A court in Sulu has finally issued warrants for the arrest of the nine Jolo policemen charged with the murder of four Army intelligence officers in an appalling incident in June last year, which caused a dangerous rift between the police and military establishments.
The problem is that the Jolo cops are nowhere in sight. They were released forthwith by the Philippine National Police on New Year’s Day after PNP chief Debold Sinas approved their dismissal from service.
Why the PNP’s uncharacteristic zeal to release the Jolo 9, when it knew full well the gravity of their offense? Worse, despite a request from Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra himself to keep them in custody as the arrest warrants were forthcoming?
Guevarra disclosed to the media that the murder suspects were released before the warrants could be issued. The issuance of the warrants was delayed since the Sulu judge was reportedly out of the province when the quarantine lockdown was imposed, and a new judge had to be assigned to handle the case.
“The nine police officers were released from custody despite requests of the DOJ with the PNP to hold them awhile until the arrest warrants were issued,” he said.
Sinas, unapologetic, justified the release, saying the PNP no longer had any jurisdiction on the cops since they had become civilians after being dismissed from service. “We do not want to be charged with arbitrary detention. When I signed their dismissal, it was immediately implementable so we turned them over to their relatives and lawyers last week,” he explained.
Baloney. The Jolo cops had been charged with and indicted on four counts of murder and planting evidence. And there was already a formal representation from the justice department to keep them in detention pending the slightly delayed arrest warrants. So where does Sinas get off defying Guevarra and allowing the hasty release of the erring cops?
The PNP was seemingly itching to let the Jolo 9 go, giving them the opportunity to flee and evade prosecution. Contrast that with the way the police uses every trick in the book to arrest and detain members of activist organizations.
The Jolo 9 — Abdelzhimar Padjiri, Hanie Baddiri, Iskandar Susulan, Almudzrin Hadjaruddin, Ernisar Sappal, Sulki Andaki, Moh Nur Pasani, Alkajal Mandangan, and Rajiv Putalan — are not on the dock for some flimsy crime. They are charged not only with waylaying four Army intelligence officers and killing them as the Army men alighted from their vehicle, but also planting a gun on one of the soldiers, according to the National Bureau of Investigation’s findings. The police then falsely characterized the incident as a “misencounter,’’ despite CCTV footage and witnesses indicating otherwise. The PNP was forced to take back its bogus claim when the military cried bloody murder and denounced what it said was the summary execution of Army officers Maj. Marvin Indammog, Capt. Irwin Managuelod, Cpl. Abdal Asula, and Sgt. Jaime Velasco.
The four members of the 9th Army Intelligence Service Unit were pursuing suspected Abu Sayyaf suicide bombers, two of whom were believed to have later undertaken two bombings in Jolo that killed 14 people and injured 75.
The incident that livid military brass called a “rubout” fueled suspicions that the Jolo policemen were in cahoots with the Abu Sayyaf and deliberately compromised the Army surveillance operation with their murderous act. The tense situation prompted no less than President Duterte to travel to Zamboanga City to appeal to seething soldiers not to take revenge.
If the PNP leadership were interested in seeing justice served and not to cover up for their own, they would readily ensure that the indicted cops in their midst are on hand to submit to the process. That is part and parcel of the rule of law that they are tasked to enforce on everyone else.
Instead, the PNP’s unusual haste in freeing the Jolo cops has made the search for justice only more difficult. As of this writing, the cops have not turned themselves in despite the warrants against them; now they’re fugitives from the law—a situation the PNP itself helped abet.
The DOJ has had to ask the Sulu court to issue a hold departure order against the suspects to prevent them from leaving the country. The suspects have had a two-week lead to do just that.
Prior to the issuance of the arrest warrants, Guevarra said he had asked the NBI to help locate the cops and serve the warrants. “We hope that the accused will voluntarily turn themselves in when [the] warrants are eventually released by the court. Otherwise, law enforcement agents will look for them and take them into custody.”
So Sinas and his men will now have to huff and puff to put on a show of rounding up the very suspects they had so casually let go of. If any of the rogue cops get away, the blame is entirely on the PNP.
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