MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The Philippine army chief on Tuesday angrily called the fatal police shooting of four soldiers, including two officers, “a rubout” and demanded justice for the killings which the police said ensued from a “misencounter.”
Eduardo Ano, a retired military chief of staff who now oversees the national police as interior secretary, ordered the police involved in Monday’s violence in the southern town of Jolo in Sulu province be disarmed and restricted for investigation.
Police said the soldiers were killed in a “misencounter” with a group of police officers. The army has said that its two officers and two enlisted men were on a mission against Abu Sayyaf militants, including two suspected suicide bombers, when they were flagged down and later fatally shot by police without provocation even after the soldiers identified themselves.
“It was murder,” army commanding general Lt. Gen. Gilbert Gapay told reporters. “There was no misencounter ... it was a rubout.”
The violence reflects the often-complicated conditions under which the campaign against the Abu Sayyaf and its allied foreign and local militants has been waged by the military, with backing from the police, for about three decades. The on and off offensives have considerably weakened the Abu Sayyaf, which is blacklisted by the U.S. and the Philippines as a terrorist group, but it remains a national security threat.
“This is a very unfortunate incident that should have not happened,” Ano said. Aside from a police investigation he said he would ask the National Bureau of Investigation, Manila’s counterpart to the FBI, to carry out an inquiry.
An initial police report said Jolo police were on patrol with anti-illegal drug agents in the town’s Bus-Bus village when they spotted an SUV with “four armed male persons,” whom they stopped. The four were directed to drive to the Jolo police station “for verification” but when they arrived there, “the said persons fled,” the report said.
Police chased the four, who got out and pointed their guns at police.
“Before they could pull the trigger, the Philippine National Police personnel were able to shoot them in defense,” sparking an exchange of shots that killed “the four suspects,” the police said.
Gapay said he was enraged when he read the initial police report on the shootings, describing it as “fabricated, full of inconsistencies. It’s like in the movies and very misleading.”
The soldiers did not fire a single shot and the nine policemen involved, who did not sustain any injuries, fled after gunning them down in a breach of police protocol, Gapay said, citing witnesses and security camera video.
Gapay said the police chiefs of Jolo town and Sulu should be removed from their posts during the investigation, adding that he did not want to create any animosity with the country’s police force.
“It was very tense in Jolo last night, our troops, everybody were really agitated, but, you know, we are very professional,” he said.
An army officer with knowledge of what happened told The Associated Press that while being tailed by a van of policemen, the soldiers stopped and one of the officers got out of their SUV with his hands up, apparently to indicate he had no hostile intent.
But the police opened fire and killed the four soldiers, who were in casual clothes, for still unexplained reasons, said the army officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the delicate nature of what transpired.