SAF commander sacked
MANILA, Philippines–The chief of the elite Special Action Force (SAF) was relieved of his post on Tuesday following the bloody clash in Mamasapano, Maguindanao province, on Sunday which left at least 44 policemen dead.
Philippine National Police Director Getulio Napenas was recalled to Manila as a board of inquiry was convened to investigate the botched SAF operation. He was replaced by his deputy, Chief Supt. Noli Talino.
“Napenas was given a chance to help recover the bodies of his men from the battlefield but he has been recalled to Manila pending the outcome of the investigation,” said Interior Secretary Mar Roxas.
At a press briefing in Camp Crame, Roxas said 392 SAF troopers were involved in the operation to arrest “high-value targets” in Mamasapano town.
During the 12-hour gun battle with elements of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), at least 44 policemen were killed while 12 were wounded in action. The MILF put the number of PNP dead at 64.
Roxas said the remaining 336 policemen had been accounted for and would be interviewed by the board of inquiry.
The investigation will include the lapses committed and who should be held responsible, as well as tactical and doctrinal considerations for future PNP operations, Roxas said.
While details of what Roxas has described as a “misencounter” are still sketchy, what seems apparent is that word of the SAF operation did not reach the PNP top brass prior to the incident, according to Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina, the PNP officer in charge.
“It did not reach us in the command group. That will be also tackled by the board of inquiry,” said Espina.
The board of inquiry will comprise Director Edgardo Ingking of the Directorate for Integrated Police Operations in Western Mindanao, Director Benjamin Magalong of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group and Chief Supt. Catalino Rodrigo of the Directorate for Human Resource and Doctrine Development.
“The board of inquiry will entail both internal and external aspects, as to what are the liabilities of the officers who led this SAF operation… It is also important to know the operational lapses to avoid them in the future,” Espina said.
He added that the board also would look into the criminal liability of those who killed the SAF troopers.
The SAF troopers were reportedly after two high-value targets—Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan, a Malaysian member of the al-Qaida-linked Jemaah Islamiyah allegedly behind numerous bomb attacks in the Philippines, and Filipino Basit Usman—when they were waylaid.
Marwan is the country’s most wanted Islamist militant and the United States has offered a $5-million reward for him, while a $2 million reward has been posted for Usman.
Officials said Marwan was most likely killed in the firefight.
“When the firefight ensued, according to them, Marwan was killed but they were unable to retrieve his body,” Roxas said, citing initial testimonies of police officers involved in the clash.
Pictures were taken of the alleged remains of Marwan, but the pictures will have to be verified, Roxas added. He earlier said Usman had escaped.
Roxas denied that Marwan was the suicide bomber in an unsubstantiated intelligence threat during the recently concluded visit of Pope Francis.
Asked if the SAF asked for help from the Philippine Army at the height of the gunfight, Roxas said there was communication with the Philippine Army although this would also be investigated.
“The PNP still believes in the peace process despite this sad incident,” he added.
The PNP director for comptrollership, Rolando Purugganan, was designated to supervise contacting the families of the slain policemen and the wounded as well to ensure that they get all the help they need.
Roxas said that the surviving policemen and the kin of the fallen SAF troopers wouldn’t have to line up and go through the bureaucracy to get the benefits and honors the policemen deserve. Aside from burial assistance, scholarships, benefits and other financial help, the PNP will also give the highest possible honors to the SAF troopers.
“I will recommend the highest possible medals, equivalent to the Gold Cross medal, to be given to our fallen heroes. I will also recommend a spot promotion for those who died in this operation,” Espina said.
The slain policemen will also be buried with full state honors befitting heroes, the PNP officer in charge added.–With wire reports
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