PNP sacks general, 14 others over slay

PNP sacks the police chief of Calabarzon and head of the region's special operations group following the suspicious deaths of two serial bank robbers

QUESTIONS. Philippine National Police Chief Alan Purisima, left, says there are many unanswered questions regarding the July 15 incident. Photo by Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine National Police (PNP) has relieved 15 police officials and men, including the regional director of Calabarzon, following the suspicious deaths of two convicted serial bank robbers in San Pedro, Laguna on Monday, July 15.

According to PNP Chief Alan Purisima, those relieved “are floating [and] are assigned in the [administrative] holding unit while being investigated.”

Among those relieved were Chief Supt Benito Estipona, regional director of Calabarzon, and Supt Danilo Mendoza, head of the PNP regional special operations group (RSOG) in the same region.

Named OIC for Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon) was Chief Supt. Jesus Gatchalian.

It was Estipona and Mendoza who reportedly ordered two captured members of the notorious Ozamis criminal gang to be brought to a police headquarters in Cavite, defying Purisima’s orders to bring them straight to the New Bilibid Prisons (NBP) in Muntinlupa.

Ricky Cadavero, alleged gang leader who carried the alias Kambal, and his sidekick Wilfredo Panogalinga, alias Kulot, were killed in an alleged ambush in San Pedro, Laguna, hours after they were presented to the media in Camp Crame.

The regional police’s version of what happened was this: armed men on board motorycles tried to rescue the two, who then reportedly grabbed the firearms of their escorts. This prompted other policemen to reportedly fire at their captives, killing them.

The slay raised questions, prompting Interior Secretary Mar Roxas to call for an investigation. 

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima singled out the police commanders on Tuesday, July 16, and asked them to explain the incident.

Purisima said his orders were to take the two to the NBP. But they were taken to the Cavite Provincial Police Office upon the orders of Mendoza and Estipona.

Purisima’s questions

“What should’ve happened from the time of the turnover is already the job of the team leaders. The order was for them to turn over to the BuCor to the NBP. It means, we ordered them to turn the [two] over. That was the story before the press conference even ended,” Purisima told reporters on Wednesday, July 17.

“Part of the investigation is to see if they followed our orders or not.”

Roxas has also coordinated with the Dasmariñas City government officials to secure 5 other suspects detained at the provincial city jail, who are identified with the Cadavero group.

They are expected to be transferred to Camp Crame.

Cadavero and Panogalinga, two high-profile criminals, escaped from state prisons and were recaptured by the PNP.

According to reports submitted by the Cavite PNP, the two were brought to the Cavite Provincial Police Office after a press conference at Camp Crame, supposedly for an inquest proceeding on charges of illegal possession of firearms.

But this could have been done at the NBP, De Lima earlier said.

From Cavite, they were escorted to the PNP-RSOG office in Calamba. While in transit, fellow gang members on motorcycles allegedly started shooting at their vehicle in a supposed attempt to rescue the two. The convicts allegedly grabbed the firearms of two of their 6 police escorts. Cadavero and Panogalinga were shot dead by other policemen.

Mendoza ties? 

Also on Wednesday, Roxas placed the probe under police director Catalino Cuy, currently PNP director for plans and former police chief of Davao. Earlier, the Internal Affairs Service and the Crime Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) were in charge.

The PNP and the National Bureau of Investigation — which is also conducting its own probe — are looking into reports that other police officials were involved in the gang. Other reports said cops received money from the two in exchange for a deal to allow them to go scot free.

“It will be better if I will be given the list of those policemen. Even if it’s just a report, we can check it… We’re checking the background of policemen, we are digging further, we are investigating this. Not just this incident, but further,” Purisima said.

He said the PNP will try to determine “if there’s a need to file criminal charges” against some police officers, giving assurances the PNP “will not hesitate to dismiss [anyone] from the service.”

Cadavero is also reported to have asked specifically for Mendoza when it was time to take him to NBP.

“That is part of the investigation actually, why they wanted to see Col Mendoza. There should be a reason,” Purisima said.

Purisima said the two could have helped the PNP with essential information, saying it appeared the convicts “know too much,” which may have explained their deaths.

“It’s actually a huge loss for the PNP. The opportunity to know some information, their links to law enforcement or links to other people because it seems that they’ve been doing this for a long time and they know too much, which is why this happened to them,” he added. – Rappler.com

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