Mamasapano clash: What happened according to the military
This is the account of the Armed Forces of the Philippines of the Jan. 25 operation carried out by the Special Action Force (SAF) of the Philippine National Police in Maguindanao province to take down international terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias “Marwan,” and his Filipino aide Abdul Basit Usman.
The facts cited here are in the military investigation report of the fact-finding body as narrated to the Inquirer by a top military source. Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang, AFP chief of staff, who ordered an investigation into the allegation of Police Director Getulio Napeñas, the sacked SAF commander, that no Army reinforcement came, resulting in the killing of 44 SAF commandos, has forwarded the report to Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, who will submit it to President Benigno Aquino III.
Jan. 24 (Saturday)
11 p.m.—392 SAF commandos are stopped at a checkpoint manned by soldiers from the 45th Infantry Battalion (45th IB). “We’re cops, we have a mission,” the commandos say when asked to identify themselves. Two SAF groups go into the marshland, the 84th SAF Company headed by Supt. Raymond Train and tasked to get Marwan and the 55th SAF Company headed by Insp. Ryan Pabalinas, serving as the blocking force.
Jan. 25 (Sunday)
3 a.m.—Marwan is killed by the 84th Special Action Company (SAC). Marwan’s right index finger is cut off for DNA tests. First encounter between Train’s team and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), a breakaway group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
5 a.m.— Napeñas sends a text message to Maj. Gen. Eduardo Pangilinan, commander of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, informing him of an ongoing police operation against Marwan. Napeñas does not ask for reinforcements.
6 a.m. —The Alpha Company of the Army’s 45th IB hears gunfire about 4 kilometers away from the detachment. The 45th IB informs the brigade. Napeñas sends a text message to “chief PNP” (presumed to be suspended Director General Alan Purisima) cc: Pangilinan informing them of the encounter. Napeñas does not request reinforcements.
Between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m.
—Pangilinan, sensing the SAF is in trouble, makes several calls. He orders Brig. Gen. Noli Orense of the AFP Ad Hoc Joint Action Group to call his counterpart in the MILF, Abdul Abad Dataya, and inform the MILF leadership about an encounter in Mamasapano and to order the rebels to withdraw. Dataya does not respond. Pangilinan assembles a reinforcement team and calls armor from the Mechanized Brigade to provide artillery support. Pangilinan orders the reinforcement team to look for the SAF’s location.
7:30 a.m.—Dataya finally returns Orense’s call. Dataya says he will inform the MILF leadership about Orense’s request.
7:45 a.m.—Chief Supt. Noli Taliño, Napeñas’ deputy commander, goes to the 1st Mechanized Brigade headquarters. Pangilinan tells Col. Gener del Rosario to coordinate with Taliño. Taliño gives the initial grid coordinates. But Del Rosario asks for the exact and latest grid coordinates of the two SAF companies as it is a running battle. Taliño cannot provide the information.
8:45 a.m.—Army reinforcement team sees the remaining 300 plus SAF commandos who have not entered the marshland scattered in the street. “Just sitting,” according to the Army report. Army reinforcement team talks to two SAF commanders on the ground—Supt. Hendrix Mangaldan and a certain Supt. Mangahas—to ask for the grid coordinates of the Train and Pabalinas teams. Neither officers know the coordinates. The Army reinforcements proceed into the marshland. The SAF commandos refuse to go with them. The 45th IB receives a call from a member of Train’s group, saying: “Hill, we’re on the hill in Barangay Tukanalipao. We are surrounded by the MILF. We have eight dead, three wounded and one missing. We cannot get out.” The Army soldiers figure out the commandos location and proceeds to extract them.
9 a.m.—Pangilinan receives a call from Lt. Gen. Rustico Guerrero, commander of the AFP Western Mindanao Command about the request for reinforcements from Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina, PNP officer in charge.
9:20 a.m.—Troops from the 23rd and 14th Mechanized Brigades and the 62nd Division Reconnaisance Company link up with the 45th SAC commandos in Tukanalipao.
10:30 a.m.—Second encounter, this time between Pabalinas’ group, the SAF blocking force positioned in a cornfield, and MILF guerrillas who have surrounded them. Pabalinas’ team is wiped out.
Between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.—Army reinforcement team in the marshland receives sniper fire. Army engages the guerrillas.
2:30 p.m.—Joint Army and SAF forces set up a tactical command post to coordinate communications as there is no contact with SAF units in the marshland.
3 p.m.—Army artillery support tries to enter the marshland but fails due to narrow passages. Army’s V150 tank is hit.
5:30 p.m.—Under heavy fire from MILF guerrillas, Army reinforcement team deploys white phosphorous to give soldiers cover, a preparation for “call for fire procedure.” Seeing the white phosphorous in the air, artillery support team calculates their grid coordinates and fires several rounds on the other position of the fire fight. MILF guerrillas retreat.
6 p.m.—MILF leadership confirms MILF fighters withdrawal. Army reinforcements proceed to look for SAF survivors and dead.
7 p.m.—Soldiers retrieve the bodies of the SAF casualties. They radio the battalion to inform the 300 SAF commandos that everything is clear. SAF finally moves and helps the Army in retrieval operations.
8 p.m.—Soldiers locate Train and remaining members of his team and extract them safely.
Jan. 26 (Monday)
3 a.m.—Altercation between Napeñas and Pangilinan. Napeñas wants to resume the operation later as it is already 3 a.m. Pangilinan furious and tells Napeñas, “Goddamit, those are your people but you are pressing me to get them for you.”
Army continues retrieval operations until 2 p.m.
2 p.m.—PO2 Christopher Robert Lalan, the SAF survivor from Train’s team, is located by soldiers and taken to Army 45th IB headquarters to rejoin other SAF commandos. An angry Lalan kicks one of his comrades, demanding to know why reinforcements never came to support the two SAF groups that went in for the operation as planned.
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