Army admits: Lapses found in crime scene of Sulu shooting

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(FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 2)— The Philippine Army on Thursday admitted there were lapses in the process of securing the crime scene of the Jolo, Sulu shooting incident which left four of its soldiers dead.

Speaking to CNN Philippines, Army Spokesperson Colonel Ramon Zagala revealed that the brother of one of the slain officers— who is a soldier himself— responded to the scene and tried to secure some of the victim’s belongings shortly after the incident.

The brother is part of the Army’s “takedown team,” which was also on a mission to hunt and locate a commander of the Abu Sayyaf Group in the vicinity, Zagala noted. The team headed to the area after receiving a call about the incident, he added.

Kinuha ‘yung phone niya, kinuha ‘yung bag niya, at yung naglagay siya ng unan (sa ulo) (He got his phone, bag, and he placed a makeshift pillow on his head),” Zagala said in an interview with Balitaan.

“We admit that we have committed some lapses, and that the commanding general (Gilbert Gapay) has already ordered to look further into this,” he added.

Authorities have repeatedly stressed that any case evidence should remain in the crime scene pending probe.

However, the Army said the brother’s move was only a “natural instinct” or impulse on his part— as he tried to check if his family member was doing okay.

“I think it’s really a lapse on our part, but we cannot blame the brother. At that time, wala pang pulis (there was no police yet). At that time, hindi pa kilala ang salarin (they didn’t know who the suspects were),” Zagala said.

“He just wanted to attend to his brother. I think anyone na may namatayan (who had a loved one killed) would probably do the same— attend to their loved ones,” the spokesperson stressed.

Questions on the case investigation started to surface after a video footage of the shooting aftermath— which showed people hovering around the crime scene— made rounds online. Zagala revealed that the individuals in the viral clip were the soldiers of the takedown team— whom he said had transitioned to a “rescue and recovery” team after the incident.

The four slain Army officers—all from the 9th Intelligence Service Unit of the 11th Infantry Division— were gunned down Monday by Jolo cops, who had first claimed self defense. The Philippine National Police later ruled out the "misencounter" angle, saying that based on their analysis of reports on the ground, the soldiers did not fire a single shot at the police.

The chief of Jolo Police has been relieved from his post following the incident, with PNP citing command responsibility. The nine cops tagged in the shooting have been disarmed and placed under restrictive custody.

They are also facing a third party probe by the National Bureau of Investigation, which has been tasked to submit an initial report on the matter by next week.

RELATED: Mournful Duterte wants meeting with cops tagged in fatal shooting of troops – Roque

Meanwhile, officials from both the AFP and PNP have called for calm— saying the two agencies continue to work well together in the country's security and pandemic response.

Zagala said that while the Army is “peacefully mourning” the loss of its officers— the incident will not hamper the Army’s relations and missions with the police.

READ: Families of slain troops demand justice as Duterte calls for calm in Jolo shooting aftermath