President Duterte declared this yesterday as he said that nobody should be held accountable for last Monday’s misencounter between Army troops and policemen in Samar.
PNP-Army 'misencounter': Duterte blames Murphy’s Law
Christina Mendez (The Philippine Star) - June 27, 2018 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — If something can go wrong, it will, and usually at the worst time.

President Duterte declared this yesterday as he said that nobody should be held accountable for last Monday’s misencounter between Army troops and policemen in Samar.

“Nobody wants it. That’s Murphy’s Law. If anything can go wrong, it will go wrong ,” he said, referring to the old adage.

In a speech at the swearing in of barangay officials in Zamboanga del Sur, Duterte said he wants to visit the area to check on the morale of soldiers and policemen as well as extend his condolences to the victims’ families.

“I will go there, and I want the Army to come with me to visit. There was no ill intention on their part,” he said.

Duterte said he wants to make sure that the incident will not damage the relations between the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

Duterte added he wants to assure the PNP and AFP that the government will continue to back them in the drive against insurgency.

Troops mistakenly killed six policemen and wounded nine others who they thought were communist New People’s Army (NPA) guerrillas operating in the hinterlands of Sta. Rita in Samar province.

The AFP said they are looking into operational lapses in last Monday’s bloody mistaken encounter.

Military officials said the initial findings indicate there was apparent miscommunication between troops and policemen in the area.

“We already have an established coordination every time they (Army and police) will operate. That has been the practice. There’s a radio message and text message,” said Maj. Gen. Raul Farnacio, commander of the Army’s 8th Infantry Division based in Samar.

But in last Monday’s incident, Farnacio said the coordination appeared to be “hazy.” He said the policemen contacted the Army detachment commander in the area to inquire if there is an ongoing Army operation in Sta. Rita.

“There was coordination on the detachment level. They (police) coordinated there three days ago,” Farnacio said.

Farnacio said a 16-man team from the Army’s 87th Infantry Battalion was conducting combat operations for the last six days in the mountainous area of Barangay San Roque at the boundary of Sta. Rita and Villareal town.

The military operation was in response to the repeated sightings of NPA rebels, he said.

On the other hand, police troops from the PNP’s 805th Regional Mobile Force Battalion were also pursuing the same NPA group. They initially inquired from an Army detachment in Barangay Anibongon to find out if there is an ongoing Army operation in San Roque.

“They only asked if there are military operations there. The detachment commander replied in the affirmative but the PNP only said ‘noted’ – they did not say if they are going in to operate in the (same) area,” Farnacio said.

Farnacio said the troops initially spotted three heavily armed men heading towards their location and they immediately maneuvered to take a higher vantage point.

He said the troops initially failed to identify the armed men because of their muddy uniforms. The troops had fired a “probing shot” to determine if the other contingent had reinforcements.

Immediately after the first shot rang out, the three men, who appeared to be acting as lead scouts, opened fire and were joined by the rest of their colleagues. This triggered a 20-minute firefight that only stopped after both forces called their respective mother units and nearby detachments for reinforcements.

The troops and policemen then realized they were engaging each other after being informed by their respective mother units, Farnacio said.

What happened was not really an ambush, according to Farnacio, because no volume of fire was initially involved and fighting only developed when the policemen retaliated.

“Both forces could have assumed that there (were) no friendly forces in the area. There could be some minor lapses committed,”  Farnacio said.

But he added that what really happened last Monday would be known upon completion of a thorough investigation.

Friendly fire

The PNP has created a Board of Inquiry (BOI) and a special investigation task group to look into the incident, national police spokesman Senior Supt. Benigno Durana said.

“It is hard to give them any deadline. It depends on how fast and how readily available is the information to be able to come up with solid appreciation of what really happened of the fateful day,” he added.

The PNP also ordered the suspension of its counter-insurgency operations in Mindoro-Marinduque-Romblon-Palawan (Mimaropa) region, pending the result of the Samar incident.

“This may be a temporary arrangement while investigation of the Samar incident is ongoing to prevent a repeat (of the misencounter),” AFP Public Affairs Office chief, Col. Noel Detoyato said.

Farnacio, on the other hand, has placed the 27 soldiers involved in the misencounter under investigation.

“A joint, thorough and impartial investigation is being conducted even as we assure the public that your AFP and PNP are fully cooperating to shed light on the incident,” he said.

“The whole 8ID family extend our condolences to the bereaved families of those who died in the armed engagement. Rest assured that this unfortunate incident will not hamper the working relation of your Army and PNP in the region,” Farnacio added.  

National Police chief Director General Oscar Albayalde said the PNP is mourning the loss of six policemen.

“I extend the deepest sympathy of the PNP to the families of the six young men who died in that unfortunate incident in Sta. Rita, Samar, even as I assure the surviving kin of all possible assistance of the PNP to ease their grief, including a full dress investigation into the circumstances surrounding the incident,” Albayalde said.

Albayalde has instructed Eastern Visayas regional director Chief Supt. Mariel Magaway to facilitate the processing and speedy release of all benefits due to the families of the policemen killed in the misencounter.

The families of the fallen policemen accused the military of foul play as they appealed to the PNP to fast-track the investigation.

Graciel Esclano, wife of PO1 Julie Esclano, said it was unfair that her husband ended up getting killed by the same government that he served for four years.

“We could not take that my husband would get killed by the same government that he served and sworn to defend and this is very painful for us, members of the family of the victims. We are appealing to the probe team to be very careful in the investigation and there should be no cover up. The truth is there, maybe something (or someone) behind why this encounter happened,” the widow said.  – Jaime Laude, Cecille Suerte Felipe, Miriam Desacada, Jessica Joy de Jesus, Ed Amoroso

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