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FLEA MARKET OF IDEAS

Soldiers as ‘nanlaban’ victims

It’s the most horrible kind of death that can happen to a soldier — to die in the hands of the government you have sworn to protect with your life. Whether the death happens intentionally, through negligence, or by mistake, it is a most painful act of betrayal.

On June 29, four military intelligence officers in civilian clothes were on board a Mitsubishi Montero in Jolo, Sulu. They were Maj. Marvin Indammog, 39, of Class 2006 of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA), Capt. Irwin Managuelod, 33, of PMA Class 2009, Sgt. Jaime Velasco, 38, and Cpl. Abdal Asula, 33.

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The four soldiers were tracking Abu Sayyaf members in the area, the military would later reveal. The soldiers were flagged down at a police checkpoint, so they identified themselves as military men. The policemen instructed the four to drive to the nearby police station to verify their identities. As to what happened next, the police and military have completely different versions.

The policemen claim that after the four passed the checkpoint, they sped off, triggering a car chase, and when the soldiers were cornered, they pointed their weapons at the police, forcing the latter to shoot the soldiers in self-defense. The Philippine National Police immediately classified the incident as a “misencounter,” intimating that there was shooting from both sides.

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The military’s version is that after the checkpoint, the four soldiers drove their vehicle to the nearby police station to comply with the identification directive. They parked 50 meters from the police station. The most senior among them, Major Indammog, got off the vehicle to speak to the cops, holding his empty hands up in a gesture of peace, but the police shot him. Upon hearing the gunshots, Sergeant Velasco and Corporal Asula alighted from the car, but they too were shot. Even Captain Managuelod was shot while he was inside the car working on his laptop. The Armed Forces of the Philippines branded the incident as a brazen act of murder.

The National Bureau of Investigation has been tasked to investigate, but even before it completes its probe and renders its report, it has become clear this early that there was an attempt by policemen to justify the death of the soldiers as a case of “nanlaban.” In other words, the deaths of the soldiers were no different from the deaths of thousands of civilians in the hands of policemen in the drug war: All of them attempted to fight the police, so the policemen were forced to kill them.

But then, police authorities changed their story. It was not a “misencounter” after all, but a “shooting” incident. The soldiers did not fire a single shot at the police. The firing came only from the policemen, obviously because only the soldiers suffered bullet wounds.

The attempt of the policemen to revise their story—after an independent investigation was called—points to a very disturbing revelation. We have here an incident proving that the “nanlaban” excuse has become deeply ingrained in police culture, and that it’s being used outside of the drug war. Policemen hastily justify every death that occurs in their hands as a case of “nanlaban.” They’ve become quick on the trigger because they’re self-assured that by merely chanting the “nanlaban” mantra, a magic shield of immunity emerges to protect them from liability. The excuse has been swallowed hook, line, and sinker in the more than 5,000 deaths resulting from police drug war operations.

As a result, something has gone awfully wrong in the psyche of many policemen. The PNP top brass must acknowledge and correct this deeply disturbing development, if they have the interest of the police force at heart. The country and the Filipino people face the horrifying menace of a police force with a damaged culture that turns cops into outright criminals. To make matters worse, the President has signed the anti-terrorism law at a time when the very people who will enforce it, policemen, are themselves accused of acts of terrorism.

The deaths of our four soldiers serve as a dire warning to the military and the government that the chickens have come home to roost.

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TAGS: Flea Market of Ideas, Joel Ruiz Butuyan, Jolo misencounter, nanlaban, slain soldiers
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