MANILA (2nd UPDATE) — The military on Tuesday contradicted the police's account of a gunfight between their troops that left 4 soldiers dead in the rebel stronghold of Sulu province, based on a document obtained by ABS-CBN News.
For Philippine Army Chief Lt. Gen. Gilbert Gapay, the death of his soldiers was no less than murder.
“This was not a misencounter. This was murder. This was a rubout," Gapay said as he received the remains of the soldiers on Wednesday
The 4 soldiers led by a certain "Maj. Indammog" were conducting an operation against 2 suspected suicide bombers of the Abu Sayyaf group and were on board a van when they were flagged at a police checkpoint midway to Jolo town proper, according to a progress report submitted to the military headquarters.
The troops agreed to let the military van pass and stop by at the Jolo police station, said the report, which quoted a motorcycle-riding witness who tailed the soldiers.
The soldiers parked some 50 meters away from the station and a police car parked behind their van. Policemen disembarked from their car and "confronted" Indammog when he came out of the van unarmed, the witness said, as quoted by the report.
While the 2 groups were talking, a policeman shot Indammog "without provocation" and other PNP personnel fired at the soldiers who were still inside the van.
Gapay said his men were not armed.
The police car left the area immediately after the incident, said the report.
The 5 policemen involved had been placed under the custody of Sulu police chief Col. Michael Bawayan, the report added.
Police earlier said the soldiers who were not wearing their uniform and were on board a sports utility vehicle sped past a checkpoint. They allegedly pointed their guns at policemen, which prompted the clash.
The Philippine Army said Tuesday it was "enraged" and would demand for a "full-blown" investigation into the soldiers' killing.
"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," Army chief Lt. Gen. Gilbert Gapay said in a statement.
"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."
The National Bureau of Investigation in Zamboanga is looking into the incident, according to Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra and Major Arvin John Encinas, spokesperson of the military's Western Mindanao Command.
The military does not consider the incident as a "misencounter" as the soldiers and policemen were able to talk to each other before the shooting, Encinas said.
The slain soldiers had ranks of major, captain, sergeant and corporal, according to Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, commander of the military's Western Mindanao Command.
The remains of three of the soldiers were brought back to Luzon, while the corporal from Sulu has been buried, Encinas said. All were members of the Army's Intelligence group, he added.
--With reports from Chiara Zambrano, Leizel Lacastesantos and Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News