Mamasapano clash: ‘A breakdown in command’ | Inquirer News

Mamasapano clash: ‘A breakdown in command’

By: - Reporter / @NikkoDizonINQ
/ 03:37 AM February 18, 2015

DATU ODIN SINSUAT, Maguindanao—A breakdown in command and control.

This was how Army senior and junior officers described the confusing situation in both the operational and tactical command posts in Shariff Aguak and Mamasapano towns as sacked Special Action Force (SAF) Director Getulio Napeñas failed to give them the information they needed to effectively reinforce and rescue the police commandos pinned in the combat zone after they took down Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir alias, “Marwan.”


One senior Army officer who was at the Shariff Aguak command post told the Inquirer on Tuesday that he saw Napeñas and the deputy SAF commander, Noli Talino, fall to the floor in one corner of the room where they were planning the Army’s reinforcements in Mamasapano, where 44 commandos were slaughtered.

Both Napeñas and Talino, curiously were in civilian clothes, when they were supposed to be commanding the SAF operations in Mamasapano, the officer said.


Most of the Army officials who had gathered at Shariff Aguak were not in their uniforms because none of them had expected the sudden military operations to reinforce and rescue the SAF men. One official came from Sunday Mass. Another was in his athletic attire as he was biking around Cotabato City when called to go to the Shariff Aguak command post.

“It was difficult to talk to them (Napeñas and Talino) especially when the death toll was already mounting,” the officer said, asking anonymity as he was not authorized to disclose details of what took place in the command post.

The C2

“There was no longer command and control. The Army had to take over, with CG (commanding general) already directing the operations,” the officer said, referring to Army 6th Infantry Division head, Maj. Gen. Edmundo Pangilinan.

Another senior official, who was also at the Shariff Aguak command post, defined for the Inquirer “command and control,” also known as C2.

“It is the heart, center and focal point of all operations. There is C2 in both the higher level and lower level. It is to ensure the accomplishment of the mission and the welfare of their men. It is meant to have a systematic movement in the field that will dictate the result of the mission,” the officer said.

Command and control may be a military term but it is also certainly applied in the Philippine National Police, the officer said. “You can say it’s their line of authority. Even in any private entity, there should be command responsibility,” he said.


The fact that Napeñas could not give the exact location of his men, and belatedly told the Army that he had another team in the combat zone showed that he no longer had control over the situation, the first military officer told the Inquirer.

He also said he was surprised to learn that the SAF commanders and the 84th Special Action Company (SAC), better known as Seaborne, were communicating using their mobile phones.

“I was asking General Napeñas if his men already saw the white phosphorous when he said they had yet to receive a text message from them. I also heard him tell another police officer to remind them (Seaborne) not to use their mobile phones too much so as not to drain their batteries. I couldn’t understand why they weren’t using their radios,” the officer said.

Google map

The officer said after Napeñas failed to give the exact locations of the 55th SAC and the Seaborne, he got the enlarged Google map that the SAF commander was using.

“We started plotting the locations that General Napeñas was telling us against our tactical map, which will give you the exact location of the commandos according to the grid coordinates,” the officer said.

“Time was very precious at that point because we had to save the lives of the SAF but having to do that, look at the Google map then our tactical map, was eating up time,” the officer said.

The officer said after Napeñas finally told Pangilinan that the Seaborne was also in the area at around 4 p.m., Pangilinan decided to take over. “He already started giving us orders what each one should do, as if it was already our operation when this was really a SAF mission,” the officer said.

Over at Mamasapano, some 12 kilometers away, two young Army lieutenants found themselves commanding the 45th SAC when the company’s officer could not give them the location of the Seaborne.

The Army unit was dispatched to Mamasapano to rescue the Seaborne. The moment they reached the highway at Tukanalipao village, the soldiers were surprised to see more than a hundred SAF commandos.

“I looked for their commanding officer right away but it took some time before he introduced himself to me. He looked affected by the news that the 55th SAC had been walloped. But we all needed to think quickly at that time because we had to get to the 84th SAC,” said the Army lieutenant.

US gave coordinates

Members of the 45th SAC also did not want to go with the Army unit deep into the cornfields where their fellow commandos were trapped.

“I had to order them to come with us because their fellow commandos do not know us. The 45th SAC had to guide us. The Seaborne might shoot us if they see us. Only the commandos know their agreed challenge and respond terms,” the junior officer said.

The challenge and response words are like passwords in the combat zone that only the members of a mission know.

A US drone provided the grid coordinates of the Seaborne’s location.

Communicating with the Shariff Aguak command post via radio, it was the Army unit that reported to their commanders where the white phosphorous landed and because it landed far from the target (to try to drive away any hostile forces still surrounding the Seaborne), the artillery made the adjustment and fired another white phosphorous.

The Army and 45th SAC got to the Seaborne at midnight and found the elite commandos tired and hungry. Some were disoriented. Eight dead commandos lay beside each other.

The Army lieutenant said Supt. Raymond Train did not even introduce himself as the most senior officer of the Seaborne. The lieutenant only remembered that Train was in a hurry to leave the area.

A second Army lieutenant led the smaller team that scoured the area to ensure that no weapon, ammunition and equipment were left behind.

Even if it was pitch dark, the soldiers made sure they would not use any light because hostile forces were still around them.

Not even a ‘thank you’

Train, the soldiers said, kept on turning on his mobile phone, illuminating their position.

“One Army private already ordered him (Train) to turn off his mobile phone because we could be spotted. None of us really knew that he was a police colonel,” the second Army lieutenant said.

The soldiers said that when they halted during their trek back to the main highway, some of the Seaborne commandos wandered to the cornfields.

“We had to pull them back to our line. They were really disoriented,” one sergeant said. The sergeant added he had to hush the Seaborne several times because they kept on talking. It was, to the soldiers, another sign that the Seaborne might be suffering from battle stress.

In all, the soldiers were able to rescue 28 police commandos.

The soldiers admitted they were hurt at the accusations that the Army and Pangilinan were now being blamed for the deaths.

“They did not even say ‘thank you’ to us when we reached the highway. Then now we are being blamed for what happened to Mamasapano? We can’t understand that,” said one of the Army lieutenants.

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TAGS: breakdown in command, command responsibility, Getulio Napeñas, Maguindanao, Mamasapano clash, MILF, Military, Police, SAF, Special Action Force
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