Sulu clashes

Cops who killed 4 intel soldiers linked to Abu Sayyaf? Possible, says military commander

JC Gotinga

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Cops who killed 4 intel soldiers linked to Abu Sayyaf? Possible, says military commander

Commission on Appointments hearing: Newly-installed Western Mindanao Command chief Maj. Gen. Corleto Vinluan Jr. answers queries from Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon during the Commission on Appointment’s National Defense Committee deliberations Monday, August 24, 2020, on the updates in the investigation on the killing of four Army soldiers by nine policemen in Jolo, Sulu. Vinluan was the commander of the 11th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army based in Sulu when the fatal shooting of four Army intelligence operatives happened. (Henzberg Austria/Senate PRIB

Senate PRIB

Sulu is a small province where it’s common to find lawmen and terrorists belonging to the same clan, says Lieutenant General Corleto Vinluan Jr

What motivated a group of policemen to shoot 4 soldiers on an intelligence mission dead in broad daylight? The military commander over Jolo, Sulu, hesitated to answer, but after persistent questioning by a senator, he admitted the cops might have connived with the mission’s targets.

Those targets were two Tausug women allegedly plotting a suicide attack in bustling Jolo, the capital of the island province.

“Could a conspiracy have been possible here, between those whom our intelligence officers were trying to arrest – the terrorist bombers – and the members of the police who shot them?” Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon asked Lieutenant General Corleto Vinluan Jr, chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom).

Vinluan was one of 15 military officers who faced the Commission on Appointments (CA) at the Senate on Monday, August 24. Responding to Drilon, the general said conspiracy was one of the motives the military is considering in the fatal shooting of the soldiers by Jolo cops on June 29.

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,” he 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.)

The CA hearing was underway when back-to-back explosions rocked downtown Jolo, killing at least 14 people and wounding 75 others.

The second blast was caused by a female suicide bomber, the military said. Intelligence sources told Rappler the attacker was one of the two suspects the 4 soldiers were tracking down on the day they were killed.

Vinluan told Rappler the two targets of the June 29 mission were Tausug women who had volunteered for suicide attacks. One of them was the widow of Norman Lasuca, who launched a suicide bombing at a military camp in Indanan, Sulu, in June 2019 – the first by a Filipino.

Although Vinluan did not confirm whether one of them was the bomber from Monday, he said no women besides the two earlier suspects are known to have agreed to suicide attacks.

The military said the targets of the June 29 mission and the bomber behind Monday’s Jolo blasts were connected to Abu Sayyaf bomb-maker Mundi Sawadjaan, the nephew of Abu Sayyaf sub-leader Hajan Sawadjaan, the leader of the Islamic State or ISIS terrorist network in the Philippines.

The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) has yet to establish a clear motive behind the killing of Major Marvin Indammog, Captain Irwin Managuelod, Sergeant Jaime Velasco, and Corporal Abdal Asula. The Philippine National Police (PNP) said Asula was involved in the illegal drug trade, but Vinluan denied this, saying the deceased soldier was “matino” or upright.

The 4 soldiers were on a roving signals intelligence (SIGINT) mission to track the would-be bombers, but were waylaid by police at a checkpoint in the outskirts of Jolo. The cops questioned the identities of the soldiers, who were in plainclothes. Both parties agreed to meet at the municipal police station downtown to settle the matter.

When the soldiers parked their SUV some 50 meters past the police station, 9 cops on their patrol vans followed them, confronted them, and then shot them dead on the spot. The NBI said there was no indication of a firefight.

Vinluan told the panel of lawmakers that the soldiers had to park some distance from the busy police station to protect their SIGINT equipment, which contained sensitive information.

“And who among the 9 members of the police do you think have relatives in the ASG?” Drilon asked Vinluan.

“I cannot give you a definite answer yet…because our investigation is still ongoing,” Vinluan replied.

Senator Panfilo Lacson, a former soldier and national police chief, told Vinluan to ensure the incident “would not drive any wedge between the PNP and AFP as institutions.”

Vinluan’s appointment as Westmincom chief, and promotion to the 3-star rank of lieutenant general, was confirmed by the commission. –

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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.