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Aquino: I did not order SAF on suicide mission

President Aquino walks with New Philippine National Police Special Action Force (SAF) head, Chief Supt. Moro Virgilio Lazo, after the Assumption of Command Ceremony at Camp Bagong Diwa, Taguig, south of Manila, Philippines, on Wednesday March 4, 2015. Aquino said didn’t send the Special Action Force (SAF) on a “suicide mission” in Mamasapano.  AP PHOTO/AARON FAVILA

President Aquino walks with New Philippine National Police Special Action Force (SAF) head, Chief Supt. Moro Virgilio Lazo, after the Assumption of Command Ceremony at Camp Bagong Diwa, Taguig, south of Manila, Philippines, on Wednesday March 4, 2015. Aquino said didn’t send the Special Action Force (SAF) on a “suicide mission” in Mamasapano. AP

MANILA, Philippines–He didn’t send the Special Action Force (SAF) on a “suicide mission” in Mamasapano, and neither would he order one in the hunt for other high-profile terrorists.

President Aquino made this clear when he sat down for more than three hours with SAF troopers on Wednesday in his second meeting with them since 44 of their comrades were slaughtered by Moro rebels in Maguindanao province on Jan 25.

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“I think the group was satisfied,” said an Inquirer source, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak with media about the meeting.

The President recalled that he got the impression that the SAF troopers had been properly reinforced based on initial text messages he received through Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, and then Philippine National Police chief Alan Purisima.

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Purisima was under suspension for corruption at that time. He subsequently resigned.

In the first meeting on Jan. 30, none of the SAF troopers spoke. But the Inquirer source present on Wednesday said the President took the opportunity to assure the SAF troopers that he did not abandon them during the ill-fated operation.

It just so happened that there were “loopholes” in the operations that led to “improper reinforcement,” the source quoted Aquino as telling the police commandos.

One SAF trooper spoke up and told the President that his team was “happy” to capture terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias “Marwan,” and that they would be willing to go even on a “suicide mission” next time.

“I don’t order suicide missions,” replied Aquino, who also denied that he had asked government troops to “stand down” while Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) fighters and other Moro rebels were raining bullets on the SAF men.

The source said the meeting at Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City was arranged to help provide “closure” between Aquino and the SAF troopers.

‘Guidance’

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Aquino noted that he had given “guidance” for the SAF operation to be “coordinated” with the military and other appropriate government agencies.

But there were problems with the “execution,” he told the SAF officers.

A Senate inquiry earlier showed that the then SAF chief, Director Getulio Napeñas, failed to coordinate “time on target” with the military shortly before his troops moved in on Marwan and another terrorist, Basit Usman.

In the Camp Bagong Diwa meeting, the source said, the troopers also informed the President about weapons and other equipment they needed as the PNP’s frontline unit against terrorism.

In Malacañang, Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma said the meeting was in part an “operations review” for the SAF.

“There was also a free exchange (between Aquino and the SAF troopers). There was an exchange of observations and suggestions,” Coloma said.

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TAGS: Benigno Aquino III, Mamasapano clash, meeting, MILF, Police, SAF Commandos, Special Action Force (SAF)
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