SAF44 WHO WERE MASSACRED BY MILF TERRORIST
“They were abandoned while performing their duty”.
This sentiment was expressed by relieved Philippine National Police Special Action Force chief Director Getulio Napeñas yesterday as the House of Representatives continued its hearing on the Jan. 25 PNP-SAF raid in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.
Under questioning, Napeñas lamented that he and many of his men felt President Aquino as well as police and military officials had abandoned and “betrayed” them during their mission.
“Yes, your honor, that is my opinion and feeling,” Napeñas told congressmen.
“I and many of my men feel we were left hanging because timely and effective support was not given to us in the middle of the firefight in the morning of Jan. 25,” Napeñas said in response to a question of Kabataan party-list Rep. Terry Ridon.
From 7:53 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Jan. 25, they repeatedly asked for artillery support for the SAF’s 55th Special Action Company, “but none came,” Napeñas said.
He specifically mentioned not only Aquino but also suspended PNP chief Director General Alan Purisima, PNP officer-in-charge Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina, Lt. Gen. Rustico Guerrero, who heads the military’s Western Mindanao Command, and Maj. Gen. Edmundo Pangilinan, commander of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division as the officials and officers who he claimed betrayed them.
“This is the feeling of some, if not all, SAF troopers, that we were abandoned while we were performing our duty,” he said.
The former SAF commander said his repeated requests for critical artillery support were relayed to these officials.
SUSPECTING A LEAK
Yesterday’s hearing triggered another round of heated debates between the PNP and officials of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), particularly on the issue of reinforcements and rescue for the SAF commandos.
Napeñas and other PNP officials maintained that the assistance from the Army’s 6th Division was sluggish and was attributed to the local military officials’ prioritizing the ceasefire with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
Pangilinan, however, repeatedly cited the failure of the SAF to inform them beforehand of the operation and the lack of information as to the actual location of the beleaguered police commandos.
Espina said the incident did not reflect the overall relationship between the PNP and Armed Forces.
“What happened in Mamasapano was a matter of ground decision not to share information with some elements in the AFP,” he said.
“We are very close with the PNP. We are a band of brothers. We trust each other. It is only Gen. Napeñas who does not trust the AFP,” Armed Forces chief Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang said, glaring at the relieved SAF chief.
Napeñas maintained the issue was not about lack of trust but operational security, noting that the targets, Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan and Basit Usman, have informants all over Maguindanao who could have tipped them off about the arrival of SAF troopers.
He said the plan was to coordinate with the military at the time when the operation was launched.
“It’s not about distrust. It’s a big possibility that there might be leakage,” Napeñas said.
Antipolo City Rep. Romeo Acop, a former PNP official, said he felt the issue was rivalry.
THE SILENCE OF PRESIDENT
Pangilinan, for his part, maintained he allowed mechanized and infantry reinforcement in the morning but not artillery fire cover because he needed to know the locations of the embattled SAF troops, enemy forces and civilian population.
He said such information was not available in the morning of the SAF operation.
Pangilinan authorized the firing of blank artillery rounds at about 6 p.m., which saved the remaining members of 84SAC.
By that time, all but one of the 36 members of 55SAC had been wiped out in an intense eight-hour gun battle with guerrillas belonging to the MILF.
The 55SAC was to serve as blocking force of 84SAC, the 38-member team that assaulted the hideout of Marwan.
The team killed Marwan but lost nine men in ensuing daylong clashes with members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, an MILF breakaway group.
Two other targets, Amin Baco, alias Jihad, and Usman, escaped.
Napeñas was also asked about SAF’s so-called time-on-target coordination with the AFP in its Mamasapano operation, meaning that it would inform the military in Maguindanao of its mission once underway and not before “so it would not be compromised.”
He said they discussed their coordination plan with the President on Jan. 9 in Malacañang in view of the failure of their previous joint operations with the military.
Napeñas said the President did not make any comment, which he took to mean Aquino’s approval of their proposal that the AFP would be informed time on target.
