SAF 44 kin raise more questions after meeting with Aquino for 2nd time | Inquirer News

SAF 44 kin raise more questions after meeting with Aquino for 2nd time

... Grieving families say President admitted knowing of Mamasapano firefight at 7 a.m. on Jan 25
By: - Reporter / @MRamosINQ
/ 10:35 PM February 19, 2015

MANILA, Philippines – His unexpected visit took them by surprise.

But for the grief-stricken families of the 44 Special Action Force (SAF) commandos killed in a clash with Moro rebels in Mamasapano, Maguindanao province, on Jan. 25, it was President Aquino’s failure to answer questions about his role in that tragic counter-terrorism operation that left them stunned.

Nearly a month after the tragedy, many of them remained in the dark about what the government was doing to get justice for the slain commandos, who had been sent to Mamasapano to get Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias “Marwan,” and his Filipino lieutenant, Basit Usman.


Janet Carap, widow of PO2 Peterson Carap, said the “most important questions” about the disastrous police operation remained unanswered as Mr. Aquino kept mum during their unscheduled, six-hour dialogue with him at Camp Crame, the national headquarters of the Philippine National Police in Quezon City, on Wednesday night.


“I’m not contented because he did not answer my questions,” Carap told the Philippine Daily Inquirer after the meeting with the President at the Camp Crame Multipurpose Center.

“I want to know what really happened, who made the mistake and who should be held accountable for the death of my husband and the others. For me, that’s much more important than the livelihood and other assistance they promised us,” she said.

“The government is not telling us what they are going to do to give us justice. It’s not easy for us to accept that the lives of our loved ones are worth the life of Marwan,” she added.

Marwan was killed by the commandos during the operation in the early hours of Jan. 25 in Tukanalipao village, Mamasapano, but Usman, though wounded, managed to escape.

As they withdrew from the village, the commandos got into gun battles with guerrillas from the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Forty-four SAF commandos, 18 MILF rebels, and five civilians were killed in fighting that lasted for 12 hours.


The SAF did not inform the military and the MILF, which has signed a peace agreement with the government, about the law-enforcement operation. Coordination with the joint ceasefire committee would have prevented a clash between the government forces and the Moro rebels—or have compromised the mission, as feared by the SAF commander, Director Getulio Napeñas, who was sacked over the debacle.

Napeñas said he called for military reinforcement as the fighting raged, but no help came.

The military said a rescue mission was organized, but Napeñas could not determine the location of his pinned down troopers. It was already too late when they were finally located.

Aquino has admitted having knowledge of the operation, but has never said how much he knew about it and who gave the order for it to proceed.

The families of the slain SAF commandos have been waiting for him to inform them on the circumstances that led to the bloodbath and the people responsible for the mistakes that led to the tragedy.

Wednesday was the second time that Aquino met with the families of the slain commandos, who had been hailed by the government and by netizens for their bravery in tracking down one of the most wanted terrorists in the world.

Joined by senior government officials, Aquino hopped from one table to another as he talked with the families, spending at least 30 minutes to listen to their concerns.

Relatives of at least three of the commandos occupied each table.

Aquino, who arrived before 6 p.m. and left at midnight, skipped the wedding reception of his close friend and political ally, Sen. Francis “Chiz” Escudero, and actress Heart Evangelista to be with the families.

The President had been pilloried in social media when he chose to attend the opening of a car manufacturing plant in Sta. Rosa City, Laguna province, than join the heroes’ welcome for the dead policemen at Villamor Air Base in Pasay City on Jan. 28.

Aquino tried to make up for it by spending 13 hours with the families after necrological services for the slain commandos at SAF headquarters in Camp Bagong Diwa, Taguig City, on Jan. 30.

Speaking with reporters after the gruelling marathon meeting on Wednesday night, Interior Secretary Mar Roxas said the President decided not to attend Escudero’s wedding party after he informed the Chief Executive that relatives of the slain SAF troopers were in Camp Crame.

“He changed his schedule to be here. He ordered the Cabinet members to address the needs of the families and not to let these concerns be buried by the bureaucracy and documentary requirements,” Roxas said.

Carap, who traveled from Baguio City to attend the event originally scheduled as a “one-stop” assistance program for the beneficiaries of the SAF troopers, sat along with the families of PO2 Noble Kiangan and two other slain officers from Benguet province.

During their conversation, Carap said she asked Mr. Aquino why he failed to control the situation in Mamasapano when he clearly had the authority as Commander in Chief of the military and the police.

She said the President replied, “If you are the president of a company composed of, say, 8,000 employees, can you control all of your people?”

