‘Purisima’s order: Don’t tell Espina beforehand’
MANILA, Philippines–The sacked commander of the Philippine National Police Special Action Force (SAF) on Wednesday disputed the military’s claim that it was not informed about the police operation in Maguindanao province on Jan. 25 that cost the lives of 44 police commandos.
Director Getulio Napeñas of the SAF also admitted that Director General Alan Purisima, the suspended PNP chief, ordered him to delay informing Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina, about the operation.
“Purisima told me to tell Deputy Director General Espina only when the operation was already going on,” Napeñas told reporters in a news conference at the PNP headquarters in Camp Crame, Quezon City.
Espina confirmed the information at another news conference on Wednesday, saying he learned about the SAF operation when he received a text message from Napeñas at 5:30 a.m. on Jan. 25.
“I was informed during the encounter. I was made to understand they killed the target around 4 a.m. I received the information at 5:30 a.m.,” Espina said.
The target was international terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias “Marwan,” the primary subject of the SAF operation who had a $6-million price on his head.
The commandos killed Marwan in the operation in Mamasapano town, Maguindanao, but lost 44 of their own when they encountered the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) guerrillas.
Napeñas was sacked because of the great loss of lives, which could have been avoided had he not kept the operation a secret from his superiors.
The military defended its actions during the operation, saying it sent troops to extricate the trapped police commandos, not to fight the Moro guerrillas.
“We went there to reinforce them but the reinforcements were there to extricate them, not to join the fight with the MILF or the BIFF or whatever combat units they engaged,” said Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr., chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
Catapang said the government’s ceasefire agreement with the MILF provided a mechanism to first put a stop to the firing, clashes or skirmishes when it started.
There was coordination
Napeñas said the SAF had been coordinating the mission to take down Marwan and local terrorist Basit Usman, for whose arrest the United States is offering a $3-million reward, with the AFP since 2012.
Napeñas said the SAF attempted to arrest Marwan in Sulu in December 2010 and in Lanao del Sur province in June 2012, but failed both times so it turned to the Philippine Army for help.
He said coordination with the Army started with an operation to get Marwan in Mamasapano on Dec. 17, 2012. But the operation was not implemented as the Army’s East Mindanao Command could not provide a helicopter requested by the SAF.
This was followed by another joint operation on April 25, 2014, dubbed “Oplan Wolverine.” But the mission was also aborted because the Army’s 6th Infantry Division could not commit the mechanized brigade to aid the SAF, as it had yet to coordinate the operation with the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG) on the operation, Napeñas said.
He said another joint attempt to capture Marwan in Mamasapano was made on May 30, 2014, but it was aborted due to heavy MILF movement at the time. The Army, on its own, also attempted to capture Marwan on June 10, 2014, but failed, he said.
An operation on Nov. 29, 2014, called “Oplan Terminator,” was also aborted because the boat used by the SAF on the river in Mamasapano broke down. The plan was revived in an operation on Dec. 12, 2014, but an armed clash forced the SAF to retreat again.
Rules of procedures
When asked if the SAF coordinated with the Army for the Jan. 25 operation, Napeñas admitted the coordination was made only when the mission had already begun.
“But under Rule No. 4 of police operational procedures, we can [coordinate] before or during the operation,” Napeñas said.
He cited the failure of the Army to come through in the December 2012 and the April 2014 operations as reason for the SAF’s decision to inform the military about the Jan. 25 mission only after the operation had been launched.
“The operation is only compromised when we coordinate with the military immediately. When [the Army] is preparing for it, they are easily monitored [by the enemy], who end up evading capture,” Napeñas said.
He also denied the military’s complaint that the PNP failed to relay to the Army the location of the SAF troopers during the 12-hour gun battle.
“The [police] board of inquiry (BOI) results would show [SMS exchanges of] the grid coordinates. I forwarded them to Espina, who would forward them to [the AFP Western Mindanao Command chief, Lt. Gen. Rustico] Guerrero,” Napeñas said.
Espina also confirmed the information, saying he texted the coordinates to Guerrero at 7:51 a.m. on Jan. 25.
“I even asked [Guerrero] if reinforcements were already sent. He told me the AFP mobilized at 7:29 a.m. But, as the BOI would show, they were already [moving] as early as 6 a.m.,” Espina said.
Napeñas also belied claims that the backing force and colleagues of the slain SAF members, mostly from the 55th Company, hesitated to help them.
“I could hear over the radio the battalion commander himself ordering that [the other support companies] move in. He knows his people were truly attempting to help the 55th Company. The 45th, 42nd and 41st Companies were already in the area when the mechanized brigade and the reconnaissance troops from the Army arrived at 8 a.m.,” Napeñas said.–With a report from Cynthia D. Balana
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