AFP disarms 16 soldiers in Samar 'misencounter'
“For now, our soldiers involved, they are now disarmed and there is ballistics to be undertaken,” Galvez told Camp Aguinaldo reporters over the phone.
AFP disarms 16 soldiers in Samar 'misencounter'
Cecille Suerte Felipe (The Philippine Star) - June 28, 2018 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The military has disarmed and recalled for investigation the 16 soldiers involved in a deadly misencounter with police commandos in Samar last Monday.

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr. said the soldiers are now at the headquarters of the Army’s 87th Infantry Battalion in Calbiga town after being pulled out of their anti-insurgency duties. Their firearms – M4 assault rifles and a sniper rifle – will be subjected to ballistic tests.

Galvez was in Samar yesterday with Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Director General Oscar Albayalde for a joint closed door conference. After the conference, the officials visited the site of the encounter in Barangay San Roque, Sta. Rita town.

“For now, our soldiers involved, they are now disarmed and there is ballistics to be undertaken,” Galvez told Camp Aguinaldo reporters over the phone.

“Let us just wait for the result of the investigation. Our joint investigation team, the board of inquiry will be the first know. We don’t want to speculate on something that we don’t know what really happened,” Galvez said.

But he said the military and the police have committed to further strengthen coordination to avoid a similar incident in the future.

“Once we have established or have identified that operational lapses have been committed, justice will be done,” Galvez said.

He visited the wake for the six policemen at the gymnasium of the PNP’s regional headquarters in Palo, Leyte.

As initially gathered, the soldiers were conducting an operation in the mountainous area near the boundaries of Sta. Rita and Villareal towns when they spotted three armed men, who turned out to be members of the 805th Regional Mobile Force Battalion (RMFB), approaching the soldiers’ position in Barangay San Roque Monday morning.

Both forces were apparently pursuing the same group of heavily armed New People’s Army (NPA) rebels earlier sighted in the area.

Sensing danger, the soldiers immediately moved to higher ground and opened fire. The soldiers said they were still not aware that their targets had companions when the gunbattle erupted.

“It was not an ambush as there was no volume of gunfire involved in the initial stage of the misencounter,” said Maj. Gen. Raul Farnacio, commander of the Army’s 8th Infantry Division based in the island province.

The AFP, meanwhile, said it fully agreed with President Duterte’s attributing the incident to Murphy’s Law.

“That’s why it’s called Murphy’s Law. It’s a natural law. It is bound to happen, it will happen,” Col. Noel Detoyato, AFP Public Affairs Office (PAO) chief, said.

Albayalde for his part said the joint investigation is not meant to find fault but to ensure such incident will not happen again.

He stressed there will be no whitewash in the investigation.

“There is no reason to whitewash this investigation. As the AFP chief said, nobody wanted this to happen,” Albayalde told reporters at the wake for the fallen rookie policemen.

But he said that based on initial reports, the policemen made some coordination with their counterparts in the AFP before the operations.

“We are not here to find fault. What we need to find out is what went wrong so that it will not happen in the future. In terms of coordination, probably we will improve the coordination between the AFP and the PNP, especially our operating units,” Albayalde said.

“Maybe the coordination was in the higher-ups and not in the ranks,” he said in Filipino.

The police fatalities, he said, sustained multiple gunshot wounds. At least two of them had bullet wounds in the head. He said it could not be established yet if some of the hits were from sniper fire.

The PNP chief said there were reports that the victims’ bodies were some 20 to 30 meters apart from one another when found.

He said the site was “highly vegetated and there is no way probably to identify them at that time.”

In any field operation, it’s always very hard to identify whether a group or individuals from afar are friends or foes. He stressed that even rebels wear camouflage outfit.

“You know the enemies wear the same uniform. People should understand that’s part of the diversionary tactics, they wear the same uniform, especially in places like this,” he said. Soldiers and policemen usually have similar weapons in operations, he pointed out.

“We are trying to strengthen the existing coordination and looking for loose coordination and collaboration in the campaign plan to avoid unfortunate incident in the future,” he said.

“What we are trying to determine is the level of coordination,” Albayalde said.

Reports said the military personnel had been in the area for about five to six days. Albayalde said operatives of the PNP patrol the area about three times a month.

“We are open for any investigation but as far as we know this is an internal matter between the AFP and the PNP,” he added.

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