Mamasapano operation: From 5:48 a.m. to past midnight
Christina Mendez (The Philippine Star) - February 19, 2015 - 12:25pm

MANILA, Philippines - From the initial euphoria expressed after the killing of Malaysian bomb suspect, Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan, the mood shifted to a tense and then overwhelming grief as the news of dozens of casualties come in at the tactical post command in Shariff Aguak last January 25.

At 5:48 a.m., Philippine National Police (PNP) officer-in-charge Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina congratulated sacked Special Action Force commander Director Getulio Napeñas apparently after the SAF troopers confirmed that they were able to neutralize Marwan.

In between calls for reinforcement, Napeñas received congratulatory messages from his higher-ups and colleagues including one message that said: "Hope we can turn the tide with the arrival of the AFP reinforcement. [The mission] came with a cost."

As efforts to call for reinforcements continue, sources bolstered earlier reports that President Aquino had been informed about developments on the ground as early as 5 a.m.

Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas II also inquired at about 10 a.m. on details on Marwan’s death, including information whether the assault team got pictures and DNA samples to be used later on to verify the death.

At around the same time, Roxas informed Napeñas that the President sought clarification on the number of casualties and the troops on the ground.

Sources said the information indicating the rather high number of casualties came at about 8 a.m., later raising more questions why the military failed to provide reinforcements despite reports that President Aquino was constantly updated about the developments before dawn of that tragic Sunday.

Since 5:30 a.m., the members of the 84th Seaborne company that assaulted Marwan’s lair and fatally shot him on the chest, were also having a hard time pulling out of the area as they were attacked by armed men.

It was around 6:13 a.m. when Napeñas also informed then suspended PNP chief Alan Purisima that the 55th Special Action Force (SAC) was having a hard time pulling out of the enemy’s lair located two kilometers of Barangay Tukalanipao because they are under attack from heavy gunfire.

At 6:34 a.m., another SAF officer sought for help, telling his superior through text: "Request fire support from Army sir!"

It was Espina who facilitated the call for reinforcement from the Armed Forces through Western Mindanao commander Gen. Rustico Guerrero. At 6:22 a.m., 6th Infantry Brigade commander Gen. Edmundo Pagilinan also came into the picture.

There was urgency in call for help all throughout the morning of January 25 despite assurances given by Napeñas that the military’s reinforcements were then being coordinated from higher-ups.

Napeñas gave his ground commander the assurance that the commanding officer of 601st Brigade has ordered the 45th Infantry Brigade to dispatch reinforcements.

At 6: 52 a.m., then SAF deputy commander Chief Superintendent Noli Talino informed the PNP chief that the SAF troops were engaged in a firefight with armed men about two kilometers east of Barangay Tukalanipao.

Surrounded

Sources privy to the investigation revealed that there were numerous calls for help as the team at the tactical command post in Shariff Aguak received many reports from the field that the commanders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) had started consolidating their forces.

As early as 7: 12 a.m, reports that the MILF's 118th and 105th base commands have started to muster strength, apparently upon sensing the presence of the SAF men in their areas.

At 7:26 a.m., Espina was informed that Marwan was neutralized by the SAF troopers.

“Marwan was neutralized but the body was left behind due to [the] heavy volume of fire,” the report read.

The report also mentioned the firefight between the containment blocking force of SAF and armed men in Tukalanipao.

“Extraction is on going and support from the AFP was requested,” the report to Espina added.

From 7:37 a.m. until late morning, Napeñas had provided the grid coordinates of his men who were pinned between enemy lines.

Barely two hours after the first call for help, the military sent armored vehicles with the division reconnaissance platoon and the anti-bomb experts, accompanied with SAF personnel to locate the besieged commandos.

“The SAF troops cannot move because of the vast terrain,” a source said, quoting the reports from the ground.

Ceasefire mechanisms

Members of the Coordinating Committee on Cessation of Hostilities were monitored to be on its way to the "battle" area at around 11 a.m., apparently to call for ceasefire.

At past noon, SAF and military officers continued to ask details on coordinates and locations of the troopers.

At 12:20 p.m., the officers at the command post are still waiting for feedback from the ceasefire committee. It was the same time when members of the 55th Special Action Coy (SAC) and the 84th Seaborne got separately engaged in heavy firefight with MILF fighters.

Separate testimonies of assault team leader Superintendent Raymond Train and Police Officer 2 Christopher Lalan, lone survivor of 55th SAC, revealed that they were surrounded by enemies.  They waited for reinforcements, as some lay on the ground wounded.

At 1:36 p.m, there was report that the ceasefire team from the AFP and the MILF were on their way to coordinate ceasefire mechanisms. Negotiations went on until 7 p.m.

Waiting for rescue

At 7 p.m, Train reported to Napeñas the need to send evacuations for their seven comrades who were killed in action.

“We can’t move sir… need casevac,” Train was quoted as saying in the report. Casevac means casualty evacuation.

At 7:12 p.m.  Secretary Roxas advised Napeñas to “keep calm and keep your head.”

“Di natin papabayaan ang tropa natin. PNoy gave guidance to AFP Westmincon,” Roxas was quoted as saying.

More than five hours later, the rescue team are still looking for the besieged SAF commandoes.  With the help of a US-manned surveillance aircraft, the teams were located and rescued at around midnight.

The tactical command post reported that the rescue teams and the besieged troops have linked up for rescue.  A Catholic bishop relayed his expressed of concern for the many deaths with a hope that there will sooner cessation of hostilities in the affected communities.

At past midnight, the tactical command post received messages expressing grave concern for the deaths of affected SAF personnel.

BARANGAY TUKALANIPAO ESPINA INFANTRY BRIGADE MARWAN NAPE PLUSMN PRESIDENT AQUINO SAF SHARIFF AGUAK
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