MANILA, Philippines – In that final moment when intelligence officer Major Marvin Indammog got off the car to speak with the police who had accosted him and his men, he held his empty hands up in a gesture of peace. Still, the cops shot him on the spot, and he fell to the pavement face down, his hands still raised in surrender.
Philippine Army spokesperson Colonel Ramon Zagala shared this detail of the June 29 incident in Jolo, Sulu, that killed 4 soldiers of their intelligence unit, who had been tracking down two suspected bombers of the Abu Sayyaf terror group.
“You see that photo of the crime scene? That’s Major Indammog at the rear of the car. He fell the way he was shot, with his hands up,” Zagala told Rappler on Tuesday, June 30.
An Army officer who spoke on condition of anonymity told Rappler that Captain Irwin Managuelod was sitting inside the gray Mitsubishi Montero SUV working on his laptop when the cops shot him.
Western Mindanao military commander Lieutenant General Cirilito Sobejana confirmed to Rappler that Managuelod was aboard the vehicle when he was killed.
Corporal Abdal Asula, who had been driving, and Sergeant Jaime Velasco, who was sitting behind him, got off the car when they heard gunshots – and were then shot dead by the cops, said the officer who asked to be kept anonymous.
“Yes it was murder. It is murder,” Army chief Lieutenant General Gilbert Gapay told reporters after leading arrival honors for the remains of Indammog, Managuelod, and Velasco at Villamor Airbase in Pasay City on Tuesday afternoon, June 30. Asula will be buried in Sulu.
“There is no misencounter. Talagang hindi pumutok ‘yung tropa namin (Our troops really did not fire). It was a rubout,” Gapay said.
There were 9 police involved in the incident. Gapay said 4 or 5 of them shot the soldiers while the others served as their lookout. They all immediately fled the scene.
“SOP (standard operating procedure) ba ‘yun? ‘Di ba ‘pag namatay, you have to cordon the area and wait for SOCO (scene of the crime operatives)? Wala, nagtakbuhan lahat. So ano ibig-sabihin nu’n?” the Army chief said.
(Is that SOP? Isn’t it that when someone is killed, you have to cordon the area and wait for the SOCO? None of that, they all fled. So what does that mean?)
Photo from the Philippine Army
Gapay scored the the police spot report that claimed the 4 soldiers tried to escape after they agreed to report to the Jolo municipal police station, and then aimed weapons at the cops when they were cornered, supposedly forcing the cops to shoot in self-defense.
“We find the report fabricated, full of inconsistencies, parang sine (like a movie), and very misleading,” he said.
Besides, there were witnesses, CCTV footage, and even other Army personnel tailing the group. “It’s SOP,” Gapay said.
The general also took issue with the report stating the victims were “unidentified armed male persons.”
“Sa checkpoint pa lang, kilala nila these are Army personnel, so talagang masama ang loob namin dito,” Gapay said. (Right from the checkpoint, they knew these were Army personnel, so we are really upset over this.)
The officer who spoke on condition of anonymity said it was “impossible” that the cops did not know the 4 victims were soldiers. As police, they would have known the soldiers even if they were in plainclothes because they had been constantly operating in the area.
According to a military report, Indammog, Managuelod, Asula, and Velasco were tracking signals on the hunt for two suspected Abu Sayyaf bombers working with Mundi Sawadjaan, nephew of Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan, the ISIS-linked subleader of the Abu Sayyaf.
The 4 soldiers were from the Army’s 9th Intelligence Service Unit supervised by the 11th Infantry Division.
As they were driving through Barangay Bus-Bus, police flagged them down at a checkpoint, where they introduced themselves as members of the military. Doubting them as they were in civilian clothes, the cops asked them to report to the Jolo municipal station.
The soldiers agreed, and the cops escorted them. When the party reached the police station, the soldiers kept driving about 50 meters further and then stopped in front of the fire bureau station.
The cops then got off their vehicle, as did Indammog who proceeded to speak with them.
Then the cops shot Indammog and his men.
Indammog was a member of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) "Mandala" Class of 2006, and Managuelod, of PMA "Masiglahi" Class of 2009.
Photo by Inoue Jaena/Rappler
The police report claimed the soldiers tried to speed away “towards Martirez, Barangay San Raymundo,” and the cops chased them. The soldiers then supposedly alighted from their SUV and aimed their firearms at the cops, who then shot “in defense.”
An “exchange of fire ensued which resulted in the death of the 4 suspects,” the police report said.
“If there was a gunfight, do you think those cops would have emerged unscathed?” Gapay said.
Gapay said he wants the Jolo municipal station commander and the Sulu provincial police commander sacked.
“We are invoking command responsibility here…because commanders should be on top always of the situation. They are responsible for what their men do,” Gapay added.
Responding to questions about allegations that the incident had to do with illegal drugs, Gapay said it was a “possibility” because drugs are a perennial problem in Jolo, but he did not want to “speculate.”
The military and police top brass have agreed to let the National Bureau of Investigation conduct an “impartial probe.” Gapay said he hopes the probe will uncover the motive behind the killings.
Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, former military chief, has ordered the 9 cops disarmed and detained.
Ultimately, the incident amounts to a “lost opportunity” and a “setback” in the fight against the Abu Sayyaf, said Gapay and Zagala.
Gapay vowed no retaliation from members of the Army even though the troops, especially the ones in Jolo, were “nanggigigil (livid).”
“You know, we are very professional. We do not do that,” Gapay said. – Rappler.com
JC Gotinga often reports about the West Philippine Sea, the communist insurgency, and terrorism as he covers national defense and security for Rappler. He enjoys telling stories about his hometown, Pasig City. JC has worked with Al Jazeera, CNN Philippines, News5, and CBN Asia.