"What happened at that mall last week is sad and deplorable."
It is good that President Duterte has ordered that the National Bureau of Investigation be the sole agency authorized to investigate that deadly firefight last Wednesday. The two agencies involved – the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency and the Philippine National Police – described what took place as a misencounter. It claimed the lives of two policemen, two informants and a bystander.
How a supposed-to-be well coordinated "buy bust" operations - initial reports noted that there were two separate operations, one involving the PDEA Special Enforcement Service (SES) and the other the Quezon City District Special Operations Unit(DSOU), both occurring almost at the same time and within the same area of operations - turned into a shootout needs to be determined properly and responsibly. We have to ensure that justice is served and that public confidence in our security forces is restored.
Truth be told, that incident has invited not only public outrage and condemnation but a gnawing feeling that our security forces are not as prepped up to do their work as those leading them would like us to believe.
If we go by the reports, a lot of questions abound. What kind of coordination was undertaken? Buy-bust? Or sell-bust, which is prohibited under existing rules? What were the antecedent facts which formed the basis for these two separate and, yes, supposed-to-be coordinated operations? Who signed off on these? Where and when were these separate operations undertaken? What really happened during the shootout (remember it was still a busy day in a busy and crowded area)? What happened after? Where are the operatives now? What reports did the teams submit to their superiors?
These and other questions will continue to remain in the public space even long after the final NBI report is issued.
Already, loads of speculations have surfaced specially in social media with all kinds of theories polluting the public mind. Napaglaruan (played around) is a theory which has gone viral. The theory is that a drug lord (or a group of drug lords) came around together "releasing" informants to the selected security units, weaving separate stories which formed the basis for the operations. The so-called coordination effort was all part of that ploy to get these armed units to the same place almost at the same time dealing with separate informants who would then signal some kind of resistance or disagreements, triggering the entry of the heavily armed cavalry from the two sides. The idea is to start one killing which then triggers a shoot out before things get cleared out by the higher ups. That is the theory. Sadly, that seems to have taken up wings and gone viral.
Of course, there are others along the way. One is biased against elements of the QCPD especially those belonging to Station 6 in the Batasan area which has jurisdiction over the Ever Gotesco mall complex where the shootout occurred. The speculation is that rogue elements of the station got wind of the operations and injected themselves into the fray. It is very possible, the speculation goes, that part of the Quezon City DSOU contingent were from Station 6 and were able to push the operation to the extreme, sacrificing in the process the bemedalled policemen who were in the frontlines.
These and other stories will continue to fester as authorities get to the bottom of this incident. Suffice it to say that this is yet another black mark not only on the administration's war on drugs but equally on our security forces most of whom are dedicated and professional public servants. This comes just months after that other "misencounter" in Sulu which took the lives of four key army intelligence officers out to arrest if not entirely eliminate a number of notorious ASG operatives including two high ranking officials.
Their death at the hands of nine policemen, described by then AFP Chief Gilbert Gapay, as cold-blooded murder, not a shootout as earlier claimed by the Sulu PNP leadership, remains unresolved up to this day. Justice has been grinding so slowly it may even be stopped dead on its track as the murderers were released from preventive custody by the PNP and are now nowhere to be found. It will truly be sad and highly deplorable if the same happens in this latest misencounter.