‘Purisima was in control’
Christina Mendez (The Philippine Star) - January 31, 2015 - 1:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Suspended Philippine National Police chief Director General Alan Purisima directed the operation by “remote control” that led to the killing of 44 PNP commandos, according to highly placed security sources.


The PNP Board of Inquiry, created to probe the bloody encounter with Islamic rebels in Mamasapano, Maguindanao last Sunday, is looking into a possible breach of protocol by Purisima that could have resulted in the operation gone horribly wrong, the sources said.

Purisima’s role in the operations is being examined by members of the investigating team, and also the process by which the operation was hatched and then implemented in view of reports that it had the go-signal of President Aquino.

The PNP chief, suspended for six months in connection with a corruption case, flew to Saipan yesterday ostensibly to attend a meeting of the Masons.

He has not responded to requests for comment on his reported role in the botched operation.

Although suspended, there is no need for Purisima to seek clearance from the Office of the Ombudsman if he intends to travel abroad during his suspension.

The covert operation turned bloody when Muslim rebels were alerted by gunfire when the PNP’s elite forces shot dead a man believed to be Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli Bin Hir alias Marwan, who had a $5-million bounty for his arrest.

The investigators are also looking into the failure of the Armed Forces based in Maguindanao to reinforce the SAF.

“The team will look into the lapses in the operation, the perceived lack of support from the military, criminal and administrative liabilities of those behind the operation,” an official told The STAR yesterday.

Separate sources from the intelligence community revealed that Purisima’s resolve to go after Marwan in a remote town in Mamasapano could be due to intelligence information shared by US counterparts.

“It is highly probable that the US tipped the location of the top Jemaah Islamiyah bomb-making expert,” military sources said.

They said the Philippines and the US have been regularly exchanging intelligence information, particularly on terror suspects, after the terrorist attacks in the US in 2001.

The US’s support, however, can only be on the use of modern equipment such as night capable goggles and some armaments, said another ranking officer assigned to a unit going after the high-profile criminals.

In light of the statement of PNP officer-in-charge Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina that he only learned about the operations “after the fact,” the team of investigators want to establish where sacked SAF commander Gen. Getulio Napeñas got his orders to launch the operation.

“Somebody assured the SAF forces of enough air and ground support. They will not enter the stronghold of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) or the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) without being sure about their target,” a military source said.

“The question arises also on why the reinforcements did not come despite calls for help by our fallen elite cops,” the source said.


Two chains of command

As this developed, some police officers pointed to the apparent confusion caused by “two chains of command” within the PNP hierarchy as a major reason for the setback in operations in Mamasapano.

Sources referred to President Aquino’s decision to retain Purisima at the helm, despite his suspension, and the appointment of Espina as officer-in-charge.

It is also an open secret at Camp Crame that Roxas and Purisima have not been seeing eye-to-eye in terms of running the police organization.

Some sources from the intelligence community blamed the bloody encounter on “the failure of the President to appoint a person with corresponding authority.”

“Purisima is still calling the shots. He remains the PNP chief,” they said.

The ranking officials also raised the dangers of allowing an armed unit such as the PNP to have two leaders at once.

“They carry arms with them. So it is very dangerous for them if they move without a clear leader… There should be an established leader, with corresponding authority,” the official said.

Since Espina is only in acting capacity, he does not have the necessary power to lead his troops, the sources said.

The Board of Inquiry is also looking into why Napeñas mobilized his men on direct orders from Purisima.

“Napeñas grew up in the SAF. He has been an expert in special operations. So he knew better that the SAF cannot act alone without clearance from the PNP chief,” a source said.

“The question arises why Napeñas acted on the orders of the suspended PNP chief,” the source added.

Other sources from the intelligence community are also looking into why the military failed to act on calls for help by the police elite forces.

As the first batch of SAF personnel pulled out, the second team was fired upon by Moro rebels.

A lone SAF member in the team survived the ambush but only after killing four rebels who were supposedly “lounging” around the encounter area, sources said.

In a televised address last Wednesday, President Aquino admitted that he received briefings from Purisima about the efforts to neutralize Marwan but parried questions on whether he gave the green light for last Sunday’s operations.


IMT to conduct separate probe

International Monitoring Team head Malaysian Gen. Yaakub Samad yesterday said they will initiate their own investigation on the Mamasapano incident as the government’s Board of Inquiry is set to start its probe on Feb. 7.

This developed as Vice President Jejomar Binay pushed for a transparent and fair investigation on the killing of the SAF personnel.

