TACLOBAN CITY — The family members of the six junior police officers killed in a misencounter in a village in Samar on Monday want soldiers to face charges for their role in the death of their kin.
Six police officers were killed while nine others wounded in the gun battle between patrolling cops and soldiers in Sitio Lunoy, San Roque village, Santa Rita, Samar past 9 a.m. on Monday.
Based on the Philippine National Police (PNP) list, killed were PO1s Wyndell Noromor, Edwin Ebrado, Phil Rey Mendigo, Julius Suarez, Rowell Reyes and Julie Escalo.
Wounded were PO1s Elmer Pan, Cris Angelo Pialago, Romulo Cordero, Joenel Gonzaga, Rey Barbosa, Roden Goden, Jaime Galoy, Rommel Bagunas and Jonmark Adones.
Police Officer 3 (PO3) Jessie Escalo, brother of one of the victims, insisted that it was an ambush and not a “chanced encounter” as claimed by the Philippine Army.
“They were attacked after resting for 20 minutes. It is impossible for the military not to recognize them since they were on standby on the same spot,” said PO3 Escalo in an interview, relaying the accounts of surviving team members.
He asked top PNP officials to conduct a thorough investigation of the incident.
The relatives of the dead policemen were interviewed on Tuesday at the St. Peter Funeral Homes in this city, where all the victims’ bodies were taken.
Philippine Army’s 8th Infantry Division Commander Major Gen. Raul Farnacio said it was an accident and soldiers were unaware that they were policemen doing “regular minor operations.”
“The location of the army is 75 meters from the policemen and the area is heavily vegetated. The soldiers have been there in the area for six days after receiving reports of sightings of 20 armed rebels in Santa Rita and Pinabacdao towns,” Farnacio said in a press conference at the PNP regional office on Tuesday.
Richiel Ebrado, widow of PO1 Ebrado, said it is more painful to learn that her husband was killed by government troops and not by enemies.
“We want to know what really happened and to attain justice. They’re on the same side, but why they did not recognize them?” asked Richiel, who is expecting their second child this September.
Capt. Rommel Pulanco, operations officer of Philippine Army 87th Infantry Battalion based in Calbiga, Samar, said the nearby detachment in Anibongon village was informed of the presence of the team from the 805th Company of the Philippine National Police Regional Mobile Force Battalion.
“They’re not able to recognize them easily because they were wearing muddy combat uniforms in a lower ground in a heavily forested area. It looks like the same uniform wore by NPAs in many combat operations,” Pulanco said.
Farnacio said they will investigate why the coordinated information has not reached the troopers on the ground. The 17 soldiers, led by platoon leader Lt. Orlando Casipit, Jr., are now at the Army 87th Infantry Battalion for questioning and ballistic test of their firearms.
Sta. Rita has been identified as one of the areas in the region infested by the New People’s Army. The town is just 30 kilometers away from Tacloban, crossing the San Juanico Bridge. Sarwell Meniano/PNA-northboundasia.com (Photo courtesy of Semsen Ramirez)