By LITO RULONA
with JIGGER JERUSALEM
and CONG B. CORRALES
Associate Editor .
THE two police officers who exchanged gunfire in a crowded commercial area in Puerto argued first before the first shot was fired, witnesses said over the weekend.
The revelations, made over local radio, came a day after the policemen — S/Sgt. Arman Tagolimot of the Misamis Oriental Provincial Police Office and Chief M/Sgt. Jose Ryan Sevillano of Puerto police station — shot each other near Gaisano department store and the market in Puerto shortly before 7 pm Thursday.
The first bullet, allegedly from Tagolimot’s gun, hit a 29-year-old bystander named Jaymar Canencia. Three innocent civilians, including a child, were caught in the crossfires and were wounded in the subsequent exchange of fire between Tagolimot and Sevillano.
Initially, police said it was a case of “misencounter.” But two women, interviewed by Magnum Radio, said they witnessed the two police officers arguing first before one of them fired the first shot.
The first shot, according to the police, was made by Tagolimot who was supposedly pursuing a fugitive identified as Jojo Rosales. The bullet, intended for Rosales, ended up hitting bystander Canencia.
What followed, according to witnesses, was a barrage of gunfire between Tagolimot and Sevillana.
Caught in the crossfires were Mary Ann Ordaña, 27; Elenita Salina, 45; and 12-year-old Darlene Vim Eduave.
Camp Alagar has directed the Misamis Oriental Police Provincial Office, Puerto police and the Cagayan de Oro City Police Office to dig deeper.
Lt. Col. Mardy Hortillosa, city police spokesman, said Tagolimot and Sevillano could be held liable.
In an interview Friday night, Hortillosa said Tagolimot and Sevillano appeared to have breached protocol when they shot it out in a public place full of civilians.
“As a rule, you don’t fire your weapon in a public place where civilians might get hurt,” he said.
Hortillosa however added that there may have been factors that forced the two to breach protocol, hence, an investigation.
He said Tagolimot may have been alone in tailing Rosales although the police officer was doing that as a member of a “tracker team” from Misamis Oriental.
Hortillosa said he could understand why Tagolimot failed to coordinate with the city police.
“Medyo lisod gyud mutawag pa siya (Tagolimot) sa Cocpo kay gibunotan na man siya og pusil sa suspect,” he said.
Hortillosa said the incident highlighted the need to improve the communication among police officers from different jurisdictions so there would be no repeat of the “misencounter.”
Based on a police report, Tagolimot was following Rosales who has an arrest warrant in connection with a murder case.
Officials said that when Rosales realized that he has been tailed upon reaching Purok 6, Puerto, he took out his gun, aimed at Tagolimot but it misfired.
Police said this prompted Tagolimot to use his weapon but he missed his target but hit bystander Canencia. While the policemen were busy shooting each other, Rosales escaped.
The police version is that Sevillano, an intelligence officer of the Puerto police station, happened to be there and so, he started shooting at Tagolimot whom he supposedly did not know was a policeman like him who was after a fugitive.
“Based on our police operational procedure, you must not fire indiscriminately. You must be certain of your target, and if you are not, you must not shoot,” he told reporters on the sidelines of the 37th Press Freedom Week culmination night and awarding ceremonies at a hotel here Saturday night.
He said sworn statements from wounded civilians and witnesses could determine who shot the victims and who kept firing despite the fact that one of the police officers may have already identified himself as a law enforcer, he added.
Asked if Tagolimot and Sevillano may have held grudges against each other that resulted in the gunfight, Hortillosa said investigators have not received information that they have a personal score to settle.
“Tagolimot has already fired at the wanted person before firing at Sevillano. But the target was the suspect and not the policeman. They would have shot at each other first had they had grudges,” he said, adding that both policemen were in plain clothes when the incident happened.
As a general rule, Hortillosa said, if a police officer goes outside his jurisdiction to conduct an operation, he is required to coordinate with his fellow law enforcers in the area, but he added they will check if what Tagolimot did was an exemption to that policy.
“There are times that you’re tailing a suspect beyond your area of responsibility, but calling your colleagues there you may mean losing sight of the subject person. Sometimes you’ll forego that protocol,” he said.
Hortillosa also clarified that conducting surveillance on a wanted person, as what Tagolimot did, was a legitimate operation since the suspect is a murder suspect.