Despite Senate and PNP findings, Duterte blames Mar for Mamasapano

Jonathan de Santos - Philstar.com
Despite Senate and PNP findings, Duterte blames Mar for Mamasapano
This composite image shows Sen. Grace Poe and Philippine National Police Board of Inquiry head Chief Superintendent Benjamin Magalong in 2015.
File photo

MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte has accused opposition senatorial candidate Manuel "Mar" Roxas II of "wasting" the lives of the 44 police commandos who died in the Mamasapano clash four years ago. 

This, despite Senate hearings and parallel government investigations showing Roxas, Local Government secretary when the clash happened, was out of the loop on the operation that left 67 Filipinos dead.

"He (Roxas) wasted 44 lives for nothing. They could not even explain...why it was the police who went there who were totally ignorant of the topography and the physical arrangement of the area?" Duterte said in campaign speeches this week.

The operation involving units of the elite police Special Action Force in a remote town in Maguindanao in January 2015 led to the death of wanted terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir alias "Marwan" but 44 police officers, 18 Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters and several civilians were killed in a clash as the troopers were leaving.

The clash has been blamed on poor planning and a lack of coordination with the MILF despite ceasefire protocols on operations near MILF communities.

The Mamasapano encounter was one of the issues that confronted Roxas during his unsuccessful presidential bid in 2016. 

Here is what has been said about the clash in past investigations and statements:

Office of the Ombudsman, press release in September 2017:

In a Consolidated Order approved on 11 September 2017, Ombudsman Morales denied the separate motions for reconsideration filed by Aquino and complainants Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) and affirmed the findings contained in the 13 June 2017 Consolidated Resolution.

The Ombudsman stated that “President Aquino’s act of utilizing the services of the preventively suspended [Alan] Purisima for Oplan Exodus prior to and during its implementation, despite an OIC PNP Chief having been already designated, caused Purisima to perform under pretense of official position, the acts pertaining to the PNP Chief without being lawfully entitled to do so, in violation of Article 177 of the RPC on Usurpation of Official Functions.”

It added that “President Aquino’s act of utilizing the services of Purisima for Oplan Exodus under the aforesaid circumstances constituted an act of persuading, inducing or influencing another public officer to perform acts constituting a violation of the order of preventive suspension and a commission of usurpation of official functions in violation of Section 3(a) of R.A. No. 3019.”

Former President Benigno Aquino III, statement in January 2017 

In January 2017, former President Benigno Aquino III issued a statement after Duterte alleged the US Central Intelligence Agency was behind the SAF operation.

He said that the US helped with intelligence but was not involved in operations on the ground.

He also said that when Director Getulio Napeñas Jr., SAF commander at the time, presented the concept for Oplan Exodus, he was worried about "pintakasi", where armed residents and fighters swarm government troops. He said that he stressed that Napeñas should coordinate on the operation with the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

"Kaya inutusan ko si Napeñas na kailangan niyang makipag-coordinate sa AFP para maihanda ang mechanized units, artillery, eroplano, tao at iba pang assets na kailangan para hindi mangyari ang pintakasi. Sagot ni Mr. Napeñas: “Yes, sir.” Matapos ang imbestigasyon, lumabas na wala palang 160 ang Seaborne. Higit 70 lang ang bilang nila at 54 sa kanila ang operators."

READ: Full text of Aquino on Mamasapano

Aquino also stressed in January 2017 that the SAF is not limited to operations in urban areas. 

"Sa SAF rin po, sa pagkakaalam ko, at batay na rin sa isang dating direktor nila, ang unang kursong tinuturo sa kanila ay tinatawag na commando course. Pang-counter insurgency po ito, at ang insurgency po natin, nasa rural areas.

(The SAF, as I know and based on what their former director told me, train in a commando course as their first course. That is for counter-insurgency, and our insurgency is in the rural areas.)

Dagdag ko pa po, ang briefing sa akin ni Napeñas, itong Seaborne ang elite sa elite ng mga pulis, na kasing husay ang training at kasing suportado ng pinaka-elite unit ng AFP na Light Reaction Regiment."

(Let me add that in my briefing with Napeñas, the Seaborne [84th Special Action Company] is the elite of the elite of the police and are as well trained and supported as the AFP's most elite Light Reaction Regiment)

The former president also said the PNP was supposed to lead the joint operation with the AFP because it was the police that had the actionable intelligence.

