MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte will meet with top officials of the military and police force to tackle the death of four soldiers in the hands of police officers in Jolo, Sulu, a cabinet official said Thursday.
Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said the meeting is "coming very, very soon" as he refused to divulge more details, citing security reasons.
"The President is going to the south to talk to our PNP (Philippine National Police), AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) commanders," he said in a Palace press briefing.
Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque earlier said Duterte was "saddened" by the incident.
Año, a former military chief who now supervises the PNP, said the President might also speak with the police officers involved in the soldiers' fatal shooting.
"Sabi ko nga kung may time pa siya (Duterte) kausapin niya 'yung mga suspect," Año said.
(I told him to talk to the suspects if he has time.)
"It is my duty also to make sure that justice is served not only because they are AFP people," he added.
The President is known to have an affinity for state troops.
Police had claimed the soldiers fled a checkpoint in Jolo on Monday and drew their guns at the officers, prompting them to fire.
Philippine Army chief Lt. Gen. Gilbert Gapay denied this, calling it “fabricated, parang sine (like in the movies).”
The soldiers, all intelligence operatives, were tracking 2 suspected suicide bombers from the terrorist Abu Sayyaf group when their van was flagged down by the police officers at a checkpoint in Jolo.
Gapay had said even though the soldiers cooperated and identified themselves as military personnel, they were still shot dead. He said the men were not armed, and called the incident a "rubout."
The PNP has relieved the chief of police of Jolo as the National Bureau of Investigation studies the case.