MANILA - One of the police officers tagged in the shooting death of four soldiers at a checkpoint in Sulu in June had survived an earlier ambush where his superior officer died - an incident that he said triggered his quick draw at the time of the incident.
At a Senate hearing Wednesday, Patrolman Alkajal Mandangan recounted how the supposedly routine checkpoint stop of four Philippine Army intelligence operatives turned deadly on June 29.
Mandangan told the Senate Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs that he fired at Army Major Marvin Indammog, team leader of group of soldiers who were on an anti-terrorism mission, after seeing that he was carrying a firearm.
"Nagulat siya (Indammog) na nandun ako... Nagkaputukan na. Hindi ko na po alam (sino nauna)," the patrol officer said when asked to recall the incident.
(He was surprised that I was there... There was an exchange of gunfire. I don't know who fired first.)
When asked why he was quick to draw his gun at Indammog, who witnesses said was unarmed, Mandangan said: "'Yung CO (commanding officer) ko dati namatay. Ako 'yung wounded kaya naisip ko na isa lang buhay ko."
(My commanding officer before passed away while I was left wounded. I thought that I only have one life.)
"Ayoko na po maulit yung dati," Mandangan said, referring to the ambush he survived.
(I don't want the past to happen again.)
Philippine National Police chief General Archie Gamboa appealed to lawmakers and law enforcement officials to take into consideration the predisposition of the police officer.
"Repeatedly sinabi na ni Mandangan na 'Ayoko na ma-ambush ulit,'" he said.
(Mandangan has been repeatedly saying, 'I don't want to experience another ambush again.')
Gamboa also told members of the Senate panel that some police officers involved in the killing of the 4 soldiers have been wary days before the incident due to an ongoing anti-drug operation in the area.
The incident happened shortly after the police office lost one of its lieutenants after they were ambushed, the PNP chief said.
"Parang ang conclusion nila, na-frame up sila... That was precisely, makikita ninyo 'yung expression ni Mandangan," he said.
(It seems that they concluded that they were framed... That was precisely why Mandangan's reaction was like that.)
Gamboa did not categorically say if Mandangan and other police officials were diagnosed with war shock or trauma.
'A LOT OF SPECULATIONS'
Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gilbert Gapay admonished Gamboa's statement, saying "a lot of speculations" have been made during the hearing.
"Nag-speculate tayo na may drug angle diyan... O sige, baka may nasagasaan tropa namin, pero baka may nag-utos din na tirahin 'yan," he said, noting that the 4 slain soldiers were going after Abu Sayyaf suicide bombers.
(There are speculations about a drug angle... Or maybe our troops stepped on some toes... but there is also a possibility that someone wanted them dead.)
"That is why we urge the immediate filing of cases... We have waited for 2 months already. Justice delayed is justice denied," said Gapay, who was Army commanding general when the incident happened.
He had earlier described the shooting as a "rubout."
"Murder, planting of evidence, and neglect of duty" charges should be filed against the 9 police officials who fired several shots at the unarmed soldiers, he said.
"We cannot ascertain the motive but there was really an intent to kill," he said.
Autopsy reports earlier showed that Indammog and his men were shot several times at the back. The National Bureau of Investigation also said that tests showed that the 4 soldiers did not fire guns during the incident.
Senate Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs chair Sen. Ronald Dela Rosa, a former police chief, said it was illogical for the policemen to bring the soldiers to the police station if they were planning to kill the military men.
"Kung talagang papatayin nila 'yun, sa checkpoint pa lang niratrat na nila 'yun... Hindi mo na dadalhin sa station kasi napakalaking investigation niyan kung papatayin mo sa station," said Dela Rosa.
(If they really wanted to kill the soldiers, they would have killed them at the checkpoint... They would not take them to the police station because there will be a big investigation if the deaths happened inside the station.)
But Dela Rosa noted that there were inconsistencies in the policemen's statement, especially on why Indammog's body was riddled with bullets when Mandangan claims that he did not repeatedly fire at the soldier.
"Tumba na si Indammog, gumagapang lang, bakit may finishing shots ka pa? That can be proven in the autopsy report," Dela Rosa told Mandangan.
(Indammog was down, he was crawling, why did you have to fire finishing shots?)
"Naiintindihan kita na ikaw 'yung agresibo sa trabaho na 'yun dahil pakiramdam ninyo kayo ang mino-monitor ng Army... pero hindi nun jinu-justify bakit babarilin 'yung mga tauhan nila," he said.
(I understand you were aggressive in that incident because you felt that you were being monitored by the Army... but that does not justify the killing of their men.)
Sen. Risa Hontiveros ended the hearing by saying that the case has a lot of loopholes because some camps are not giving the full story.
"I have a feeling there are pieces of the puzzle we don't know," she said.
"We know some of the who but not the why. We need to know who called the shots and why," she said.