The IMT said the separate probe aims to determine the real circumstances that led to the encounter that lasted for 10 hours and also killed 14 MILF guerrillas.

The IMT, which is composed of soldiers from Malaysia, Brunei, Libya, Indonesia, and conflict resolution experts from Japan, Norway and the European Union, has been helping enforce the ceasefire between the government and the MILF since late 2003.

Samad said coordination has to be facilitated first with witnesses, among them senior officials of the MILF and barangay folk, to ensure a good outcome of the board and the IMT’s investigation on the incident.

The IMT’s own inquiry on the incident will be initiated in coordination with the Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities of the government and the MILF, according to Samad.

The MILF will also initiate its own probe on the Mamasapano SAF-MILF encounter through its newly formed Special Investigative Commission.

Samad said the IMT, whose role is to monitor the compliance by the MILF and the government with the July 1997 Agreement on General Cessation of Hostilities, had dispatched a team to Mamasapano after learning there was a firefight to help reposition the two groups away from each other.

The team was led by a Norwegian IMT member, William Hovland.

Hovland said it was difficult linking up with the MILF and the SAF due to the absence of telecommunications signal in the area.

Brig. Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr., chairman of the government’s ceasefire committee, said the presence of IMT representatives in Barangay Tukanalipao in Mamasapano during the running firefight helped deescalate the situation, enabling responding policemen and local officials to extricate the dead and wounded SAF members from the scene.

Galvez and his MILF counterpart, Rashid Ladiasan, both said the incident will not stifle the peace process.


Purisima urged: Speak up

Binay urged Purisima to speak up about the alleged “misencounter.”

The Vice President said many questions have remained unanswered, including who was accountable for the bloodshed.

“Gen. Alan Purisima should break his silence now,” Binay said.

“Who really planned and ordered the operation? Who from the MILF and BIFF ordered the attack against the members of SAF?” Binay said.

“Isn’t it proper and just to make members of the MILF and BIFF accountable for the slaughter of SAF personnel,” the Vice President said.

Binay stressed that the only way to honor the sacrifice of the fallen SAF members is to ensure they get the justice they deserve.

The Vice President said there should be an honest and transparent investigation into the Mamasapano clash.

Six of the 44 slain SAF members were Binay’s fraternity brothers in the Alpha Phi Omega.

Valenzuela City Rep. Sherwin Gatchalian also said yesterday that Purisima should be man enough to come out of his White House residence and tell everything he knew about the SAF operation since he was the one acting as conduit between Napeñas and President Aquino.

The White House is the official residence of the PNP chief inside Camp Crame in Quezon City. Purisima continues to stay there despite his six-month suspension by the ombudsman.

Napeñas has spoken to the media, saying he was taking responsibility for the Maguindanao operation and for the death of his men.

Gatchalian said Purisima couldn’t escape responsibility for the massacre of 44 SAF commandos since Napeñas identified him as the one calling the shots and that Napeñas was directly reporting to him.


Truth Commission sought

For his part, Sen. Teofisto Guingona III, chairman of the Senate peace, reconciliation and unification committee, yesterday proposed the creation of a Truth Commission to ensure the conduct of a thorough and impartial probe on the massacre of the SAF personnel.

He admitted that the encounter between police elite forces and suspected members of the BIFF and MILF affected the ongoing peace process.

“The massacre struck at the very heart of the nation and of the peace process,” said Guingona, whose committee is also tasked to review the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law.

While he respects the planned creation of a PNP Board of Inquiry to conduct a probe, Guingona expressed belief that the board will not be able to fully address the issues concerning the bloody encounter, including the breach of security protocol.

Guingona’s proposal came in the wake of an upcoming full blown inquiry being readied by Senate committee on public order and dangerous drugs chaired by Sen. Grace Poe on Feb. 4.

Senior police officials welcomed Guingona’s proposal. They noted that the PNP Board of Inquiry, created by the interior secretary, can only cover issues pertaining to the operational lapses of the police officials tagged in the controversy.

“The Board of Inquiry can investigate the police only. It cannot even summon the Moro Islamic Liberation front, military officials or any top officials of the government,” a police official said.

The Senate inquiry can bring out the truth including the lapses of the PNP, the official added.

Guingona is nominating former Supreme Court chief justices Reynato Puno and Hilario Davide Sr., and former senator Wigberto Tañada to lead the independent team of probers. – With Helen Flores, Jess Diaz, Paolo Romero, John Unson, Christina Mendez, Edith Regalado, Michael Punongbayan, Jaime Laude

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