MANILA - Opposition Sen. Risa Hontiveros on Wednesday called for the relief of all police officers in Jolo, saying the Philippine National Police (PNP) in the area need to be "accountable" for the slay of 4 soldiers that eventually led to Monday's bombings there that left at least 15 dead.
After police gunned down 4 soldiers who were tailing Abu Sayyaf bombers in June, the terrorists remained at large and blew up the Jolo town plaza, killing 8 soldiers, 1 policeman and 6 civilians dead. More than 70 others were also injured.
"We need accountability and justice. Hindi na ito katarungan para lamang sa 4 na military na pinatay. Katarungan na din ito para sa 14 na mamamayan na napaslang sa bombing noong August 24," Hontiveros said in a privilege speech.
(This is not just justice for the 4 soldiers who were killed. This is also justice for the family of the 14 who died in the August 24 bombing.)
"We need more decisiveness from the PNP leadership. We need remorse for the acts of his men, not justifications unsupported by the evidence," she said.
Hontiveros did not mention particular police officials, but PNP chief Archie Gamboa repeatedly defended his men, even after the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) found that the slain soldiers were repeatedly shot in the back during the June incident.
"I have received (information) that on June 29, the soldiers found out that the bombers knew that they were being trailed by the AFP," she said.
"The soldiers had already been able to narrow down the possible lodging places of the terrorists and were actually closing in on them."
"Did our policemen put Jolo and our nation at greater risk when they not only interfered with Army intelligence operations, they killed our operatives?" she asked.
Hontiveros noted that investigators found that a gun may have been planted on Major Marvin Indammog, the leader of the 4 slain soldiers, to justify allegations that it was the military who first fired at the police.
A message on Indammog's phone was also marked as "seen" after the Army major died, Hontiveros said, hinting at the possibility of certain parties tampering with evidence.
"Why was custody of the personal effects of the dead soldiers not turned over to the military right away?" Hontiveros said.
"These questions are important enough already, in the aftermath of the deaths of our valiant soldiers and persistent accusations of cover-up and whitewashing," she said.
"They are even more important now, in the aftermath of a bloody terrorist attack," she added.
Hontiveros said the "entire Jolo police force" must be relieved to give investigators a "free hand" and to give Filipinos peace of mind.
Former PNP chief-now-senator Ronald Dela Rosa earlier blamed critics of the Anti-Terrorism Law over the recent bombings in Jolo.
"Despite its noble intentions, many individuals and groups have raised their frantic concerns on their conceived and imagined abuses that may possibly be committed by the government in implementing this law," Dela Rosa said.
"To the critics, I dare ask this question: With the recent Jolo bombing, have you not realized that terrorism is indeed in our midst with its clear and imminent danger ready to devour anyone," he added.
Hontiveros was among the 2 senators who did not vote for the passage of the anti-terror law, a controversial measure now being challenged before the Supreme Court.