MANILA - The Philippine Army on Thursday said the men seen in a video checking bodies of four Army intelligence officers slain by police in Jolo town, Sulu on Monday are also soldiers, contrary to earlier claims that they were police officers.
In a statement, the Philippine Army clarified that the men in the video were soldiers who responded to the scene after receiving reports regarding the shooting incident.
Army Spokesperson Col. Ramon Zagala said they were able to confirm that the men seen in the video were soldiers.
"Upon seeing the video this morning, we first thought they were police personnel. The CCTV footage showed men doing something in the crime scene so we wanted to verify who they were and we confirmed that they are our soldiers. They were there because witnesses reported the shooting incident,” he said.
He also said there were no police personnel at the scene when the responding soldiers arrived. They also looked around because they were looking for survivors.
"There was no PNP personnel at the time the responding soldiers arrived. As a natural instinct, the soldiers went to the gunned vehicle to check for survivors. Their initial mission was to take down Mundi Sawadjaan, an Abu Sayyaf leader, when the unfortunate incident happened," Zagala explained.
Zagala added that though there were lapses on the part of the responding soldiers, there was no intention of tampering with the crime scene.
"We admit our personnel committed some lapses but there were no intent of tampering with the crime scene. Their intent was to identify the victims, see if there are survivors and secure the special equipment on board the vehicle," he said.
Zagala, likewise, explained that the person seen moving the body of one of the slain soldiers was the latter's brother.
"The person seen moving the body of one of the soldiers killed is actually Cpl. Asula’s brother who is also an Army operative. Understandably, he was distraught upon seeing his brother dead and so he put a pillow under his head and when he reached for the front door of the vehicle, his intention was to secure the personal belongings of his brother. The responding soldiers left the crime scene largely untouched,” he said.
Former Armed Forces chief-of-staff Gen. Ricardo Visaya on Wednesday posted a CCTV footage showing men checking the bodies of the soldiers and sifting through their vehicle, before a forensics team even arrived.
Visaya said the men in the video were local police officers, calling out their violations.
The four soldiers, all intelligence operatives of the Philippine Army, were tracking 2 suspected suicide bombers from the terrorist Abu Sayyaf group when their van was flagged down by police officers at a checkpoint.
Philippine Army chief Lt. Gen. Gilbert Gapay earlier said even though the soldiers cooperated, they were still shot dead. He said the men were not armed.
Police earlier claimed that the soldiers, who were not in uniform, sped past the checkpoint and drew their guns at the officers, prompting them to fire.
Gapay denied this, calling the police's claim as “fabricated, parang sine (like in the movies).”
The National Bureau of Investigation is now looking into the incident, which Gapay has called a "rubout."-- With reports from Chiara Zambrano, ABS-CBN News