Poe: President, security execs could have done more to save lives
MANILA, Philippines–Sen. Grace Poe on Tuesday said President Aquino and his top security officials could have done more to help save the outnumbered Special Action Force (SAF) commandos.
In a news conference, Poe noted that Aquino and the security officials were together in Zamboanga City on Jan. 25 when 44 SAF were massacred while on mission to take out Malaysian bomb expert Zulkifli bin Hir, alias “Marwan.”
With the President were Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, Philippine National Police Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina, and Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff Gen. Pio Catapang Jr.
“The President and other high-ranking government officials could have done more under the circumstances to prevent or minimize the number of deaths that jolted the nation,” said Poe, who released a summary of a draft report of her committee hearings on the Mamasapano carnage.
Had the top security officials discussed the Mamasapano incident and shared information clearly and openly in the early stages, the coordination between the AFP and the PNP might have been hastened and the number of deaths reduced, she said.
Early on Jan. 25, the day of the operation, the PNP had requested assistance from the military for the SAF who had gone after Marwan since they were outnumbered in an ensuing clash with forces of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and other armed groups. The AFP only learned of the operation on the day itself.
Even with the short notice for SOS to the AFP, some steps could still have been taken, according to Poe.
For instance, if the members of the security cluster had banded together to ask the 6th Infantry Division commander, Maj. Gen. Edmundo Pangilinan, to fire the requested artillery, it would be difficult to believe that Pangilinan would defy the order, she said.
If the commander was reluctant to act, the directive could have been given to the next in line.
But Poe added that the biggest factor contributing to the high number of fatalities was the noncoordination with the AFP.
She said she understood that the military had certain limitations that prevented swift response, especially since it was not informed of the Mamasapano raid before it was launched. But she also wondered if other factors influenced its decisions.
She said there was no testimony attesting to any order from the President to stand down, to stop the AFP from helping the SAF commandos.
Like the PNP board of inquiry, Poe said the peace process may have affected the military’s actions.
“The AFP, as a party to the cessation of hostilities with the MILF, may have been constrained by the peace process, considered the centerpiece of our current national security program,” she said in her executive summary.
“Had the AFP been more decisive, proactive and swifter in their actions in seeking ways to comply with the doctrinal requirements for firing artillery support, would the loss of lives have been minimized?”
The use of white phosphorus, which was crucial for retreating members of the 84th Seaborne unit of the SAF who had gone to get Marwan, was only fired almost 11 hours after the gunfight erupted, she noted.
The AFP also did not fire artillery support for another group of SAF commandos, the 55th Special Action Company, because of incomplete information coming from the SAF.
The military has rules in firing artillery rounds or white phosphorus, Poe conceded, but asked if there were other considerations.
American tried to order AFP
“We saw the aerial shots of Mamasapano. It was flatland and there were hardly any houses there or civilians. So at that point, were they really afraid there would be crossfire or civilians would be hit, or is there something else that stopped them from deploying the white phosphorus?” she said in the press briefing.
Poe, in her executive summary, also noted the Americans’ role and substantial investment in the Mamasapano mission, or “Oplan Exodus.”
It was clear that the mission was “not 100 percent Filipino-planned and -implemented,” contrary to earlier assertions of the Department of Foreign Affairs, she said.
It disclosed that one of the Americans monitoring the Mamasapano operation had actually directed Pangilinan to fire the artillery. But Pangilinan had bristled at this.
“Do not dictate to me what to do. I am the commander here!” Pangilinan was quoted as saying.
SAF Director Getulio Napeñas brought three Americans into the Army Brigade headquarters. Later, a helicopter brought three more Americans to the headquarters, and they joined Napeñas at his table, Poe’s report said.
One of the Americans identified as Al Katz supposedly trained the Seaborne unit. The Americans also provided surveillance to the area through their Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance (ISR), and brought TV monitors to the headquarters.
ISR refers to the system of collection assets and analysts that bring information about the enemy or potential foe to the decision maker.
Napeñas also admitted that a “US counterpart” was involved in intelligence cooperation, training and equipment provision.
Americans are restricted from combat activity, but Poe said the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Visiting Forces Agreement Commission should consider steps to clarify and address issues regarding US role and involvement in domestic counterterrorism and internal security.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.