“If I were to answer his question, I would have said yes because you are the boss, you are the leader. You should have control over your people,” she said.

Explaining what happened on that fateful day, the President, she said, showed them the text messages on his mobile phone about the information he received on the Mamasapano clash.

Carap said Aquino admitted that he knew what was going on in Mamasapano as early as 7 a.m. and that he was in contact with security officials on the ground.

“The most important questions he should answer are what did he do after learning about the incident, what did he do to save his people. Those 44 men and the other members of our security forces fought for this country,” she said, raising her voice.

“Is this country worth fighting for if that is the only kind of support our security forces get? Is it OK for the government to lose many of its men just for the life of one terrorist?” she said.

Carap said it was difficult to accept the way her husband died, insisting that Mr. Aquino could have done more to save the lives of the SAF commandos who were outnumbered and pinned down by heavily armed Moro rebels in a vast cornfield in Tukanalipao.

Said Carap: “Admittedly, we all need the livelihood assistance that the government has promised us. I will not turn it down because of pride. But I would prefer knowing the truth because we can still work and earn money.”

“What’s more painful is the fact that our questions are not answered. There are still question marks,” she added.

A senior government official, who agreed to talk on condition of anonymity, said the questions raised by Carap and the other families were “rather difficult to answer.”

Aquino stayed longest at the table of the relatives of SPO1 Lover Inocencio, Insp. Joey Gamutan, PO1 Oliebeth Viernes and PO2 Rodel Ramacula.

At one point, Aquino was seen showing text messages on his cell phones and several documents to the families.

Inocencio’s widow, Liezel, said they asked the President if he had ordered the deployment of reinforcements to help the SAF commandos.

She said the President told them that the information on the Mamasapano clash were relayed to him by Napeñas, who had taken responsibility for the PNP’s worst operational debacle in recent years.

“He showed us the texts of Sir Napeñas. It was sent to him at around 7 a.m. (of Jan. 25). He said he had sent reinforcements,” Liezel Inocencio said.

Mena Ramacula, mother of the slain SAF trooper, said the President also told them how he was being blamed for the carnage, which had clearly affected the Aquino administration’s four-year efforts to seal a final peace agreement with the MILF.

The MILF, the biggest secessionist group in Mindanao, has admitted that some of its members were involved in the clash with the SAF commandos.

Asked if she thought Aquino should take the blame for the death of the commandos, Ramacula said: “No comment. It’s hard to answer that question.”

Journalists were initially allowed to cover the meeting from the viewing deck of the multipurpose center. But staff members of the Palace press office shooed away the reporters at around 10 p.m. after some of the relatives were seen arguing with Mr. Aquino.

One of the women was seen cupping her ears as if in disgust or as if she did not want to listen to what the President was saying.

“It was at that table where the President was met with some kind of resistance as the relatives raised more difficult questions,” an Inquirer source said.

One of the text messages that the President showed to the relatives came from a certain “Mar,” apparently Roxas.

The message read: “The containment blocking force was engaged 2 kms east of Tukanalipao GC (grid coordinates). There was heavy firefight & SAF troops suffered casualties. Extraction ongoing & support troops from AFP was requested.”

It was not clear when “Mar” sent the message to Aquino.

Roxas, who was not informed about the Mamasapano operations, and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin had told the Senate inquiry into the Jan. 25 clash that they did not inform the President about the Mamasapano clash.

Malacañang said Mr. Aquino’s surprise visit to the families of the slain SAF commandos on Wednesday night was a “follow through on the delivery of the assistance” the President promised them two weeks ago.

Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said the President went to Camp Crame with his Cabinet officials to “ensure that with top level commitment, the families will be assisted and enabled to rebuild their lives and to fulfill the dreams of our SAF 44 heroes.”

Coloma added that the assistance include educational scholarships, livelihood and employment, and health services.

When asked if the families of the five civilians killed during the clash would receive the same attention from the government, Coloma said the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) had been tasked “to ascertain their needs and extend necessary assistance.”

The DSWD would coordinate with Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) authorities as well as the local government units, Coloma said.

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He also gave an assurance that other soldiers and policemen who had been killed in the line of duty would be given the same attention by the government as given to the families of the slain SAF officers. With a report from Nikko Dizon

TAGS: Basit Usman, bloodshed, carnage, Ceasefire, clash, Encounter, gun battle, inquiry, Janet Carap, Joey Gamutan, Justice, Mar Roxas, Marwan, Massacre, MILF, News, Noble Kiangan, peace process, SAF 44, Security, truth

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