BOI: P-Noy broke chain of command

Christina Mendez - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - The chain of command in the Philippine National Police was broken by President Aquino himself when he allowed then suspended PNP chief Director General Alan Purisima to take part in Operation Plan Exodus.

This was among the key conclusions of the PNP Board of Inquiry (BOI), which investigated the police operation to get high-value terrorists in Mamasapano, Maguindanao last Jan. 25.

In its report, the BOI said Purisima provided inaccurate information to the President while then Special Action Force (SAF) commander Director Getulio Napeñas committed lapses in implementing Exodus and erred in taking orders from a suspended superior.

The report said President Aquino violated the PNP chain of command when he “exercised his prerogative” by directly dealing with Napeñas instead of with PNP officer-in-charge Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina before and during the SAF operations.

Interior and Local Government Secretary Manuel Roxas II only learned of the operations when SAF commandos had begun sustaining casualties in clashes with guerrillas from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters.

“While the President has the prerogative to deal directly with any of his subordinates, the act of dealing with Napeñas instead of OIC-PNP Espina, bypassed the established PNP Chain of Command,” the PNP-BOI report read.

Forty-four SAF commandos were doomed when the military failed to provide timely reinforcement. The raiders’ Motorola hand-held radios got wet and bogged down, making communication difficult, and several of their ordnance for M203 grenade launchers were duds.

 The BOI blamed a defective operation plan, the breakdown of communication on the ground, difficult terrain and the culture of “Pintakasi” among the armed groups in Mamasapano for the tragic outcome of the SAF operations. Pintakasi refers to armed villagers’ ganging up on intruders, particularly security forces.

The BOI report discussed in detail the circumstances leading to the execution of Oplan Exodus, particularly the meeting of President Aquino with Purisima and Napeñas at Bahay Pangarap at Malacañang last Jan. 9 for a “mission update.”

The mission objective was to arrest Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, and his Filipino cohort Basit Usman. Marwan was killed in the operation while Usman escaped.

Under the Manual for PNP Fundamental Doctrine, a commander is required to discharge his responsibilities following the chain of command, the BOI stated.

“The President gave the go-signal and allowed the execution of Oplan Exodus after the concept of operations was presented to him by Director Getulio Napeñas,” the BOI report read.

“The President allowed the participation of the suspended Chief Philippine National Police (CPNP) police Director General Alan Purisima in the planning and execution of  Oplan Exodus despite the suspension order of the ombudsman,” the report added.

Mum on criminal liability

The BOI did not say whether Aquino can later be held administratively or criminally liable in court for the lapses.

The PNP-BOI, led by Director Benjamin Magalong, submitted copies of its 120-page Mamasapano report to Roxas and to the Senate and the House of Representatives.

“At the time Oplan Exodus was presented to the President and during its execution, suspended CPNP Purisima did not possess any authority or responsibility to perform the functions of his former office, nor to give orders or command to any of his former subordinates,” the BOI report said.

Purisima had told a Senate panel that he gave no orders to Napeñas but only advice.

The BOI cited Napeñas’ testimony before the Senate that he, along with Purisima and Intelligence Group director Sr. Supt. Jojo Mendez, had presented a mission update on Exodus to President Aquino on Jan. 9.

It was in the same meeting that Purisima told Napeñas to keep Roxas and Espina out of the loop, and inform them only “time-on-target.”

After the meeting, Napeñas recalled Purisima telling him that the then suspended PNP chief would be the one to inform Armed Forces chief Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang about the operations, also “time-on-target.”

The BOI report also cited the President’s directive to Napeñas to provide additional troops to ensure the success of the operations.

“Magdagdag kayo ng tao (Get more people),” the President was quoted as telling Napeñas during the mission update at Bahay Pangarap.

The report also said Purisima’s active participation in Exodus was a violation of the ombudsman suspension order.

Moral obligation

In a position paper he submitted the other day to the Senate, Purisima argued he was only exercising his “moral obligation” when he advised Napeñas at the time when the latter was seeking reinforcements for the besieged members of the SAF 84th Seaborne and 55th Special Action Company on the morning of Jan. 25.

Apart from this, the panel also found Purisima to have “violated” the PNP Ethical Doctrine Manual when he reneged on his word to handle coordination with Catapang regarding reinforcements.

Although SAF commandos from the Seaborne were able to take down Marwan, the BOI said Napeñas failed in his handling of Oplan Exodus, causing heavy casualties among the commandos.

“There was a breakdown of command and control at all levels due to ineffective and unreliable communication among and between the operating units,” the report added.

The board took note of Napeñas’ statement given to investigators that the variables such as coordination with 6th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army and the AHJAG/CCCH “were not thoroughly considered in the mission planning process.”

The major consideration of using “time-on-target” concept of coordination was mainly to reduce the risk of “compromise.”

AHJAG stands for Ad Hoc Joint Action Group while CCCH is the acronym for Coordinating Commission for Cessation of Hostilities. 

The AHJAG and CCCH had tried all efforts to effect a ceasefire, the board said.

The Mamasapano report also said Napeñas violated the chain of command when he heeded Purisima’s directive for the SAF commander not to inform Roxas and Espina of the operations.

“The chain of command was broken as regards to PDG Purisima, who could not act with authority by reason of his suspension. Therefore, his orders and directives in whatever form did not produce any legal effect as far as Oplan Exodus was concerned,” the report added.

