MANILA, Philippines – The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has not relieved any of the Army soldiers who were at the checkpoint in Atimonan, Quezon, the site of an alleged shootout on January 6 that killed 13.
On Wednesday, January 9, Interior Secretary Manuel “Mar” Roxas announced that the Philippine National Police (PNP) relieved the police officials manning the same checkpoint, but Southern Luzon Command spokesperson Col Generoso Bolina told Rappler that the military has yet to sack any of the 25 Army troops who were also there.
“No one has been relieved. But we are conducting a fact-finding particularly on the shootout,” Bolina said in Filipino. The Solcom chief is Lt Gen Allan Luga.
He said the results of their probe will determine what administrative actions the AFP will take, if any, against the soldiers.
This, after the police sacked by the PNP were found to have committed violations during the operation. Other enlisted personnel who were there during the shooting have also been put under restrictive custody at the PNP regional headquarters in Camp Vicente Lim, Laguna.
Bolina said there has been no such order for their army personnel, although it may change pending the fact-finding report.
“No restrictions to the troops so far, since their presence was legitimate in the site and it is confirmed that the PNP requested their support,” he said in a mix of English and Filipino.
On Sunday, January 6, at least 13 alleged members of a criminal gang involved in illegal activities were killed by the police and the military in what was initially said to be a shootout. Accusations of a rubout has since emerged, triggering a directive by Aquino to fully probe the incident.
Unlike the 15 intelligence operatives of the PNP who were at the checkpoint in civilian clothing — another procedural violation according to PNP chief Director General Alan Purisima — the roughly 25 soldiers present wore their camouflage uniform.
Bolina defended the presence of the military at the checkpoint, saying they had merely followed the PNP’s legitimate request for manpower — the same way the PNP is mandated to grant legitimate requests by the AFP. The motive of setting up the checkpoint, he said, was not theirs, but the PNP’s responsibility.
The fact-finding that the AFP is conducting, Bolina added, is its own and not for submission to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), which has been appointed by President Benigno Aquino III as the sole agency to investigate the incident.
Instead, he said the fact-finding will focus on why Staff Sgt Armando Aranda Lescano was in the vehicle with the alleged criminal gang, and what exactly happened at the checkpoint.
Bolina admitted that they have received initial findings from their own probe, but refused to share details until the full report is ready.
During Roxas’ announcement, he also shared initial findings by the PNP on the incident.
Roxas said that of the two vehicles carrying the 13 men, the first had 186 bullet holes, while the second had 50. He added that most of the bullet holes were from an M-16 gun.
Bolina confirmed that the platoon present carried M-16 guns, but added that it is also a firearm used by the police.
Roxas said the PNP will submit its findings to the NBI by Friday, January 11. – Rappler.com