AFP backs Army chief’s ‘murder, rubout’ claim on soldiers’ deaths

JC Gotinga

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The Armed Forces of the Philippines says Army chief Gilbert Gapay has basis for his claim on what happened in Sulu, but defers to the probe of the National Bureau of Investigation

'RUBOUT'? The crime scene in Jolo, Sulu, after police shot dead 4 Army soldiers on June 29, 2020. Photo from the Philippine Army

MANILA, Philippines – The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) backed the Army chief’s assertion that the shooting of 4 soldiers by police in Jolo, Sulu, was not a misencounter but a case of “murder” and a “rubout.”

However, AFP spokesperson Major General Edgard Arevalo on Wednesday, July 1, deferred to the probe by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), and declined to draw conclusions from earlier statements made by Lieutenant General Gilbert Gapay, commanding general of the Army.

Arevalo said Gapay “drew his conclusion from a learned evaluation of information that were presented to him.”

“His point of view is supported by spot reports and eyewitness accounts of two civilians and of a motorcycle-riding soldier who was part of the operation trailing the SUV boarded by the four intelligence personnel,” Arevalo added.

“There is an initial result of the autopsy, but we do not want to preempt its announcement,” he said.

The Philippine Army is the largest branch of service under the AFP. The others are the Philippine Air Force and the Philippine Navy.

What happened?

On Monday afternoon, July 29, 9 policemen accosted 4 soldiers of the Army’s intelligence unit on a roving mission in Jolo to track down suspected Abu Sayyaf bombers. At a checkpoint in Barangay Bus-Bus, the cops asked the plainclothes soldiers to join them going to the Jolo municipal police station to verify their identities, according to a military report.

When the soldiers drove some 50 meters past the police station, they stopped and one of them, Major Marvin Indammog, alighted to talk to the police tailing them. Then the cops shot him and his men, the military report said.

The police report of the incident referred to the soldiers as “unidentified armed male persons.” It claimed the soldiers tried to drive away after passing the police station, and pointed guns at the cops when they were cornered.

The police claimed they fired in self-defense, which resulted in a gunbattle that killed the soldiers.

What did Gapay say?

On Tuesday, June 30, an “enraged” Gapay scored the police report as “fabricated, full of inconsistencies, like a movie, and very misleading.”

There was no provocation from the soldiers that could have triggered a gunfight, he said, and called the incident “murder.”

“There is no misencounter. Talagang hindi pumutok ‘yung tropa namin (Our troops really did not fire). It was a rubout,” Gapay said after leading arrival honors for 3 of the 4 slain soldiers at Villamor Airbase in Pasay City.

Gapay said his information came from witnesses, CCTV footage, and even other Army personnel who were tailing the 4 soldiers as part of their intelligence mission against the suspected bombers. 

The Army chief called for the removal of the Jolo municipal police commander and the Sulu provincial police commander, citing command responsibility.

What will happen next?

The incident risked driving a wedge between the military and police. The killing of retired corporal Winston Ragos by checkpoint cops in Quezon City in April already caused considerable tension between the uniformed services.

The AFP and the Philippine National Police (PNP) earlier agreed to let a third party – the NBI – handle the investigation of the Jolo incident.

Arevalo on Wednesday said the AFP and PNP will “revisit each Technique, Tactics, and Procedure or TTPs to determine if these are current and are followed religiously to prevent the incident from happening again.”

AFP chief General Felimon Santos Jr ordered assistance, benefits, and entitlements be given to the families of the slain soldiers, Arevalo said.

“While we are in search for truth and justice, we are also mindful not to allow the enemies of the state to take advantage of the incident to create a divide between the AFP and the PNP,” he added. –

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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.