Mamasapano review: 3 items still hanging

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc - The Philippine Star

The Mamasapano re-inquiry iterated earlier findings but again ignored some grave issues. Administration senators as before shielded President Noynoy Aquino from political booby traps. Generals one by one, in the televised hearing, were asked if anyone had barred them from aiding the beleaguered SAF-44. Their unanimous “no” blunted the drift of Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile that P-Noy, to save a truce with Moro rebels, deceitfully had allowed the massacre. They came to the same old ending: P-Noy was wrong in letting a suspended PNP chief direct the takedown of international terrorists.

Three items were heard only in passing, as in the first inquiry:

First is the PNP intelligence distrust of the AFP in operations against “HVTs,” or high-value targets. Unexplained then as now was SAF head Getulio Napeñas’ response to P-Noy’s instruction to coordinate his raid with the military: “Sir, with due respect, the AFP is compromised.” That led to revising the O-Plan Exodus against mass bombers Marwan and Basit Usman. Employed was the tactic of “T-O-T” (time on target), or giving the concerned officers details only at launch of operation.

PNP sources say the distrust runs long and deep, particularly in Muslim Mindanao. Too often, when PNP commanders informed military counterparts well beforehand of, say, a raid, “word of it would reach the enemy.”

Perhaps it was by duty. A cease-fire binds the Army to in turn tell truce monitors of the impending police action. The monitors in turn alert the Moro Islamic Liberation Front to stay away. The latter also is able to preempt damage on its units, thus foiling the PNP’s element of surprise.

It can also be due to carelessness. A SAF general recounts a past operation that needed aerial bombing. When the Air Force prepared to scramble fighter craft, all MILF units in the vicinity went on red alert. “Some enlisted men have relatives in MILF-controlled barrios,” the general shakes his head.

It could be due to the PNP and AFP’s conflicting missions. The former is tasked to disband private armies, especially during elections. The latter, to foil at all costs any rebel sabotage, would arm politicos even with machineguns. Invariably resentments flare, even between “mistahs,” or batch mates, from the Philippine Military Academy.

Entwined with the distrust is the second issue: fights over rewards and credits. To be credited with successful delicate missions is the passport to plum promotion in both the PNP and AFP. Monetary rewards are icing on the cake.

The PNP Board of Inquiry on the Mamasapano Massacre hinted at this in its sole paragraph about the distrust. Recounting the genesis of Exodus from O-Plans Wolverine 1 to 3 and Terminator 1 to 2, it reported: “According to Napeñas, the aborted missions in the past caused uncertainties and suspicion, so much so that he decided against informing or working with the AFP in the succeeding operations against HVTs. He speculated that sensitive intelligence and operational information were deliberately leaked whenever ‘big operations’ against HVTs like Marwan and Usman were conducted. Napeñas lamented that ‘(t)he subjects are being coddled by the MILF, whose members have a lot of contacts in the AFP.’”

The hunt for Marwan and Usman was one such “big operation.” The targets were so big that there were rewards for their capture: $7 million from the US State Department, and P7.5 million from the Philippine government.

The MILF was coddling the terrorists for sure, and helping them elude past dragnets. But Wolverine, Terminator, and Exodus also hinged on crucial tips from certain rebels. PNP intelligence was able to pinpoint Marwan and Usman’s adjacent hideouts from informants on-site, one of them codenamed Bonanza. They knew of the huge bounty; the amount was beyond the wildest dream of Moros so used to the hard life of the neglected. They were willing to share the prize with their handlers. Lawmen are prohibited from receiving rewards, but the enticements from informants are tempting: “We will buy houses and lots and SUVs, then retire together.” The rewards remain uncollected.

Bounty hunters viciously compete. The SAF complains that, months ahead of Exodus, the Army 6th Infantry Division had launched its own raid to get Marwan using the old PNP intelligence. “It failed,” they guffaw.

In another case AFP higher-ups aborted an air rescue of encircled policemen when they found out it was an operation to get Marwan. The PNP officers hold a grudge to this day.

A senator said such bounty hunting costs lives. Recounted was an Army colonel in Basilan who, with no clearance from superiors, dispatched 19 soldiers to arrest an MILF chieftain wanted for the massacre of 11 Marines. The 19 soldiers were themselves killed in ambush by the same MILF brute, and the colonel was demoted after court martial.

Lastly, justice remains elusive one year after the massacre of the SAF-44. Not tackled by the senators is why the Dept. of Justice is taking so long to indict the 92 identified massacrers from the MILF and its breakaway but blood-related Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters.

The 92 were shooters in the “pintakasi” (gang-up) at a cornfield in Barrio Tukanalipao, in which were encircled and mowed down 35 SAFs. In suspended animation is the killing in the next barrio of nine more SAFs who repeatedly were ambushed after neutralizing Marwan. The MILF refuses to return their looted uniforms, weapons, and personal effects. Yet Malacañang is egging the senators to enact a Bangsamoro Basic Law that would let the massacrers rule Muslim Mindanao.

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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8-10 a.m., DWIZ (882-AM).

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