Two high-ranking military generals said the 4 intelligence soldiers killed by policemen in Jolo, Sulu on June 29 were tracking down 2 female terrorists about to carry out a suicide bombing.
“We were targeting the two female suspects of suicide bombing, and we do not want that bombing incident to happen again in Jolo,” Philippine Army chief Lieutenant General Cirilito Sobejana told a Senate panel on Wednesday, August 19. (READ: Women of the Eastern Caliphate: Hiding in plain sight)
Sobejana was the commander of the military in Western Mindanao when a group of 9 policemen shot the 4 soldiers dead near the Jolo municipal police station. The Senate panel is investigating the incident.
Before the killings, the military told the police and village authorities about the bomb threat to request their help in hunting down the 2 suspects, Colonel Antonio Bautista Jr, the Army unit commander in Sulu, told the Senate panel.
Major General Corleto Vinluan Jr, former head of the military’s Joint Task Force Sulu and now Western Mindanao Command (WesMinCom) commander, said it was he who decided to “publicly announce” the threat.
“Because when I weighed the possible outcome, I asked the intelligence units if they could pinpoint the location of the two female suicide bombers – because they said within 2 days, [the bombing] would be executed,” Vinluan told the Senate panel.
When the intelligence group told Vinluan they could not “pinpoint” the suspects’ whereabouts, he instructed Bautista to talk to the area’s barangay captains, the Jolo mayor, the local police chief, and the provincial police director to “announce” the threat.
“Kasi kung hindi mo ma-announce ito, baka ‘pag sasabog – eh mas maganda ‘yung na-compromise ‘yung operation instead na ma-execute yung bombing,” Vinluan said. (Because if you fail to announce this, if an explosion does happen – well, it’s better to compromise the operation than to let the bombing be executed.)
The 4 slain Army intelligence soldiers – Major Marvin Indammog, Captain Irwin Managuelod, Sergeant Jaime Velasco, and Corporal Abdal Asula – were on a roving signals intelligence mission to track down the two would-be suicide bombers.
The Army earlier said one of the targets was Mundi Swadjaan, said to be a bomb expert, who is the nephew of Hajan Sawadjaan, an Abu Sayyaf sub-leader and head of the Islamic State (ISIS) terrorist network in the Philippines.
The 4 soldiers onboard an SUV were driving back to downtown Jolo from the outskirts when they were flagged down by cops at a checkpoint in Barangay Bus-Bus. The soldiers, who were in plainclothes, introduced themselves to the cops. The police and witnesses gave conflicting accounts of how the matter escalated, but the soldiers agreed to meet the cops at the municipal police station.
When the soldiers drove a short distance past the police station and pulled over across the local fire bureau, the cops “revved up” to where the SUV had parked. (READ: 'Right coordination' between military, police could have prevented Jolo shooting)
The police said a firefight erupted between them and the soldiers, but the National Bureau of Investigation said it appears only the police fired shots. The 4 soldiers died on the spot. Photos showed 3 bodies sprawled on the road beside their vehicle.
The Army said the killing of the 4 soldiers – and the interruption of their mission – was a big “setback” in the hunt for the suspected bombers, and the overall campaign against the Abu Sayyaf.
The Abu Sayyaf, with its links to ISIS, has been blamed by the military and police for a series of suicide bombings in 2018 and 2019. The most devastating of the attacks was the suicide bombing of the Catholic cathedral in Jolo in January 2019 by an Indonesian couple working with the Abu Sayyaf. At least 23 people were killed and 100 others wounded in the attack. – 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.