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House suspends hearing on Mamasapano clash

Paolo Romero - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - The House of Representatives has suspended its inquiry into the Mamasapano incident pending results of the investigation by the Board of Inquiry (BOI) of the Philippine National Police (PNP).

The decision came following a closed-door meeting with the House leadership, led by Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. along with Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II and various political blocs, with Basilan Rep. Jim Hataman-Salliman and Negros Occidental Rep. Jeffrey Ferrer.

Salliman chairs the committee on peace, reconciliation and unity, while Ferrer heads the committee on public order and safety.

Gonzales said Ferrer and Salliman made the decision at around 5 p.m. yesterday after both committee chairmen had listened to the statements of party representatives and House leaders.

The two panels held their first joint hearing into the Mamasapano incident last week, which was marked by shouting and heated debates among members. The inquiry was supposedly set to resume today.

“We decided to suspend first the inquiry and wait for the results of the BOI investigation. There are so many investigations going on so our move is meant to help speed them up,” Salliman told The STAR.

He said he and Ferrer have written to members of the two committees to inform them of the decision of the House leadership. They had also written to the BOI to ask them to immediately furnish the chamber a copy of their final report.

Ferrer said the move to suspend hearings was meant to “avoid premature conclusions.”

The decision did not sit well with some lawmakers, who said Malacañang was behind the move to protect President Aquino and other top administration officials from accountability in the incident, which led to the death of 44 Philippine National Police-Special Action Force (PNP-SAF) troopers, and at least 18 Moro fighters and five civilians.

Reps. Isagani Zarate and Jonathan de la Cruz said the chamber has yet to tackle the still unanswered question on the extent of Aquino’s alleged involvement in the operation.

“What we have been seeing in the past several days is an elaborate and insidious attempt by Malacañang to muddle the issue so that the top officials of the land can escape accountability,” De la Cruz said.

“There is no denying there is an attempt to cover up the incident. We have talkative officials who have been making contradictory statements in their recollections,” he said.

Kabataan party-list Rep. Terry Ridon earlier in the day sought to summon US Ambassador Philip Goldberg to the hearing to explain the reported involvement of American troops in the operation.

The panels had invited 48 resource persons before deciding to suspend hearings.

‘Obvious flaws’ in Oplan Exodus

A veteran of the all-out war against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in 2000 and now a member of Congress cited yesterday several flaws in “Operation Plan Exodus.”

Magdalo party-list Rep. Gary Alejano, who planned and executed small-unit operations against the MILF as a Marine officer in 2000, said his respect for SAF remains, even as he lamented some loopholes in the plan to capture international terrorists Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, and Basit Usman.

“They say we know everything on hindsight, but in this case, the flaws are so obvious that I’m surprised that it was even executed,” Alejano told The STAR.

“When the lives of your men and innocent civilians are at stake, you plan well, really well, down to the last detail and (prepare) contingency. You prepare for the worst-case scenario,” he said.

“With all due respect to them but we cannot always point and blame the military for the debacle,” he added.

Relieved SAF chief Director Getulio Napeñas attributed the high casualty rate of his men to the late reinforcements and artillery fire that they were expecting from the Armed Forces Western Mindanao Command.

Lack of coordination with the military was cited as among the major reasons why the police elite force sustained heavy casualties.

Alejano said the operation was executed on the assumption that everything would go as planned, which does not often happen in high-risk operations.

For one, the Oplan called for only one entry and exit point, which he said was dangerous as enemy forces, alerted by the intrusion, would most likely wait for retreating SAF troopers in an ambush, which was what happened.

He also pointed out that there was practically no extraction of the SAF team that killed Marwan in the plan, as they were told to exit where they entered.

“The extraction in such kinds of operation should be close to the target for quick and safe exit,” Alejano pointed out, noting that the two SAF companies that entered Barangay Pidsandawan in Mamasapano, Maguindanao had to cross five rivers and to march through marshlands before reaching their target.

He added that the entering troopers were deployed in a virtually linear fashion and that there was no contingency plan should the forward group be cut off – which was what happened in the actual operation.

Alejano said he was bothered by the fact that while the SAF leadership maintained that they sent troopers who were familiar with the terrain and backed by a well thought-out plan and intelligence on the physical environment, they were still delayed for some hours in reaching the objective.

He attributed the delay to poor attention and preparation to details of the unfavorable terrain, adding that he received reports that some of the radios of the operating units broke down because they were not properly wrapped to protect against water crossings.

He said the delay should have prompted SAF commanders to abort the mission.

“This was supposed to be a special operation that must be executed in its entirety under the cover of darkness. But daylight came so they lost their advantage. The night-vision goggles are useless, you’re just the same as the enemy,” he said.

 

ALEJANO

AMBASSADOR PHILIP GOLDBERG

ARMED FORCES WESTERN MINDANAO COMMAND

BARANGAY PIDSANDAWAN

BASILAN REP

BASIT USMAN

BOARD OF INQUIRY

MAMASAPANO

SAF

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