Aquino admits lack of coordination in Mamasapano clash
MANILA, Philippines – President Benigno Aquino III on Wednesday admitted there were lapses in the coordination of the Philippine National Police (PNP) Special Action Force (SAF) with the military during the deadly Mamasapano clash on Sunday.
Aquino said this was despite his instructions to SAF Police Director Getulio Napeñas to coordinate with the concerned groups.
“Kung may compliance pong nangyari sa atas kong siguruhing may sapat na koordinasyon, parang sinagad po itong (If there was compliance with regards my order to have adequate coordination, it looked like there was very minimum compliance),” he said in front of the press and his Cabinet members in Malacañang on Wednesday.
Aquino gave his statement amid public outrage over the clash in Mamasapano town in Maguindanao that left 44 members of the Philippine National Police’s (PNP) Special Action Force (SAF) dead and 16 individuals hurt (3 civilians).
Interior Secretary Manuel “Mar” Roxas II called the incident a “misencounter.” Reports said the 392 SAF troopers were on their way to arrest Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir (also known as Marwan) and bombmaking expert Abdul Basit Usman who are both connected with the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).
The MILF, which is pursuing peace negotiations with the Philippine government, denied it coordinated the deadly attack with its breakaway group, the BIFF.
Aquino said he repeatedly reminded Napeñas, who has been relieved of his post, about the need to coordinate.
READ: Espina: PNP unaware of SAF operation, to probe lapses; SAF commander sacked
However, he said the SAF director insisted on operational security to ensure that only those who are involved will be informed.
“Gayunpaman, idiniin kong kailangan pa ring ialerto ang ibang mga sangay o ang kanilang hepe; kailangan nasa tamang oras ang abiso, at kumpleto ang impormasyon, para makapaghanda ng maayos,” Aquino said.
(Even then, I underscored the need to alert other branches, or their respective heads; the notification must come at the appropriate time, with complete information, for them to make the necessary preparations.)
He said he wondered why the battalion of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) assigned to the area was informed of the operation when the SAF group was already at the “jump-off” point.
“Sa madaling salita, dikit na sa oras ng engkuwentro ang abiso, at mahirap masabi kung nagkaroon ng sapat na panahon upang ihanda ang ayuda kung kakailanganin,” he said.
(In simple language, the notification to the AFP came too close to the time of the encounter, thus making it difficult to determine if they were given enough time to prepare, had their assistance been necessary.)
Groups such as Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) pressed Aquino to answer accusations that the “covert operation” was actually sanctioned by him and that he tapped suspended PNP chief Alan Purisima to direct it. Bayan claimed that there is a “strong indication” that the operation was a “US-directed counter terror operation.”
READ: PNP-SAF killings: President Aquino pressed for answers
Aquino said he was aware of the operation to arrest Marwan and Usmad but that it did not actually require his direct approval.
“If they will have to wait for me with every action, then they will have to contend with all the other things that are occupying my attention, when will we catch the criminal?” he said.
“’Sir, can we proceed with the mission?’ I don’t think I was ever asked that question,” he added. “‘Yung ‘pwede ho ba naming hulihin itong pinapahuli ng korte?’ Pwede ko bang sagutin na ‘hindi’? (The question, ‘can we arrest someone who the court says should be arrested?’ Can I answer that with a ‘no’?)”
The statement came amid confusion on who had directed the operation, especially after the PNP command group denied responsibility. Aquino said the board of inquiry will be able to find out why Roxas and the others were not informed, although the Secretary was aware of the earlier version of the plan.
On the other hand, he admitted that suspended PNP chief Director General Alan Purisima was involved, at least before he was suspended by the Ombudsman.
“After that, if at all, ‘yung siya ang very knowledgeable about the whole thing; ipinapaliwanag sa akin ‘yung intricacies of what the plan being presented to be was (And after that, since he is the one very knowledgeable about the whole thing; he was the one explaining the intricacies of the plan),” Aquino explained.
Usman, who is linked to the international terror group Jemaah Islamiah, was making bombs for the BIFF, which has been opposing the MILF’s peace deal with the government, earlier reports said.
READ: Military confirms Basit Usman manufacturing bombs in Maguindanao
Marwan, on the other hand, was declared killed in an airstrike but just last year the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) backtracked on earlier statements, following reports that the Malaysian terrorist was seen in Maguindanao. Marwan is one of Southeast Asia’s most-wanted terror suspects and has a $5 million bounty on his head, courtesy of the US government.
READ: AFP on terrorist previously thought dead: ‘We will get him’; Moro rebels said to be harboring foreign terrorists
“Marwan and Usman are not common criminals. There is a long string of outstanding warrants for their arrest. There are no less than 8 outstanding warrants against Usman alone, while there are no less than 2 for Marwan,” Aquino said.
He said the SAF first approached Marwan’s hiding place, closing the distance in an attempt to keep civilians out of the crossfire. However, Usman and his men were able to fight back.
“Usman responded, and the element of surprise, which was necessary to avoid detection, was lost. This is why the SAF decided to withdraw and rendezvous with their companions, who were securing their exit route from the area where the encounter occurred,” Aquino said. “It appears that it was during this withdrawal when the bloodiest part of the clash happened.”
Many groups, including the MILF and the BIFF, were in the area but Aquino said Usman and Marwan were not inside their respective camps. Nevertheless, it was difficult to enter the area because while the MILF and the BIFF are not working together, many of them are “related by blood or by affinity.”
He said the board of inquiry will be able to shed light on what had really happened that day.
Because of the incident, a number of lawmakers expressed reservations on the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), which will pave the way for the creation of a political entity in accordance with the government’s peace deal with the MILF.
Senators Alan Peter Cayetano and JV Ejercito have withdrawn their coauthorship of the bill, which now has the support of less than half of the upper House.
READ: Bangsamoro law support in Congress suffers setback
But Aquino did not lose hope on the MILF and the Bangsamoro.
“I am hopeful that the MILF will show, in the soonest possible time, even more concrete evidence of their solidarity in the pursuit of peace, towards the pursuit of truth, and the accountability of those responsible,” he said.
He warned against those “spreading rumors and fueling speculation” about the issue.
“The incident in Mampasano has already given rise to those who want to take advantage of this tragedy to undermine that trust; they wish to derail the peace process. There are even some already calling for a halt to the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law in the House of Representatives and the Senate,” Aquino said.
He emphasized that the success of the peace process was hinged on the BBL and that failure to pass it will result in status quo in a region long mired in conflict.
READ: Solons urged to continue supporting BBL despite Maguindanao clash
In his speech, Aquino declared a National Day of Mourning (Friday, January 30) for those killed in the encounter.
“To the families of the SAF members who perished: I fully sympathize with your grief. I know that this grief may be accompanied by worries about your future, especially if your loved ones who sacrificed their lives were also your breadwinners,” he said.
He assured their families that the government will give “maximum assistance.” He called on the public to do the same.
“We will gain justice, in time, through the right processes, and without letting go of our dreams to realize a widespread and lasting peace,” Aquino said.
First Published on Jan 28, 2015, 7:04 pm
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