Mamasapano clash: Napeñas plea sparked Pangilinan’s outburst
DATU ODIN SINSUAT, Maguindanao—“Stop fooling us, Sir!”
Frustrated at the piecemeal information being given him by Director Getulio Napeñas, the relieved Special Action Force (SAF) commander, Maj. Gen. Edmundo Pangilinan, commander of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, blew his top, banged the table with his hands and pleaded with his senior officer to be honest and up-front with the Army as they were all racing against time to help the SAF commandos pinned down in a cornfield in Mamasapano, Maguindanao province, on Jan. 25.
Despite his exasperation, Pangilinan apparently still remembered that Napeñas was his upperclassman at the Philippine Military Academy (PMA), as he addressed him “Sir.”
Napeñas is a member of the PMA Class of 1982, while Pangilinan is from the PMA Class of 1983.
Napeñas kept silent, according to an Inquirer source who witnessed the incident that took place in one of the command posts set up by the military and the police as they grappled with the deteriorating situation in the combat zone.
What triggered Pangilinan’s outburst?
The source said it was already late in the afternoon and the Army had focused its efforts on the SAF’s 55th Special Action Company (SAC) when Napeñas suddenly told Pangilinan that he had another team pinned down somewhere in the cornfield.
That was the 84th SAC, better known as the Seaborne, which had taken down Zulkifli bin Hir, alias “Marwan,” the Jemaah Islamiyah terrorist who had a $6-million bounty on his head offered by the US government.
That there was still another SAF team in the area surprised Pangilinan, the source said.
“Stop fooling us, Sir! You’re asking for help but you don’t know the location of your troops? Then you want artillery fire?” the source quoted Pangilinan as saying.
The source asked that his identity be withheld, as he had no authority to speak about the incident.
He said the Army’s 6th ID was hurting from Napeñas’ claim that his men could have survived if military reinforcements and rescue arrived immediately.
Most of the 6th ID officials felt it was unfair that their commander, Pangilinan, was being blamed for what they all believed was Napeñas’ fault.
The source said Pangilinan had always been a dependable commander. He was the battalion commander that rescued the group of evangelist Wilde Almeda and 12 other pastors of the Jesus Miracle Crusade in Talipao, Sulu province, in October 2000. Almeda and his pastors had been abducted by the terrorist group Abu Sayyaf.
“After General Pangilinan’s outburst, [Director] Napeñas pleaded, ‘Let’s fire the artillery, please,’” the source said.
He said that earlier in the day, Pangilinan actually considered using artillery, but Brig. Gen. Charlie Galvez, head of the government’s Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH), pleaded with him to hold fire as the ceasefire teams were trying their best to reach both the SAF and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
Pangilinan gave Galvez five minutes to finish the coordination.
“It was the longest five minutes for all of us,” the source said.
Galvez returned to Pangilinan with the information that all parties involved in calling for a ceasefire, including the International Monitoring Team, were already moving to stop the fighting.
Around noon, the source said, there was no longer contact with the 55th SAC and the ceasefire was already in place.
The source said the Army was already planning for the extrication of the 55th SAC when Napeñas informed Pangilinan about the 84th SAC.
Napeñas has admitted that he did not inform the military and the MILF about the SAF operation to get Marwan because he did not trust both, after a series of compromised operations.
Officers from the 6th ID said that with the security situation in their area of responsibility, each unit has its own area of operation.
“It’s not that easy to muster troops from everywhere. It’s not that they will all be gathered in just an hour to focus on one mission we did not have any idea about,” the source said.
For example, the source said, one Army company’s ongoing operation against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) on Jan. 25 was suddenly called off to divert the soldiers to Mamasapano.
From other sources, the Inquirer also learned that the SAF had yet to give the Army an accounting of its lost firearms and ammunition.
For the Army, the report is important to assessing the firepower of the enemy, who have presumably taken the firearms.
Moreover, the sources said the SAF was not able to fully account for its men.
One telling incident was when PO2 Christopher Lalan suddenly appeared on the highway riding a bike, wearing only a T-shirt, his fatigue pants and no boots. He had his pistol and rifle with him. Lalan was screaming for help.
“When he reached the highway, he dismounted from the bike, ran toward the SAF troops and tried to kick one of them but was held back by another. He was shouting, ‘Why did you leave me?’” another source told the Inquirer.
“We were surprised, because the SAF people said they were all accounted for, then this one came in. So they were not all accounted for,” the source said.
Napeñas faced Senate investigators in a closed-door hearing on Monday to continue giving information about the Mamasapano debacle, where he lost 44 of his elite troopers.
“We were able to learn a lot of things or at least reconfirm things we already knew,” Sen. Grace Poe, head of the committee on public order, told reporters later.
Poe declined to provide specifics, but said the senators asked questions about the events that took place before, during and after the operation called “Oplan Exodus.”
Another closed-door session is scheduled for Tuesday to hear Director General Alan Purisima, the resigned chief of the Philippine National Police, and Senior Supt. Fernando Mendez, director of the PNP Intelligence Group.
Earlier, Lalan and Supt. Raymond Train, commander of the SAF 84th Company, met the senators in a closed-door session.–With a report from Leila B. Salaverria in Manila
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