Napeñas blames AFP, ceasefire panel for high death toll

Jess Diaz (The Philippine Star) - February 20, 2015 - 1:00am

MANILA, Philippines - For relieved Philippine National Police (PNP)-Special Action Force chief Director Getulio Napeñas, a confluence of factors including absence of artillery support and tactical failures can explain the large number of SAF casualties in the Mamasapano clash last Jan. 25 with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and other armed groups.

In a sworn statement taken by a PNP investigator, Napeñas also said procedures followed by ceasefire teams and peace monitors may have delayed or stopped the deployment of reinforcement for the embattled SAF commandos.

Forty-four SAF men were killed in a daylong clash with gunmen belonging to the MILF and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), originally believed to be a rogue faction of the MILF.

“The main reason was that follow-on units of SAF to support 55SAC (Special Action Company) and 84 SAC failed to occupy their position,” he said.

He said help from units of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in Maguindanao also came late.

“If the (AFP) artillery support was provided in the morning, the 55SAC would have been eased a little and the same could have helped ease the volume of fire from the enemy forces and the high number of SAF casualties would have been avoided,” he said.

“I came up with this assessment because the WP (white phosphorous or blank artillery rounds) landed near the position of 84SAC at about 5:30 p.m. (of Jan. 25). Minutes later, gunfire stopped, then the attackers withdrew,” he said.

84SAC was the assault team led by Supt. Raymond Train. It lost nine of its 38 members. The armed men it encountered were mostly from the BIFF, a breakaway group of the MILF.

55SAC, composed of 36 men, was to serve as the assault team’s blocking force, but clashed with MILF elements. All but one died. The lone survivor is Police Officer 2 Christopher Lalan.

A total of 392 men were mobilized for the Mamasapano operation. More than 300 were to support the two operating teams, but it is not clear up to now why they failed to help the embattled 55SAC and 84SAC.

Ceasefire troubles

Napeñas also said the government-MILF coordinating committee on the cessation of hostilities (CCCH), led by Brig. Gen. Carlito Galvez for the government and Rasid Ladiasan for the MILF, and the international monitoring team (IMT) observing the ceasefire may have contributed to the high casualty figure.

“To me, the effort of the CCCH and the IMT sometimes is not being honored by armed groups on the ground, plus the fact that some attackers are BIFF members who are not included in the peace process,” he said.

“In this case, the effort of the CCCH and IMT may have delayed the reinforcement, as the reinforcing troops were advised to hold ground to give way to the negotiation team. Despite the presence of the CCCH and IMT, the attackers continued to attack the 84SAC and 55SAC,” he said.

He said during the planning for various operations against Malaysian bomb maker Zulkifli bin Hir – alias Marwan – and his Filipino deputy Abdul Basit Usman, they received “no guidance from higher authorities” regarding the peace process.

Like their SAF commander, Chief Supt. Noli Taliño, who was Napeñas’ deputy and is now acting SAF chief, and Train blame the AFP for their high casualties.

Train was asked in his affidavit why 44 SAF men died. His answer: “There was no immediate reinforcement upon extrication. AFP did not reach immediately even after we requested for indirect fire support.”

Taliño said in his sworn statement: “PNP SAF incurred so many casualties in this operation because the operating teams were not given artillery support on time. Had the first request of artillery support in the morning been granted, casualties on the government side could have been minimized.”

Napeñas said he was at the tactical command post (TCP) inside the Maguindanao provincial police office in Shariff Aguak town on Jan. 24 and 25 monitoring the mission to take down Marwan and Usman.

He said Train informed him at 4:15 a.m. on Jan. 25 that the assault team had killed Marwan.

Early success

After receiving the information from Train, Napeñas said he informed PNP officer-in-charge Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina and suspended and now resigned PNP chief Alan Purisima that their mission to take down the Malaysian terrorist had been accomplished.

Shortly after, he added that the assault team got engaged by armed elements in a firefight.

“Next to be engaged was the 55SAC at past 6 a.m. They were supposed to link up with the main effort (Train’s team) during the extraction,” he recounted.

That was when they began frantic efforts to request for help from the AFP.

He said he advised Espina and Purisima of his request for reinforcement and artillery fire support from military units in Maguindanao.

He said Purisima had promised in one of their meetings that he would call AFP chief of staff Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. “for support if needed.”

He said Espina’s reply in the form of a text message was: “Tawagan mo si Resty for details, nakausap ko na (Call Resty for details, I have already talked to him).”

Espina was referring to his military school classmate, Lt. Gen. Rustico Guerrero, commander of the AFP Western Mindanao Command based in Zamboanga City.

As for the requested artillery support, Napeñas said the military officials told them “artillery cannot be utilized in this situation because of civilian presence in the area.”

More affidavits

The Board of Inquiry (BOI), meanwhile, has asked Catapang and Purisima to submit their affidavits on the incident.

The BOI is also set to interview Espina as well as some MILF personalities as part of its probe.

“I have furnished them with a question guide and I am waiting for their respective affidavits,” said police Director Benjamin Magalong Jr., BOI head and chief of the PNP-Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG).

Espina said that Purisima is slated for interview today. “Tomorrow (today) is his scheduled interview. Actually, he was sick and had just recovered,” Espina said.

A BOI team is scheduled to fly to Mamasapano next week to verify statements from almost 400 resource persons and witnesses as well as interview key MILF personalities.

“I received favorable feedback,” Magalong said, referring to MILF’s reaction to BOI’s request for interview.

Magalong said the BOI is more than 70 percent complete in its inquiry into the Mamasapano clash.

“Basically, we know what happened – from mission planning to execution to termination,” Magalong said.

He stressed the result of the probe would definitely be made public. “It is what the public has been waiting for,” Magalong said.

Meanwhile, a source said an extremist group aligned with al-Qaeda is set to “resurrect” Marwan to dispute reports that he had been killed in Mamasapano.

The source told The STAR that preparations were being made to prove Marwan is alive without compromising his actual location.

“Among the option is the release of photo of Marwan holding a current newspaper,” he said.

The source, however, clarified that his information is still raw and needs validation from other sources.

A DNA sample taken from Marwan’s severed finger matched with that of his brother in detention in California, based on test conducted by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation. Jaime Laude, Perseus Echeminada, Alexis Romero, Cecille Suerte Felipe

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