MANILA – Malacañang on Tuesday refrained from making comments on the “misencounter” between military and police in Jolo, Sulu that led to the death of four soldiers.

This, after Interior Secretary Eduardo Año ordered the Philippine National Police (PNP) to disarm and place the four police personnel under restrictive custody following their involvement in the killings of four Army intelligence officers.

In a virtual press conference aired on state-run PTV-4, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said he would not make any statement, pending the results of the investigation conducted by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).

“Hintayin muna natin ang imbestigasyon. Parehong ang kapulisan at hukbong sandatahan ay humingi na ng tulong sa NBI para maimbestigahan nang maintindihan natin kung ano talaga ang nangyari (Let us wait first for the results of the investigation. Both the police and military already asked NBI to conduct probe for us to understand what really happened),” he said.

According to reports, police officers on Monday killed four armed men who turned out to be military officers on an official mission in Jolo, Sulu.

The slain soldiers were members of an Army intelligence unit conducting covert operations in the area to locate reported suicide bombers affiliated with Abu Sayyaf Group bomb maker Mundi Sawadjaan.

Both the PNP and the Armed Forces of the Philippines have sought the NBI’s help for a separate and impartial probe into the reported misencounter in Sulu.

Hotspot

Roque opted to exercise fairness, as he acknowledged that Jolo is considered as hotspot for terrorism.

“Let’s be fair. Hotspot po talaga ang Jolo ngayon. Patuloy po ang aktibidades ng mga terorista diyan (Jolo is considered as hotspot now. Terror activities in the area continue),” he said.

Roque said he would only give an official statement, once NBI is done with its investigation.

“Sa tingin ko po, medyo nag-iingat at medyo mataas ang tensiyon diyan sa area na iyan. (I think, they are just being careful there because the tension in the area is a little high). So I will not make any conclusion sa ngayon po hangga’t hindi pa natatapos ang imbestigasyon ng NBI (until NBI completes its investigation),” he said.

Possible PRRD visit

The incident happened after President Rodrigo Duterte recently announced his plan to visit military camps despite the threat posed by the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic.

Roque said Duterte might visit the slain soldiers in Jolo, Sulu.

He, however, refused to spill further details due to “safety reason.”

“If he (Duterte) can, he will. Pero I’m not at liberty to say kung kailan talaga ang bisita ni Presidente sa Jolo (But I’m not at liberty to say as to when the President will visit Jolo), obviously, for safety reason,” Roque said.

NBI given 10 days to submit report

Meanwhile, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said the NBI regional office in Zamboanga will look into the incident.

“The NBI Zamboanga regional office will handle the investigation. I will issue a department order and ask for an initial report in 10 days.” Guevarra said in a message to reporters.

This came after both the police and the military agreed that the NBI Zamboanga will conduct and lead the investigation.

“When the incident happened yesterday (Monday). I immediately called up (AFP chief-of-staff Gen. Felimon Santos Jr.), and we both agreed that the NBI is going to do the investigation. The PNP together with the AFP are both open to the investigation and my request for the NBI is an impartial investigation so that the truth would come out and readily whatever would be the findings of the NBI, the PNP and the AFP will together embrace whatever the recommendations,” PNP chief Gen. Archie Gamboa said in a statement.

Gamboa, however, said the incident will not affect ties between the police and the military.

“As a matter of fact, me and the (AFP) Chief of Staff are both flying to Cebu tomorrow (Wednesday) for an (Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases meeting) to show the people that although we grieve, our condolences to those who died in that encounter, it’s an isolated case and the PNP, together with the AFP, still continue to enjoy the confidence between each other,” he added.

The nine police officers involved in the incident — Staff Sgt. Almudzrin Hadjaruddin, Pat. Alkajal Mandangan, Pat. Rajiv Putalan, Senior M/Sgt. Abdelzhimar Padjiri, M/Sgt. Hanie U Baddiri, S/Sgt. Iskandar Susulan, S/Sgt. Ernisar Sappal, Cpl. Sulki Andaki, and Pat. Mohammad Nur Pasani — are now under the custody of the Sulu Provincial Police Office pending investigation. (with reports from Benjamin Pulta and Lloyd Caliwan/PNA)