MANILA – Philippine Army (PA) chief Lt. Gen. Gilbert Gapay's comments on the incident where four soldiers were shot and killed by police officers in Sulu were based from a "learned evaluation of information" that was presented to him, the Armed of the Philippines (AFP) said on Wednesday.
"His (Gapay) point of view is supported by spot reports and eyewitness accounts of two civilians and of a motorcycle-riding soldier who was part of the operation trailing the SUV (sports utility vehicle) boarded by the four intelligence personnel," AFP spokesperson Marine Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo said in a message to reporters.
While there is an initial result of the autopsy of the troops' remains, Arevalo said the AFP would not reveal it to avoid preempting its announcement.
"We share the grief of Lt. Gen. Gapay and his call for an impartial and thorough investigation and his quest for justice as he minced no words in calling for accountability and liability for those involved in the incident," he added.
Arevalo said both AFP chief-of-staff, Gen. Felimon Santos Jr. and Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Gen. Archie Gamboa have agreed to revisit each Technique, Tactics, and Procedure (TTPs) to determine if these are current and are followed religiously to prevent the incident from happening again.
Arevalo's remarks were echoed by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.
"He is just repeating the reports he got from our people on the ground. Of course, the event happened just the other day and emotions are high among the Army troops. The Army leadership in Sulu are trying hard to calm their people while inquiry is going on," he said in a message to reporters.
Lorenzana, however, said he would wait first for the results of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) probe before commenting on whether the incident was a case of "murder" or "rubout".
"It’s not good to speculate. The accounts from both sides are conflicting. Let’s wait for the NBI investigation," he added.
Gapay earlier tagged the incident as a "rubout" after noting that the four soldiers did not try to escape after being accosted by policemen and drew their weapons after being cornered.
Lorenzana, meanwhile, said Gapay's calls for the PNP Sulu provincial director and Jolo municipal police station commander to be made accountable for the incident must first be probed.
"While there is the principle of command responsibility, it must be carefully determined how high in the hierarchy should be accountable. It has to stop somewhere," he added.
Lorenzana's views were shared by Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, who said all angles will be looked into in the investigation of the incident.
"I will wait for the investigation to finish first," Año said in a text message.
Killed in Monday's incident were Maj. Marvin A. Indammog, 39; Capt. Irwin B. Managuelod, 33; Sgt. Jaime M. Velasco, 38 and Cpl. Abdal Asula, 33.
The four were tailing four terrorist suicide bombers in the said municipality when the shooting happened.
Meanwhile, Santos said the PNP leadership is ready to cooperate with the NBI regarding the ongoing investigation.
"I have talk(ed) with (PNP chief) Gen. (Archie) Gamboa (and) his commitment is full cooperation with the investigation of NBI as we agreed. All suspects are already under PNPs custody. We will wait for the findings of NBI. The AFP will also determine if there are SOPs (standard operating procedures), procedures and other system(s) violated and improved to avoid similar incidents," he added in a message to reporters.
He has also instructed all concerned staff and subordinate commanders to ensure that the soldiers who died in the line of duty will be given the assistance, benefits and entitlements due them.
"While we are in search for truth and justice, we are also mindful not to allow the enemies of the state to take advantage of the incident to create a divide between the AFP and the PNP," he added.
PNP-IAS to hold separate probe
Meanwhile, the PNP-Internal Affairs Service (IAS) will also conduct a probe on the members of the Jolo Municipal Police Station (MPS) in Sulu who were involved in the incident.
PNP-IAS Inspector General Alfegar Triambulo said he has yet to receive the initial report of the IAS of the Police Regional Office-Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (PRO-BARMM).
"We acted already because it is in the mandate of IAS to conduct motu proprio investigation on this kind of incident. He (PRO-BARMM regional director) said he will submit today pero wala pa ako na-receive na copy ng (but I have to get a copy of the) initial report," Triambulo said in a text message to reporters.
Aside from the IAS, a representative from the National Police Commission and the PRO-BARMM will join the investigation team, he added.
Triambulo said cops involved the incident may face administrative aside from the criminal case based on the investigation made by the NBI.
"Because in handling crime scene and evidence, there is a procedure, we are very strict about this. If this was not done, our cops there would maybe be held again liable for that. When there's a crime scene, there's an incident, the procedure is to secure the crime scene and wait for reinforcement or SOCO (scene of the crime operations) to come in," he said in a television interview. (with reports from Lloyd Caliwan/PNA)