Sources say Aquino in Zamboanga for turnover of Marwan
ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines—According to Malacañang, President Benigno Aquino III flew to Zamboanga City early on Jan. 25 to look into a car bombing incident that killed two persons.
But police and military sources said that part of the President’s agenda was to receive Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias “Marwan,” dead or alive.
Marwan, along with his Filipino aide, Basit Usman, was the target of a police operation that day in Mamasapano, Maguindanao province, by the Special Action Force (SAF). The mission, called “Oplan Exodus,” turned terribly wrong and resulted in the slaughter 44 police commandos.
A police source told the Inquirer that the President was in Zamboanga to “personally monitor” the Mamasapano project.
“He was here so he could be nearer where the incident happened,” the source said.
Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda earlier said reports that Mr. Aquino flew here to claim success over Marwan’s death were “malicious.”
“That’s a very scurrilous accusation, which has no basis in truth,” Lacierda said, adding that the President was in the city to visit the victims of a car bomb blast.
The city government was informed of the President’s visit only a day before.
The police said Mr. Aquino was informed prior to his flight to Manila early on Jan. 25 that Oplan Exodus was underway in Mamasapano.
“As early as 4:15 a.m. the President was informed by the SAF that Marwan had been taken,” the source said.
“He flew here to Zamboanga for Marwan, but even before he arrived, our troops had been trapped,” the source added.
“He was just expecting to receive Marwan,” the source added.
Mr. Aquino, along with Interior Secretary Mar Roxas and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, arrived at Edwin Andrews Air Base at 10 a.m., Jan. 25.
One of the military officials who welcomed Mr. Aquino told the Inquirer that they had “this impression that he came down to receive Marwan as we were already informed that SAF operatives were able to get Marwan.”
Upon arrival, the President sought a briefing with Mayor Maria Isabelle Salazar and Zamboanga City Representatives Celso Lobregat and Lilia Nuño on the rehabilitation efforts for those displaced by the war between government forces and Moro National Liberation Front more than a year ago.
“It was when the local officials were told to review their presentations outside the room that President Aquino called for another meeting,” the source said. This was after the President learned that the SAF troopers had been trapped and the number of fatalities was rising.
Roxas, Gazmin, Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr., and Western Mindanao Command chief Lt. Gen. Rustico Guerrero remained with the President, the source said.
The source added that prior to the briefing, he learned from other police and military officials that “it looked like Marwan would not be brought in, something bad happened in Maguindanao.”
Based on his testimony at the House inquiry on Mamasapano, Guerrero sent a text message to Maj. Gen. Edmundo Pangilinan, commander of the 6th Infantry Division, at 6:56 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 25, instructing: “Best effort without endangering our reinforcing troops per guidance from President. Ensure no friendly fire since it is nighttime. If we can resupply them with ammo and food.”
Guerrero said the message was sent to Pangilinan after Mr. Aquino asked him for updates on Mamasapano.
“When we were updating the President, he asked me how do we rescue the 84th SAC (Special Action Company),” Guerrero said during the congressional inquiry.
The SAF’s 84th Special Action Company served as the “forward team” to get Marwan. The team was able to kill Marwan, but because fighting erupted, they were not able to bring his body, only a finger which was cut and which was used for DNA test.
Guerrero confirmed that in a meeting after Mr. Aquino made the rounds in Zamboanga, Roxas, who claimed not knowing about Oplan Exodus, was inside the room together with Gazmin and Catapang.
The military source said the President called for two security briefings—at past 1 p.m. and at past 5 p.m.
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