The military on Tuesday admitted that members of the Armed Forces Of The Philippines were the first to fire at policemen during combat operations in Santa Rita, Samar, triggering a misencounter among government personnel on Monday.
Major General Raul Farnacio, 8th Infantry Division commander, said the soldiers on higher ground mistook the policemen for communist rebels because their uniforms were already “muddy.”
“Yung Armed Forces Of The Philippines units na occupied ‘yung high ground nagpaputok initially but ‘yung return fire malakas,” Farnacio said at the joint press briefing of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and Philippine National Police in Leyte.
“Pinakuha ko rin ‘yung mga firearms ng mga Army, if there is excessive, pero that will be [part of the] conduct of investigation,” he added.
Farnacio said coordination with the Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit detachment had been conducted before the police operatives entered the area.
The Special Investigation Task Group, however, has yet to determine why the information did not reach the operating troops on the ground.
“May coordination sa detachment before they entered that area, ‘yan lang siguro along the way…We will conduct investigation [kung] bakit hindi umabot sa operating troops at hindi rin umabot sa Army troops doon sa area,” Farnacio said.
Farnacio said that the incompatible radio units that the Armed Forces Of The Philippines had could have affected the lack of coordination during the incident.
“‘Yung handicap natin dito is radios eh, magkaiba yung aming radio,” Farnacio said.
Farnacio said the soldiers and the police were 50 to 70 meters away from each other amid heavy vegetation. The conditions, he said, made it difficult for the troops to identify who they were up against.
The firefight supposedly lasted for 20 minutes after the police operatives returned fire.
Members of the 805th Mobile Company of the Regional Mobile Force Battalion 8 were conducting minor combat operations on Monday at 9:27 a.m. when it was fired upon by members of the Armed Forces Of The Philippines 87th Infantry Battalion at Sitio Lunoy, Barangay San Roque in Santa Rita, Samar.
Six policemen killed in action were identified as Police Officer 1 Wyndell Noromor, PO1 Edwin Ebrado, PO1 Phil Rey Mendigo, PO1 Julius Suarez, PO1 Rowell Reyes, and PO1 Julie Escalo.
The nine wounded policemen were PO1 Elmer Pan, PO1 Cris Angelo Pialago, PO1 Romulo Cordero, PO1 Joenel Gonzaga, PO1 Rey Barbosa, PO1 Roden Goden, PO1 Jaime Galoy, PO1 Romel Bagunas, and PO1 Janmark Adonis.
Lack of coordination
The Armed Forces Of The Philippines men were already in the area for five days while the policemen were on their second day when the incident happened.
Police Regional Office 8 director Chief Superintendent Mariel Magaway, meanwhile, said that if it would be proven that there was a lack of coordination in the conduct of investigation by the SITG, both forces will assure that they will strengthen their coordination mechanisms.
“Pag-uusapan namin mabuti ng AFP counterpart ito, para patibayin natin ‘yung mga mekanismo na magpapalakas sa ating coordination para hindi na ito maulit muli,” Magaway said.
“Actually meron na tayong mga ganyan na mga mechanisms, pero titingnan natin kung ano yung mga lapses after the investigation and we will institute necessary corrective measures,” he added.
Magaway also assured that the incident will not affect in any way with their working relationship with the AFP.
“This is an accident, wala ng iba, it will not affect in any way. We will still be very very close with the AFP counterparts,” Magaway said. —NB, GMA News
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