Killing of police superior, subordinate in Sulu: organizational discipline or clash of cultures?

ZAMBOANGA CITY (MindaNews / 07 August) — Sulu Governor Abdusakur Tan said the tragic killing of the provincial police director of Sulu and a subordinate on Friday was ‘unfortunate’ as Tausug netizens aired their sentiments on cultural differences and insensitivity as possible reasons behind the death of the two policemen.

But Tan maintained it was about organizational discipline and integrity within the Philippine National Police (PNP) and not about a clash of cultures between the Ifugao superior from northern Philippines and his Tausug subordinate from Sulu.

PCol. Michael Bawayan Jr. and Sulu Gov. Abdusakur Tan. Photo courtesy of the Sulu Provincial Governor’s Office

“It is very unfortunate that a police enlisted personnel had to shoot the PD (Police Director) who was doing the rounds to check the personnel manning the checkpoints in Jolo town particularly at Barangay Asturias,” Tan said.

Sulu Police Director Michael Bawayan Jr., he added, was “a fine police officer who was performing his duty at the time to ensure that everything was in order.”

Tan said the Sulu police should be at par with national standards not only in discipline and behavior but also in appearance and they have to be respectable.

The 49-year old Bawayan was shot dead at about 4:20 p.m. on Friday at the Quarantine Checkpoint in Barangay Asturias in Jolo by a subordinate whose hair length did not meet the standard.

Reports said the 43-year old Staff Sgt. Imran Jilah of the 3rd Maneuver Patrol of the 2nd Provincial Mobile Force Company, was among those manning the checkpoint. Bawayan reportedly reprimanded Jilah before other policemen allegedly within hearing distance of civilians for having grown hair longer than the standard length.  Humiliated, Jilah allegedly pulled out his gun and shot Bawayan.

Bawayan’s security retaliated to protect him, resulting in the killing of Jilah.

For Henry Solomon, a Tausug professor of history and political science at the Western Mindanao State University, the shooting incident was “not about disrespect to a superior officer, disobeying police code of ethics, policies and organizational leadership and chain of command, but a case of mishandling a non-officer of the PNP if the intention was to inculcate the right discipline and to boost the morale of the members of the organization.”

“Isn’t it that the PNP, like the military, have its regular weekly formation to check the attendance of its members, to check the observance of proper sanitation like checking of nails, haircut, wearing of uniforms, checking of service firearms, and the like?  This must be the proper way to do it, instead of cutting the hair of the said policeman while on duty.”

Netizen friends of suspect Jilah (who was buried Saturday per Islamic practice), and few concerned Tausug behind the formation, Imran Jilah Movement, likewise shared their thoughts.

Davao-based accountant Marianne Indah Me-ann Baddiri, 48, eldest granddaughter of Panglima Baddiri of  Tagbak, Indanan, said Tausugs “can only tolerate as much as we can but we would never allow to be humiliated by anyone especially by those who are not one of us.  We stand to be corrected, we accept discipline, we abide with the laws but don’t just go beyond the line of humiliating us publicly because we stand to protect our ‘martabbat’ (dignity and honor).”

“The Tausug recognizes authority, and has a high respect for authority, from the time of the Sultanate to the present secular governance. But do not shame him because he is prepared to kill and die for his dignity,” netizen Sultan Muedzul-Lail  Tan Kiram reposted a statement originally posted by Mehol Sadain, convenor of the Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy.

Thoney Jacoba, 36, Supervising Tourism Operation Officer of Parang town in Sulu, said Jilah likely “reached his boiling point perhaps, like everyone else could if our self-respect is being trampled.  No ethnicity, no gender, can define what a human can do when one’s self-dignity is crushed.”

Governor Tan recalled that when Bawayan paid a courtesy call on him upon arrival in the province on March 12, 2020, he told Bawayan of the basic objective of an efficient police force in the province.  “Maintain discipline and professionalism in the ranks” and to put a premium on “good appearance,” Tan recalled telling Bawayan.

He said he even quoted former PNP Chief and now Senator, Panfilo Lacson, that 50 per cent of effective law enforcement is good appearance as it constitutes a big factor in gaining respect from citizens.

Tan explained that Bawayan was doing his job in enforcing discipline as this was part of police discipline and police culture.

Philippine National Chief Police General Guillermo Lorenzo Eleazar, who visited his police in Sulu on July 18 and 19, told reporters in Manila that he preferred “not to make hasty conclusions” and would “rather wait (for) the result of the investigation.”

Eleazar during his Sulu visit, lauded the provincial police for having arrested Masckur Patarasa, an alleged Abu Sayyaf logistics personnel who infiltrated the PNP as a civilian employee since 2015.  Eleazar, who awarded good performing policemen and made the rounds in the province, said such was a “reflection” of the organization’s successful internal cleansing campaign.

Eleazar then reminded policemen about integrity, heart for public service, and discipline fit to be in the organization. (Frencie Carreon / MindaNews)