US role in Mamasapano ‘within legal framework’

Jaime Laude - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – The US played a role in the Mamasapano operation, but it was done “within the legal framework” of both countries, Ambassador Philip Goldberg said yesterday.

“There is cooperation, that all of this is done within the legal framework, and that there are agreements, and everything was done consensually or at the request of the Philippine government,” Goldberg told  GMA 7’s “News To Go.”

Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile said at the reopening of the Mamasapano investigation on Wednesday that the government should explain the role of the US in Oplan Exodus, which was aimed at neutralizing Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan.

Enrile noted that the Philippines-US Visiting Forces Agreement deals only with the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

“It does not cover police operations, which is actually nothing more than the enforcement of the criminal laws of the Philippines handled by the police organization of the country,” Enrile said after former Special Action Force commander Getulio Napeñas said that the US provided “real-time intelligence” during the operation.

The Philippine National Police (PNP)’s Board of Inquiry mentioned the same thing in its report.

Goldberg said that the US has cooperation arrangements with the PNP.

“We have agreements that cover the police as well and our cooperation with Special Action Force has to do with international terrorism. We have dealt with the Special Action Force,” he said.

There were reports that “real-time” situationers of the operation in Barangay Tukanalipao, Mamasapano town on Jan. 25, 2015 were fed to a command center in Zamboanga City by a US drone.

The US ambassador declined to confirm or deny the presence of the drone during the operation.

“I’m not going to discuss specifics of a very sensitive matter publicly,” he said, adding that information about the role of the US in the Mamasapano operation has been provided to investigating bodies.

He insisted that the only physical role of the US during the operation was for “casualty evacuation.”

The US also helped the Philippines confirm that Marwan was killed during the operation through DNA testing.

The samples used in the DNA test came from a finger cut off from a body believed to be that of Marwan inside a hut in Tukanalipao.

A total of 44 SAF members were killed in the operation.

Meanwhile, Goldberg confirmed that the $5-million US reward for the death of Marwan during the operation is “already in process” of being given to the informant.

He declined to confirm that a claimant of the reward has been identified and confirmed by the US.

The Philippine government also offered a P7.4-million reward for the capture of the international terrorist.

PNP chief Director General Ricardo Marquez said during the reopened Mamasapano probe that the rewards have not been claimed.

In an earlier interview, Goldberg also said the Philippines would benefit just as much as the US from the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).

He said that while the deal would complement the Obama administration’s pivot to the Asia-Pacific region, it would not set the stage for the reestablishment of US bases in the Philippines.

Under EDCA, US personnel and logistics as well as other military equipment would be located in areas under the control of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Any deployment of troops or pre-positioning of equipment and materiel would be done subject to approval of the AFP.

The US rebalance in the Asia-Pacific comes at a time when China is becoming more aggressive in staking claims in the South China Sea.

Goldberg said the US rebalance in the region, along with EDCA, is not directed at China or any other countries.

He said the US pivot is simply a military strategy aimed at maintaining regional peace.                    


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