Army chief seeks NBI help for 'impartial investigation' into Winston Ragos' killing

MANILA, Philippines – The commanding general of the Philippine Army sought the help of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to investigate the fatal shooting of retired Corporal Winston Ragos by a police officer.

Army chief Lieutenant General Gilbert Gapay wrote NBI Director Eric Distor a letter requesting an "impartial investigation" into Ragos' killing, "in view of the apparent conflicting claims of police operatives involved, witness accounts, and materials available from open sources, to include footage of the incident," the Army said in a media statement on Friday afternoon, April 24.

"Apparent prejudgment by police investigators moved the Army to seek help from the NBI so that justice may be served for Ragos and his family," the Army statement said.

Earlier on Friday, the Quezon City Police District (QCPD) filed a homicide case against Police Master Sergeant Daniel Florendo Jr, who accosted Ragos on Tuesday afternoon, April 21, in Barangay Pasong Putik, Quezon City, for supposedly violating lockdown rules.

Ragos, who suffered post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), seemed unable to follow Florendo's orders. When Ragos appeared to reach into his sling bag, Florendo shot him twice. Ragos died at a hospital hours later.

The incident, captured on video and CCTV footage, sparked public outrage, especially because witnesses had been insisting to Florendo and other police officers in the scene that Ragos was mentally infirm.

Although the Philippine National Police (PNP) early on said it would prosecute Florendo, its top officers said the incident was a "judgment call" done in self-defense against Ragos. Police said they found a gun in Ragos' sling bag.

"What happened to Corporal Ragos was an unfortunate but avoidable event. Let his death serve as an awakening on the plight of other soldiers who are being plagued by the trauma of war," Gapay said on Friday.

NBI on the case

The NBI has, in fact, already opened an investigation into Ragos' killing, conducted by the bureau's Death Investigation Division, NBI Deputy Director Ferdinand Lavin said on Friday evening.

Ragos' family, however, have yet to appear before the bureau for interviews, and to give their official statements.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra has given the go signal for the investigation, Lavin added.

It is unclear whether this probe was prompted by the Army's request. Parallel investigations of the incident have also been opened, such as the one filed for by the QCPD, and another by the Army itself.

On Thursday, April 23, Gapay ordered the Army Judge Advocate to launch a probe in coordination with the PNP.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) top brass then called for "sobriety," saying they wouldn't want "animosity" with the PNP over the incident.

What's important, the AFP said, was that an investigation was underway, and that the PNP had vowed impartiality.

The police and military are working together in the enforcement of the lockdown or enhanced community quarantine of Luzon and other parts of the country battling COVID-19.

'Scars of war'

Ragos joined the Army in March 2010 and was posted with the 31st Infantry Battalion under the 9th Infantry Division in Camarines Sur.

At the time, the communist-led New People's Army launched heavy attacks on Ragos' unit, and at one point nearly routed the battalion.

The experience may have been traumatic for the then neophyte soldier, the AFP said, and Ragos ended up battling PTSD for the next 6 years, until he was given complete disability discharge in January 2017, with full pension and benefits, and a promotion from private first class to corporal.

Ragos' killing "has raised awareness and concern on the plight of soldiers suffering from mental health disorders incurred during their military service," the Army said.

Gapay then ordered the Army staff to review existing policies and programs on combat stress, trauma risk management, and other concerns related to mental health.

"The Army puts premium on the well-being of its personnel, active or retired, specially those who have left the service with scars of war," Gapay added.

The Army said it would assist Ragos' family, and seek out other retired soldiers who may be suffering from mental issues, to help them. – with a report from Lian Buan/Rappler.com

JC Gotinga

JC Gotinga often reports about the West Philippine Sea, the communist insurgency, and terrorism as he covers national defense and security for Rappler. He enjoys telling stories about his hometown, Pasig City. JC has worked with Al Jazeera, CNN Philippines, News5, and CBN Asia.

image