(July 04, 2020) – President Rodrigo Duterte hurriedly flew to a military base in the south to defuse tension between the army and police after a shooting incident in a volatile Muslim island, appealing to both sides to stay calm and understanding.
In his first out of town appearance three months after the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, the popular leader addressed soldiers at an air base in Zamboanga City, near the military’s main headquarters in Western Mindanao, asking troops not to retaliate the killing of four army intelligence men by nine local policemen in Jolo town.
“I am pleading, nakikiusap ako to keep the waters calm and we will
wait for the result of the investigation,” Duterte said, “I am giving you
my word as president, that I will find out the truth and I hope it will
satisfy you all.”
The commander of the 100,000-member ground forces, Lieutenant General Gilbert Gapay was enraged by the killing of his men, protesting an initial police report saying there was a “misencounter” between the two forces.
Gapay said the soldiers were murdered because they were shot without any provocation while on a mission to track down two suspected bombers from the pro-Islamic State militant group Abu Sayyaf.
The Philippine National Police (PNP) has retracted the report, but Duterte continued to refer to it as a misencounter, noting the sentiments of army troopers.
“You want to take revenge? For what? Gusto niyo pumatay ng pulis?
For what? Would it make the four officers come back to life?” Duterte told soldiers during his pep talk.
The president also planned to talk with the nine policemen who were detained after the incident as the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) winds down on its inquiry.
It had autopsied three of the soldiers’ bodies, including one with eight gunshot wounds. One soldier, a Muslim, was buried within 24 hours in accordance with his religion.
“May mga g*** na pulis sigurado, may g*** rin na sundalo. Kaya
I’m not ready to condemn anybody,” he said, “I have misgivings
about the whole thing. But pending the release of investigation of the
NBI, we must all keep our silence,” Duterte said, allowing a third party investigation.
The president said he needed the police to deal with the civilian population, while the army’s “real enemy” were the New People’s Army and the Abu Sayyaf.
Hours before he flew to Zamboanga City, Duterte signed into law the
controversial Anti-Terrorism Law ignoring calls from various groups to veto the draconian measure.
Several groups have been raising concern the law could be used to suppress dissent and heighten human rights abuses.
A United Nations High Commission on Human Rights report had already raised concern over the government’s police brutality and “near-total impunity” in Duterte’s drug war.
Before the Jolo incident, there was already bad blood between the police and the military as police sergeant shot and killed a former soldier for violating quarantine last April in Quezon City.
Law enforcement had also claimed that Winston Ragos, who was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, was about to draw a gun. But bystanders and relatives denied that he had a weapon.
The NBI has also recommended the filing murder and perjury raps against the police involved, including a planting of evidence charge, disputing the police claim the ex-soldier had a gun.
“The investigation will proceed to find out the truth, unfettered,
unbridled by anybody. Walang makikielam at yung totoo lang. Yun
ang maasahan,” Duterte promised about the Jolo shooting.
The president denied that he was currying favor with the military, while acknowledging the appointment at least three retired military generals in his Cabinet and another to lead the National Task Force against COVID-19.
Duterte also reminded soldiers all his efforts to raise the morale of both soldiers and police by doubling their salaries and allocating funds to improve the military hospital.
“So yun lang pinunta ko to make a plea,” he said, “Walang ibang
presidente ang Pilipino na lumingon para sa inyo,” he said. (Katrina Elaine Alba/MM)
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