly nine police officers who shot at the soldiers fled the scene instead of cordoning off the area and calling for Scene of the Crime Operatives.”

“The police gunned down unarmed plainclothes soldiers, who could easily have been innocent civilians.”

She pointed out that the PNP had a lot to do to live up to its motto to serve and protect. “Our law enforcers should preserve peace in our communities, not disturb it,” she added.

Pangilinan said an independent and impartial investigation would help bring out the truth so that the victims and their families would find justice.

Based on initial reports, Pangilinan noted at least two versions of the incident coming from the military and police.

According to one, the slain four Army intelligence men 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.

Amid the encounter, the senator also called on military and police ground commanders to rein in their men to preserve peace and avert escalation of tension between the armed personnel.

“We should be going after the common enemy -- terrorists, drug lords, armed groups, and in this time of the pandemic, COVID -- not against each other,” Pangilinan said.

NBI agents also started looking for CCTV footage in some establishments and houses near the shooting site, where the incident might have been recorded.

Lavin gave assurances the investigation would be impartial and objective, telling both sides, the Sulu Police personnel and the soldiers, that they would be heard.

Police Colonel Michael Bawayan, the director of Sulu Provincial Police Office, said he welcomed the third-party investigation led by NBI.

He said this would erase doubts on the integrity and credibility of investigation reports. 

READ: Rody ‘extremely sad’ over Jolo shooting, orders speedy probe

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