Communications failure

As Oplan Exodus unfolded, the BOI noted that private mobile communication devices were used as a primary mode of communication. It said these devices fell short of relaying real-time information and coordination of activities to and from the chain of command.

To illustrate, the BOI said some text messages sent by Napeñas to Espina and Purisima did not go through due to poor signal.

“…some of his messages were simply saved in his outbox and were sent later than intended. He failed to immediately inform the OIC-PNP and the suspended CPNP of the situation on the ground,” the board added.

The inaccurate and misleading information sent by Purisima to the President regarding a message from Lt. Gen. Rustico Guerrero, commander of the Army’s Mechanized Brigade, about the supposed availability of ground tank and artillery also led to confusion.  

President Aquino, in his public statements, said he did not see any urgency on the need for reinforcements because he was made to believe that reinforcements were already deployed in the encounter area.

“The text messages of suspended CPNP Purisima to the President were erroneous. Such messages confused the President as to which group engaged with the SAF troops,” the PNP BOI said.

The board also said a call from slain Sr. Insp. Ryan Pabalinas to the Tactical Command Post (TCP) to inquire about the location of the 84th Seaborne was proof that there was no radio contact between these units during the most crucial period.

Communication between police Sr. Insp. Gednat Tabdi of the 84th Seaborne and Sr. Insp. John Gary Erana of the 55th SAC was through cellular phones, not through the planned radio communication.

“These cellular phones were unreliable because of poor signal.  To communicate their respective positions, distinctive gunfire were used and were validated by a correct reply by the other unit,” the BOI report read.

Apart from Napeñas, Chief Supt. Noli Taliño, the deputy director of SAF, and Police Supt. Michael Mangahis also manned the TCP stationed in Maguindanao Police Provincial Office (PPO) in Shariff Aguak.

Six American military officers were also seen at the TCP at the height of the operations. But the BOI established that the US military’s engagement was limited to information gathering.

“Without efficient communication and real-time information, the battlefield visualizations at the TCP and ACP were also distorted or inaccurate and these affected battlefield management,” the BOI said.

“The situation at the ACP (advance command center) was further aggravated by the lack of appropriate visual materials (i.e. obstacle overlays, flowcharts, decision matrices) which made battlefield visualization more difficult,” the BOI said.

“This confluence of events contributed to an inefficient, if not a total, breakdown at all levels of the command and control system on the ground,” the BOI added.

Defending P-Noy

But Interior Sec. Mar Roxas defended President Aquino, saying that the commander-in-chief has not committed any violation insofar as the chain of command is concerned.

Roxas also said the President gave guidance to coordinate with the AFP because the military has the capability and firepower to reinforce in an event it becomes needed during the entire operations.

“The President ordered Purisima to coordinate but this did not happen,” Roxas said, adding that the President, in authorizing the conduct of the anti-terror drive targeting Marwan, was correct because he approved this operation while Purisima was still the PNP chief.

But when the operation was launched, Roxas pointed out that Purisima was already under a six-month preventive suspension.

While on suspension, he did not pass on his responsibility in capturing Marwan to PNP officer-in-charge Espina but continued illegally discharging his function.

“Purisima was already suspended and had lost his authority to lead the PNP. The President knew this and that was the reason why he ordered that OIC Espina be informed about the operation. It is reasonable for the President to assume that his order was followed,” Roxas said.


Senators expressed alarm over BOI findings that President Aquino himself had broken the chain of command in the PNP.

“It reinforces what I’ve said all along. The confusion in coordination between the PNP and SAF and even the MILF is because of the break in chain of command,” Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said.

“Again, why did the President do that? The Filipino public has long waited for that answer. This is what I meant that the President should step up,” said Marcos, chairman of the Senate committee on local government.

“The mission started on the wrong foot because the chain of command was broken. How can there be a proper coordination when there is no chain of command? Unfortunately, it was the President himself who broke it,” Sen. Joseph Victor Ejercito said.

Former senator Panfilo Lacson congratulated the members of the BOI team for their being able to come out with a credible report.

“The BOI and all the people behind it must be commended by the Filipino people for doing a splendid job of coming out with the truth with utmost objectivity and conviction to finish their job to its logical conclusion, without fear or favor,” Lacson said.

For Zamboanga City Rep. Celso Lobregat, the House should resume its own probe to determine those responsible for the deaths of the 44 SAF commandos. “The question is, who killed the SAF 44? Not Napeñas, not Purisima… more so that the House probe on the Mamasapano incident should resume… I don’t think the BOI answers all the questions that need to be asked,” Lobregat said.

Meanwhile, Rep. Terry Ridon of Kabataan party-list said the BOI report on the involvement of six Americans in Oplan Exodus contradicts previous statements made by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).

Quoting the BOI report, Ridon said the Americans provided “real-time information” to the SAF commandos.

“The BOI quoted a certain Supt. Michael John Mangahis as saying that the Americans were in the tactical command post on the eve of the operation and were the same US nationals who helped in the retrieval of the remains of dead SAF troopers the following day,” he said.

Sought for comment on the BOI report, US embassy spokesman Kurt Hoyer insisted that Oplan Exodus was purely a Filipino operation.

“The operation was planned and executed by Philippine authorities. We refer you to them for details of the operation,” Hoyer said in a text message to The STAR. Jaime Laude, Pia Lee Brago, Eva Visperas, Marvin Sy, Roel Pareño, Jess Diaz

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