"Paalala ko lang rin po: Law enforcement operation ang pinapatupad natin dito, at inaaksyunan natin ang warrant of arrest kina Marwan at Usman. Alam po natin, PNP ang may police power at may tungkuling ipatupad ang arrest warrant," he also said.

(Let me remind everyone: This was a law enforcement operation and they were acting on a warrant for the arrest of Marwan and [Basit Usman]. As we know, the PNP has police power and the mandate to implement arrest warrants.)

Senate committee report on the Mamasapano clash 

A report by the Senate committee on public order and illegal drugs noted the lack of coordination in the operation and the involvement of former PNP chief Alan Purisima in the operation despite being put on preventive suspension by the Office of the Ombudsman over an unrelated graft complaint.

It noted that Napeñas only got in touch with the Army's 6th Infantry Division more than two hours after the "Seaborne" reached the area.

"This was the first attempt at 'coordination' made by the PNP-SAF with a unit of the AFP," the committee report read, adding the 55th Special Action Company that was acting as a "blocking force" would be engaged by "hostile Moro Islamic Liberation Front forces" within minutes of the message.

"The 'coordination' while late was urgently necessary as the PNP-SAF troopers were already engaged with hostile forces and needed reinforcement to assist them in their exfiltration," the Senate committee also said.

"Similarly, no prior coordination was made... with the government's peace process mechanisms," it also said.

Military support

The committee also notes that the Armed Forces of the Philippines had authorized the deployment of Army troops and mechanized infantry to reinforce the SAF units but did not approve indirect fire support without "complete details of the firefight" beceause there were non-combatants in the area.

The committee report called the lack of coordination a "fatal flaw" and noted that: "Oplan Exodus was poorly planned and executed. It intentionally broke the chain of command. The Oplan was not followed to details. It was badly coordinated. Oplan Exodus had badges of failure from the start."

It noted further that on the suspended Purisima's instructions: "Secretary of Interior and Local Government and the Officer in Charge of the PNP [Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina] were deliberately kept unaware of Oplan Exodus."

It added: "A text message about the ongoing operation sent by Secretary Roxas to the president at 8:09 a.m. deserved only a curt 'thank you' from the president."

Philippine National Police Board of Inquiry findings

A PNP Board of Inquiry conducted site inspections and interviews with local officials and with MILF commanders in 2015 to look into possible lapses in the operation that led to the Mamasapano clash. Former national police chief Ronald Dela Rosa, a close ally of the president and an administration candidate for senator, was in the audit team that conducted the police inquiry. 

The BOI noted in its report that although Roxas and Espina were included in a March 2014 briefing "about a special project to take down high value targets", they were "kept in the dark throughout the planning process of Oplan Exodus."

It also pointed out that Espina "was never consulted for approval before the concept of Oplan Exodus was presented to the president. There was no opportunity for the OIC-PNP to inform SILG about Oplan Exodus, as he himself was taken put of the loop."

Both only learned about the operation on the morning of Jan. 25, 2015 when the mission was already underway. 

The police board also said the mission plan "failed to provide in-depth analysis of the terrain, particularly the condition of the rivers along the route", which troops could have prepared for in exercises and rehearsals.

Because of this, the progress of the "Seaborne" was delayed and "caused a domino effect in delaying the movement of the "containment/blocking forces (55th, 45th, 42nd and 41st SACs) which consequently resulted in their failure to reach their designated waypoints and in their failure to accomplish their tasks."

Military support

The BOI report noted that although the AFP sent armored vehicles and troops "where they could provide support to the beleaguered SAF commandos, excepting the provision of artillery support", which came 11 hours from time of request.

It said that "artillery support could not be immediately provided because there was no contact with the engaged SAF commandos and there was no [forward observer] who scould provide information on the direction of artillery fire, taking into consideration the 'danger close' principle."

The term "danger close" means friendly forces might be hit by artillery or air support. 

Citing Army Artillery Regiment regulations, the BOI said artillery was put on hold because of the lack of FOs within the requesting unit, lack of direct radio communication with the field artillery battery and a lack of identification of "enemy's location from friendly forces", stressing again that artillery support "could have been practically arranged if only prior coordination was made by the SAF." — with a report by The STAR/Alexis Romero




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