Philippine Police Free Officers Jailed for Allegedly Killing Soldiers Last June

BenarNews staff
Zamboanga, Philippines
2021-01-12
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Philippine Police Free Officers Jailed for Allegedly Killing Soldiers Last June Philippine police officers listen to a briefing at a camp in Manila, Sept. 19, 2019.
[AFP]

The Philippine National Police has released nine officers who had been in custody for their alleged involvement in the killing of four army intelligence specialists in the troubled south last June, officials said on Tuesday.

The officers, who were dismissed from the service on Jan. 1, were freed because they could not be held any longer after a court failed to issue arrest warrants for them, PNP spokesman Brig. Gen. Ildebrandi Usana told reporters.

“They were released from the control of the Philippine National Police. They are no longer police personnel following their dismissal from the service which is immediately executory. We presume they are back with their families,” Usana said.

He did not say when the nine were freed, but on Monday local media widely quoted Gen. Debold Sinas, the chief of national police, as saying “sometime last week.” Sinas said the nine were freed on a technicality and could not be kept in jail until a court issued warrants for them.

The nine policemen had been arrested in connection with the killings of two army officers and two enlisted men with the 11th Infantry Division, who were on a mission to track down militant bomb makers on southern Jolo Island last year.

On Tuesday, military chief Gen. Gilbert Gapay said he was “extremely disappointed” with the release of the nine policemen.

“It is only unfortunate that despite the filing online of a multiple murder case before the Regional Trial Court in Jolo on 4 January 2021, no Warrants of Arrest have been issued by the court,” Gapay said.

“We assure our personnel and the relatives of the slain soldiers that the AFP [Armed Forces of the Philippines] will continue with our persistent coordination with relevant government agencies for the issuance of the said warrants,” Gapay said.

“Once issued, we will help in the immediate and unimpeded service of said warrants to the named police personnel.”

The four soldiers had been traveling in a vehicle which the Jolo police force flagged down. Based on an initial investigation, the soldiers had clearly identified themselves but were still allegedly gunned down by the cops.

The slain soldiers were on a mission to track down Mundi Sawadjaan, an operative identified as a key planner of suicide bombings that killed 23 people at a church in Jolo in January 2019. He is believed to be a nephew of Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan, the top leader of the Philippine branch of the extremist group known as Islamic State (IS).

The local police had called the soldiers’ killings a “misencounter,” but Gapay, who was the army chief at the time of the killings, had said the soldiers “were murdered” as he called for the police personnel involved to be prosecuted.  

Lockdown delay

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, meanwhile, said that he had appealed to the PNP to hold the nine men in custody for a longer time, but his request was ignored.

“The nine police officers were released from custody despite requests by the DOJ [Department of Justice] to the PNP to hold them a while until the arrest warrants were issued,” Guevarra said.

He said prosecutors had filed the criminal information against the officers last week. The court was expected to immediately issue warrants for their arrest “but apparently failed to do so [because of] the current lockdown” in Jolo, Guevarra said.

Court operations in the Sulu archipelago – which includes Jolo Island – have been affected due to the pandemic-related lockdown, said Honey Delgado, spokeswoman of the Office of the Prosecutor General.

Drieza Lininding, chairman of the Moro Consensus Group, said Muslim groups in the south were disappointed by the police action, and called it unfair to the families of those slain.

“Four souls were lost. They sacrificed. There should be a fair trial,” Lininding told BenarNews.

Jeoffrey Maitem contributed reporting from southern Cotabato City.

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