Six policemen were killed and nine other officers were wounded during an apparent accidental encounter with army troops in the central Philippines on Monday, military officials said.
The policemen were on a patrol in a mountainous area of Santa Rita, a town in Samar province when they were “waylaid with a volume of fire” from men later identified as soldiers, triggering a 20-minute gun battle, the military said.
“There was an unfortunate incident that transpired today where a platoon of Charlie Company of the 87IB that has been operating in the area for the last six days had a chance encounter with a PNP unit operating also in the area,” Maj. Gen. Raul Farnacio said, referring to the 87th Infantry Brigade and the Philippine National Police.
He said a joint military-police investigation into the incident has been ordered to determine the culpability of either side.
“This is to ensure that the incident will not happen again,” he said.
The soldiers could have mistaken the police as an enemy force, Farnacio said, “because when you are in a highly vegetated area, it’s hard to distinguish who you are against.”
He described the incident as a “misencounter,” saying the two sides were just 30 to 50 meters (98.4 to 164 feet) apart when it occurred.
It was not clear why police were patrolling the area, which was under the army’s area of operation.
The Philippine military has been on heightened alert after a series of clashes with communist insurgents since last week.
Mark Navales in Cotabato City contributed to this report.