MANILA - The Philippine Army on Wednesday disputed the police's claim that the killing of 4 soldiers by policemen in Jolo was a "misencounter."
The soldiers were pursuing the trail of Abu Sayyaf bombmakers in the rebel stronghold on Monday afternoon when policemen fired at them some meters away from the Jolo Municipal Police Station, the Army earlier said.
The operation was "properly coordinated" with the Philippine National Police as they are part of a joint intelligence group in the region, according to Army spokesman Col. Ramon Zagala.
The soldiers, led by Major Marvin Indammog, identified themselves at a police checkpoint and complied with the cops when they were told to proceed to the police station, Zagala said.
"We believe this is not a misencounter. In the first checkpoint if they had doubts they should have held them there and requested for colleagues they know to proceed at the checkpoint and then they will be verified," he told ANC.
Indammog also spoke Tagalog to the policemen at the checkpoint, which would have indicated he was military like most of those who do not know the dialect in the area, Zagala added.
"We are really perplexed why the police did this. The PNP is our partner in anything we do. We have shared responsibilities and goals and mission, especially in this one, terrorism. We are saddened by this. We’re not generalizing the whole PNP, just in this incident," he said.
"How can their leaders let this happen? There is something wrong in their procedures, in the way they communicate."
PNP spokesman Brig. Gen. Bernard Banac, however, said the policemen "didn’t know that the 4 officers onboard the SUV were our colleagues."
"In that sense there was a misencounter because firing against our colleagues can be called misencounter," he told ANC.
"But we know that misencounter really means - in military parlance - that means 2 forces firing at each other that didn’t know they actually belong to 1 unit. But initially the report of the police, since it's already official cannot just be changed. That is why it’s being subjected to an investigation."
The soldiers parked some 50 meters away from the station and a police car parked behind their van, according to a progress report submitted to the military headquarters. Policemen disembarked from their car and "confronted" Indammog when he came out of the van unarmed, a witness said in the report.
Zagala said the witness is an intelligence officer trailing the soldiers' vehicle. The soldiers were about to join other troops in pursuing the Abu Sayyaf rebels.
A policeman shot Indammog who was "unarmed and his arms were raised", Zagala said, citing information from the witness. Other policemen then fired at the other soldiers who alighted as well as one soldier who was still inside the vehicle, he added.
The police car left the area immediately after the incident, according to the progress report. Army troops arrived at the crime scene some 10 minutes later and saw only one policeman near the station, Zagala said.
The Army cast doubt on the police's report on the incident as this was released only an hour after the shooting happened, Zagala noted.
Philippine Army Chief Lt. Gen. Gilbert Gapay earlier described the police report as "fabricated", "full of inconsistencies" and "misleading", and described the killing of his men as a "rubout."
"Our commanding general said that the report is inaccurate, misleading, to a point even called it fabricated. Because they were able to send it out and media already had the report while we were still thinking what happened, finding out what happened," Zagala said.
"(The report says) they killed suspected armed men. Why did you leave? Isn’t that already a score for you? So that means they knew they were military."
'Something wrong' with PNP procedures
The PNP should look into threat analysis and situational awareness before pulling the trigger, Zagala said, recalling an incident last April when policemen at a checkpoint killed former soldier Winston Ragos who suffered from post-traumatic stress.
He noted policemen did not listen to bystanders that Ragos had PTSD before shooting him.
"We believe that these PNP officers in both situations did not, did not do threat analysis, did not have situational awareness...For Ragos, the situational awareness they did not use,was the environment, the citizens telling them he has PTSD. They did not listen."
"These are the things that all law enforcement agencies using firearms should need to study well before using firearms."
The National Bureau of Investigation last month filed charges against policemen involved in Ragos' death.
The military again sought the NBI's help in probing the latest incident between the 2 law enforcement agencies.
'Very big lesson' for PNP
The PNP has "noted" the Army's observation and the incident will serve as a "very big lesson" for the agency, Banac said.
"Trigger a review of our policies and training and handling of firearms and conducting of our checkpoints is concerned," he said.
"It’s very unfortunate something like this happened. We really express our sorrow, sadness and condole with the families of the slain soldiers."
The 9 policemen involved in the incident has been detained at the Jolo Provincial Police and will face the NBI's investigation, he added.
The PNP is also studying calls for the sacking of the regional police's director and the town's police chief while its Internal Affairs Office will launch its own administrative proceeding against the officers, according to Banac.