The Philippine Star
Rody to blame? Families of slain cops disappointed
PALO, LEYTE – They had expected solace but found disappointment.
The families of the six policemen killed by soldiers in what was reportedly a misencounter have expressed disappointment at being told by President Duterte that the incident was “not intentional and no one should be blamed,” even as he took full responsibility for the incident.
Duterte, who arrived in Tacloban City from Cebu City on Friday, visited the wake of the slain policemen
at the Matapat Hall of Police Regional Office-8 headquarters in Palo, Leyte and met the bereaved families.
He then proceeded to the hospital where the nine wounded policemen were confined.
The President conferred medals on the dead and the wounded policemen, and ordered the release of P225,000 to each of the families of the victims.
But after a brief talk with the President, the families of the fallen policemen came out dejected after he told them that he was solely to blame for the tragedy as commanderin-chief.
The six policemen were PO1s Julie Escalo, Phil J Rey Mendigo, Rowel Reyes, Julius Suarez, Wyndell Noromor and Edwin Ebrado.
Rosario, mother of Mendigo, and Rachel, widow of Reyes, said that if the investigation by the Joint Board of Inquiry into the incident would end up unconvincing, they would jointly file criminal charges against the members of the 87th Infantry Battalion who attacked the policemen.
“However, this is the best opportunity for us to ask President Duterte to help us complete the investigation in the soonest possible time to give us justice. We still feel na hindi niya kami papabayaan (he will not abandon us),’ Rosario and Rachel said.
Earlier, the Philippine National Police (PNP) released P100,000 in financial assistance to each family of the victims.
Rachel said accepting the money does not mean they are already “fine and OK” because what they demand is “genuine justice for this unfortunate incident.”
After taking full responsibility for Monday’s tragedy, President Duterte personally extended his apologies to policemen wounded in the clash.
Malacañang said the Chief Executive on Friday personally apologized to the nine injured policemen at the Eastern Visayas Regional Medical Center in Tacloban, Leyte.
He also appealed to the injured lawmen – Police Officers 1 (PO1) Romulo Cordero Jr., Rey Barbosa, Roden Goden, Criz Angelo Pialago, Jaime Galoy Jr., Joenel Gonzaga Jr., Elmer Pan, Romel Bagunas and Janmark Adonis – not to bear a grudge against the military over the incident.
Instead, the policemen should just wait for the results of the investigation on the incident, the Palace said in a press statement yesterday.
The Chief Executive also assured them of more help to ensure their quick recovery. He promised to visit them again.
The President stressed that no one is at fault for the misencounter and that if they can’t help blaming someone, they should put the blame on him.
Duterte had personally extended condolences to the families of the six policemen killed in the clash. He also promised their families and dependents financial and educational assistance.
Duterte conferred the Order of Lapu-Lapu, Kalasag Medals on the dead policemen.
The Kalasag Medal is awarded to government officials and personnel as well as to private individuals who lost their lives in pursuit of the President’s advocacies.
The President also visited six soldiers hospitalized for injuries in separate clashes with New People’s Army (NPA) rebels in May and June. The six were PFCs Sonny Calda, Marvin Rivera, Noriel Guarte, Jeremy Razid, Reynold Larague and Pvt. Anthony Palaña.
In his speech at the Sangyaw Festival of Lights at the Balyuan Ampitheater in Leyte, Duterte said he was assuming “ultimate blame” for the deadly misencounter since he is the commander-in-chief.
“I told them just to forget it, they didn’t mean to do it anyway,” he said, recalling his appeal to policemen.
“And you know, Murphy’s Law operates the way it is. If things can go wrong, they will go wrong,” he said.
“I told the policemen I’m also your and the Army’s commander-in-chief. Let’s just say it’s all my fault,” he said.
“But since you are all my soldiers, let us forget the hurts. Allow the investigation to go on, and let us see what develops in the future,’” he added.
Meanwhile, a security official has disputed the claim of the military that the policemen involved in the misencounter were unrecognizable in their muddied uniforms.
The official who spoke on condition of anonymity said mobile phone photos recovered from one of the police officers showed their field service uniforms were clean moments before the clash in Sta. Rita town.
The police officers were from the 805th Company of the Philippine National Police (PNP) Region Mobile Force Battalion.
It contradicted the claim on television of Capt. Rommel Pulanco – operations officer of the Army’s 87th Infantry Battalion – that the policemen were unrecognizable in their muddied uniform hence were mistaken for NPA guerrillas.
The source confirmed the authenticity of the photos aired by ABS-CBN but declined to give copies for lack of clearance.
The official said the photos were taken at around 8:40 a.m. or 20 minutes before the incident.
“The soldiers can’t claim they weren’t able to identify the policemen because their uniforms were covered in mud,” the source said, adding that the soldier nearest to the position of the policemen was just about 12 meters away. The farthest was about 30 meters.
“The distance was very close based on the inspection by scene of the crime officers,” the source said in a phone interview.
Based on initial investigation by a police special task group, the incident appeared to be an ambush and not a misencounter, the source said.
A clash could only be considered mistaken encounter if the two groups are on the same tactical position.
In the Samar incident, the policemen were reportedly resting when fired upon by soldiers from higher ground.
“The police officers were taking a break and were not in tactical position,” the source said.
The source added the policemen were no match for the soldiers who were on higher ground.
There was no casualty among the soldiers.
“The military has a lot of explaining to do,” the official said.
In a related development, PNP spokesman Chief Supt. Benigno Durana Jr. lauded the President for assuming full responsibility for the incident.
“It’s an old leadership principle in the uniformed service. The commander is responsible for what his units do or fail to do,” Durana said in a text message.
“It’s obvious the President understands and exhibits that time honored principle,” he added.