Mamasapano clash: What happened according to then SAF chief Getulio Napeñas
From December 2010 to January this year, there were at least 11 operations by government security forces to arrest Zulkifli bin Hir, alias “Marwan,” a Malaysian bomb expert and senior member of the Indonesia-based terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah.
Here is a timeline of the operations for the capture of Marwan based on accounts from Police Director Getulio Napeñas, the Special Action Force (SAF) commander who was sacked pending investigation of the Jan. 25 operation.
December 2010—The hunt for Marwan begins in Parang town, Sulu province. The SAF conducts an operation to arrest Marwan but he escapes as the police commandos approach the target area.
July 14 to 16, 2012—In another SAF operation, the police commandos reach the hideout of Marwan and other members of Jemaah Islamiyah in Lanao del Sur but the terrorists manage to escape.
Dec. 17, 2012—An operation in coordination with the Armed Forces of the Philippines does not push through due to lack of support and facilities. The Army’s East Mindanao Command cannot provide a helicopter requested by the SAF.
2013—Napeñas, who had served as chief of the Philippine National Police Directorial Staff and deputy director, leaves the SAF and becomes regional director of Police Regional Office-Caraga in January.
Succeeding missions to pursue Marwan are conducted in Lanao del Sur. One mission is executed and the other is aborted. In December, Napeñas assumes the leadership of the SAF.
April 25, 2014—“Oplan Wolverine” is conducted in Libutan village in Mamasapano town, Maguindanao province. SAF members are on their way when the mission is aborted because the Army’s 6th Infantry Division cannot commit the mechanized brigade to aid the SAF, as it needs to coordinate the operation with the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group, a mechanism set up by the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to deal with criminals and terrorism in areas with MILF presence.
May 30, 2014—Another mission is aborted due to heavy MILF movement at the time.
June 10, 2014—The Army, on its own, attempts to capture Marwan but fails.
Nov. 29, 2014—“Oplan Terminator” is also aborted because the locally made boat to be used by the SAF on the river in Mamasapano breaks down.
Dec. 12, 2014—The SAF revives the plan, this time using tactical boats but a clash forces the SAF to retreat.
Jan. 25, 2015—“Oplan Exodus” to seize Marwan is launched.
3 a.m.—392 police commandos divided into groups take positions in Tukanalipao village, Mamasapano town, Maguindanao province. The plan is for a surgical operation of 30 minutes. Four nipa huts in the village are the targets of the assault.
4:20 a.m.—Part of the assault team enters the nipa hut where Marwan is sleeping.
4:30 a.m.—Marwan is awakened and fires the first shot. Some members of the assault team are hit. The SAF policemen fire back, killing Marwan.
The exchange of gunfire brings Marwan’s security to action. The policemen come under fire from all directions as they pull out. (Napeñas describes the other side as Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and MILF forces who “came from all directions.”) One SAF officer extracts DNA from Marwan as the firing becomes intense.
5:30 a.m.—Napeñas informs Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina, the PNP officer in charge, about the Mamasapano operation through a text message.
6 a.m.—The SAF commandos call for reinforcements. The Department of National Defense, AFP, government peace panel and the leadership of the MILF are notified about the operation.
The joint monitoring team from the MILF and the government calls a ceasefire but the “MILF guerrillas do not stop shooting.”
Between 6 a.m. and 12 noon—The first group of SAF commandos manage to get out of Tukanalipao while the second group, which provides cover for the first group, gets into a gun battle with Moro rebels.
8:30 a.m.—The Army’s mechanized brigade arrives in the area.
12 noon—The SAF commandos are still alive. Many of them are wounded and they are running out of ammunition. (Napeñas quoting PO2 Christopher Robert Lalan, a member of the second SAF group. Lalan is the only one who survived the gun battle).
1 p.m.—Napeñas loses contact with the troops who are pinned in a cornfield. Ana Roa, Inquirer Research
Sources: Inquirer Archives, Napeñas interview with Inquirer Correspondent at Large Arlyn de la Cruz, Feb. 4 press conference of Napeñas, saf.pnp.gov.ph
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