Deputy Speaker and Isabela Rep. Giorgidi Aggabao said the report of the PNP’s Board of Inquiry (BOI) contained Napeñas’ version of the meeting in Malacañang and his interpretation of the President’s silence as approval of their time-on-target coordination plan but does not include Aquino’s version.
“I think this is dangerous because the BOI report could be used as evidence in future court proceedings. For all we know, the President’s silence meant no, instead of yes, or he was weighing his answer,” he said.
Earlier, Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II clarified Napeñas’ reading of Aquino’s silence was contrary to the President’s “overt statements” that he ordered Purisima and the then SAF chief to coordinate with the military and to inform Espina.
There were at least three meetings in Malacañang with Aquino on SAF’s efforts to get its three terrorist targets. These were held between November last year and January this year.
Purisima, Napeñas and PNP intelligence chief Sr. Supt. Fernando Mendez attended the meetings. Supt. Raymund Train, who led the 38-member SAF team that assaulted Marwan’s hideout, was present in one briefing.
In an affidavit given to the BOI, Train said Aquino expressed anger over the failure of previous SAF operations to get its targets.
He said they went to Malacañang a few days after an operation launched in November to take down Marwan and his associates “was aborted due to mobility problem – mode of insertion was not doable.”
“The President was quite disappointed and I recall him saying, ‘Haste makes waste, you did not do your homework!’” he said.
After five or six failed operations to catch their terrorist targets, SAF commandos made a last-ditch effort to get them on Jan. 25 in Mamasapano.
This time, they succeeded. They killed Marwan, but lost 44 men.
THE TWO VERSIONS OF TRUTH
The hearings on the Mamasapano incident had revealed “two versions of the truth,” according to Rep. Samuel Pagdilao of party-list ACT-CIS.
Pagdilao, a former police official, said the resource persons from the PNP and the AFP were giving the joint House panel their respective but “conflicting versions of the truth.”
To determine which side is truthful in its statements, Pagdilao proposed that the officers be subjected to a polygraph or lie detector test.
Dasmariñas City Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr., however, opposed the proposal, saying it’s bad policy.
He said the PNP and AFP officers have been sworn to tell the truth and that appropriate penalties could be imposed on them if they were found to be lying.
Pagdilao made the lie detector test proposal after two SAF officers denied the statement of Col. Gener del Rosario, commander of the Army’s 1st Mechanized Brigade in Maguindanao, that the former had no clear indication of the locations of embattled SAF teams when they requested for artillery support from the AFP.
Del Rosario said he asked Chief Supt. Noli Taliño and Supt. John Michael Mangahis where their beleaguered commandos were located.
“They could not provide us with a clear answer. They even tried to call someone on their mobile phones,” he said.
Taliño and Mangahis, however, said they were even bringing with them a map showing the locations of two SAF teams that had been engaged by Muslim guerrillas and a few huts occupied presumably by civilians.
Mangahis said even if the specific spots where the gunfights were ongoing were not clear to Del Rosario, the latter could have verified them with his informants in the areas of engagement.
“They have many informants there. It’s not as if they are new in those areas,” he said.
“Man up, sir, man up,” Mangahis told Del Rosario.
Taliño said the Army officer informed them that his senior officer, Pangilinan, disallowed artillery fire support “due to the peace process with the MILF.”
Pangilinan was former joint chairman of the government-MILF ceasefire committee.
Acop, another former PNP officer like Pagdilao, called Del Rosario’s attention to the report of the BOI that he had actually recommended artillery fire support for the embattled SAF teams at about 11 a.m. on Jan. 25.
Acop quoted the Army officer as saying there were no civilians in the engagement area at the time, and that it looked like an “open space.”
For his part, Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares said the delayed artillery support was one of “telltale signs” that President Aquino ordered the AFP to stand down in consideration of the peace process with the MILF.
Administration officials have denied the President issued such an order.
Buhay party-list Rep. Joselito Atienza said the investigation being conducted by the House is scripted and designed to whitewash the massacre of the 44 policemen by the MILF and BIFF.
Atienza said he did not attend yesterday’s hearing “because I don’t believe that it will bear fruits. It’s politics. It’s a numbers game.”