MANILA, Philippines—The chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP) on Thursday vowed to spare no one in the investigation into the suspicious shooting deaths on Monday night of two Ozamiz robbery gang leaders while in police custody.
“We need a fair investigation in order to remove the public’s doubts, which is why we had to remove” Chief Superintendent Benito Estipona, regional police commander of Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon), said PNP Director General Alan Purisima.
“While the reports are accumulating, there’s a need to remove [all involved officers] as our people might suspect a cover-up. We will not cover up any wrongdoing in the PNP,” he told reporters in an ambush interview after a gun show.
Purisima said the Internal Affairs Service of the PNP was also looking into the “culture” of the police in the Calabarzon following successive controversies involving its personnel, including the alleged involvement of Calabarzon police in the “rubout” of a criminal group in Atimonan, Quezon, in January.
“Actually, that’s part of what the IAS is studying, why and if that really is the culture of the police in Calabarzon. We will look into that and take action,” he told reporters.
Fifteen policemen from Calabarzon, including the regional commander, were sacked Wednesday for the killing of Ozamiz robbery gang leaders Ricky Cadavero and Wilfredo Panogalinga Jr.
Cadavero and Panogalinga escaped from prison in 2012, and were recaptured in a safe house in Dasmariñas, Cavite, on Friday. Illegal weapons and explosives charges were filed against them.
Their police escorts were supposed to turn them over to the Bureau of Corrections for incarceration at the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) in Muntinlupa City after a news conference at PNP headquarters in Camp Crame, Quezon City.
But the officers did not turn over the two men to the prisons bureau. In front of the bureau’s offices, they changed vehicles and drove to their camp in Dasmariñas, supposedly to put the two men through a police inquest.
The vehicle carrying Cadavero and Panogalinga took a long route via Laguna province, where, in San Pedro town, motorcycling gunmen allegedly ambushed the police vehicle in an attempt to spring the two men.
While the policemen were busy fighting off the attackers, the Calabarzon police said, the two men tried to grab their police escorts’ sidearms and were shot dead by the officers.
The Calabarzon police’ account of the incident was met with scepticism by among others, Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, and Purisima himself.
In a television interview, Roxas said the relieved officers would be ordered to explain some of the “suspicious circumstances” behind the event.
“For example, why, instead of proceeding to the NBP, they took a stroll supposedly for the inquest, when the inquest could very well have been done at the Bureau of Corrections?” he said.
“Secondly, there is a violation of the regulations in how to handcuff a person. The standard operating procedure is to handcuff them from the back. Perhaps no one would be able to try to grab for their guns if they were handcuffed from the back. Why were they handcuffed at the front?” Roxas said.
But he stressed that a witness would be necessary to establish their suspicions, otherwise these would remain circumstantial.
“But (definitely) administrative punishments will be meted here. Whether that graduates into a criminal punishment will be dependent on the evidence and in this case, if they cover up for their colleagues, we would find it hard to find a witness or witness account,” Roxas said.
“Even so, we expect that the police officers who are not involved in this incident will tell the truth about what really happened because it’s their career that’s on the line,” he said.