Sulu explosions

Dela Rosa: Probe into Jolo police for Abu Sayyaf links ‘will rub more salt to the injury’

JC Gotinga

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Dela Rosa: Probe into Jolo police for Abu Sayyaf links ‘will rub more salt to the injury’

Bato questions policemen in shooting incident: Sen. Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa, who was also a former chief of the Philippine National Police, questions the policemen who allegedly shot to death four soldiers in Jolo, Sulu last June 29, 2020. The Senate initiated an investigation on the incident Wednesday, August 19, 2020. (Joseph Vidal/Senate PRIB)

Senator Ronald 'Bato' dela Rosa says it would demoralize cops if they were probed for the killing of 4 soldiers in June

Senator Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, former national police chief and alumnus of the country’s premier military school, opposed investigating the Jolo police for possible links to the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group because, he said, it would demoralize them.

Opposition senator Risa Hontiveros delivered a privilege speech on Wednesday, August 26, seeking a no-holds-barred probe into the August 24 twin suicide bombings in Jolo, Sulu. The probe, she said, should include the possibility that the killing of 4 intelligence soldiers by Jolo policemen in late June was meant to sabotage the soldiers’ mission to prevent a terror attack.

Dela Rosa expressed reservations about this suggestion.

“It will rub more salt to the injury. Dahil nga sabi ng mga pulis doon, ‘Kami nga nag-pulis dahil ayaw namin ‘yung ginagawa ng mga Abu Sayyaf,’” Dela Rosa said. (Because as the police there said, “We became police because we do not like what the Abu Sayyaf are doing.)

A week earlier, on August 19, Dela Rosa led a legislative probe into the June 29 killing of 4 Philippine Army intelligence soldiers by police in Jolo. Hontiveros attended the probe and, with Dela Rosa, exacted answers from resource persons from the police, military, and the National Bureau of Investigation.

On June 29, the 4 soldiers were on a surveillance mission to capture two women who, based on military intelligence, were about to launch a suicide attack in Jolo. The soldiers were on their way to downtown Jolo when they were waylaid by 9 policemen at a checkpoint and later on shot dead in broad daylight across the local fire bureau.

The August 19 hearing established the following: there were no signs of a firefight between the cops and soldiers; the soldiers were trying to prevent an imminent bomb attack; the police force was informed that the military was on the hunt for two terrorists and was even asked to help locate them.

The missing piece: motive

The missing piece of the puzzle, Hontiveros said, was a motive. Why would police turn on soldiers on a counterterrorism mission?

The next Monday, August 24, Lieutenant General Corleto Vinluan Jr, one of the resource persons at the hearing, was again at the Senate for his confirmation by the Commission on Appointments. Hontiveros was part of the panel, as well as Senator Franklin Drilon. Drilon brought up the killing of the 4 soldiers and pressed Vinluan for what he thought could have been the motive behind it.

Vinluan was the military task force chief in Sulu when the incident happened, and is now the commander over Western Mindanao.

The general hesitated to venture an answer, but persistent Drilon asked the painful but inevitable question: Could there have been a conspiracy between the terrorists and the policemen who killed the soldiers? 

Posible ‘yon…dahil halos magkakamag-anak naman sa Sulu (That’s possible…because nearly everyone is related in Sulu),” Vinluan said.

“May mga ASG (Abu Sayyaf Group) na may kamag-anak na pulis, and then may MNLF (Moro National Liberation Front) naman na kamag-anak ‘yung pulis, dahil maliit lang naman ang Sulu,” the military general added.

(There are ASG members who have relatives who are police, and then there are MNLF members who are related to police, because Sulu is a small place.)

Dela Rosa uncomfortable

During those moments as Vinluan and 14 other high-ranking military officers were getting the congressional nod for their promotions, two bombs went off – about one hour apart, in the central square of Jolo – killing at least 14 people and wounding at least 75 more.

On Wednesday, the military confirmed that the two female suicide bombers in Monday’s attacks were the subjects of the 4 slain soldiers’ surveillance mission. They were the widows of Abu Sayyaf members and had been working with Abu Sayyaf bombmaker Mundi Sawadjaan.

Citing her own sources, Hontiveros – whose deceased husband was Dela Rosa’s military schoolmate – said the soldiers were about to close in on the two terrorists when the cops killed them.

So to cover all angles and get to “the full truth, no matter how ugly or inconvenient,” Hontiveros on Wednesday called for the relief of the entire Jolo police force, paving the way for an impartial investigation.

Dela Rosa was uncomfortable with this.

“Hindi ako nagdedepensa sa pulis…. If we insist on working on the theory na sila ay kakontsaba sa Abu Sayyaf, doon sa ground, it will demoralize the local police. Unless sana mayroon, magkakaroon tayo ng magandang siguradong ebidensya na i-accuse natin sila na ganoon, maganda sana,” Dela Rosa said.

(Not that I am defending the police…. If we insist on working on the theory that they were accomplices of the Abu Sayyaf, there on the ground, it will demoralize the local police. Unless maybe we could have good, certain evidence to accuse them of that, then that would be fine.)

Dela Rosa questioned the validity of the angle Hontiveros raised – connivance between the police and the Abu Sayyaf – because it was not established during the August 19 hearing.

But it was Vinluan, the military commander in Sulu, who said that angle was plausible, Hontiveros pointed out.

Dela Rosa: ‘determination’ to curb terrorism

On Monday evening, hours after the twin blasts in Jolo, Dela Rosa himself delivered a privilege speech to decry the attacks and to emphasize the importance of the controversial Anti-Terrorism Law.

Under the recently enacted law, anyone who assists or connives in the commission of a terroristic act, such as a bombing, is guilty of terrorism, too.

To date, 30 petitions opposing the Anti-Terrorism Law are pending before the Supreme Court, questioning the measure’s provisions that cut into constitutional liberties. It gives lawmen “over-broad” powers to tag, surveil, arrest, detain, and prosecute terror suspects under a broader definition of what constitutes terrorism and actions that lead to it.

Proponents of this law, like Dela Rosa, argued that to prevent terrorism, law enforcers must take preemptive action and arrest anyone suspected of planning or helping to plan a terror attack. Court hearings and investigations can wait.

“The lesson of the recent Jolo bombing rings loud and clear: Terrorism is real and it is in our midst. Let us all join forces in fighting this evil with strong determination and courage to curb its roots and throw it into the dungeons of hell,” Dela Rosa said in his privilege speech on Monday.

“Pero ‘pag ganoon na hindi natin na-establish sa hearing, then ngayon pagsuspetsahan natin na mayroong kontsabahan ‘yung pulis doon ‘tsaka Abu Sayyaf, alam mo, being a policeman, ‘pag ako marinig ko ‘yan dun sa baba, ma-demoralize ‘yung kapulisan niyan pagka ganoon,” Dela Rosa said on Wednesday, after Hontiveros called for a probe into the police.

(But if it’s that way, that we haven’t established it in the hearing then now we suspect there is connivance between the police there and the Abu Sayyaf, you know, being a policeman, if I hear that down there, the police will be demoralized that way.) –

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JC Gotinga

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.