MILITARY CHIEF HINTS AT PNP BLUNDER IN MAMASAPANO
President Benigno Aquino 3rd is not accountable for the botched operation that left dead dozens of police commandos in a clash with Muslim separatist rebels in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, on January 25.
The conclusion came from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Fact-Finding Committee that looked into the role of the President in the failed mission to arrest two international terrorists that claimed the lives of 44 elite Special Action Force (SAF) troops.
In clearing Aquino on Wednesday, military chief Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. said the Commander-in-Chief is not liable because he has not broken the chain of command in dealing with the Mamasapano carnage.
If blame was to be assigned, Catapang added, it should be to the AFP and the Philippine National Police (PNP) for their lack of coordination.
“I don’t think [the President is accountable]because you know you were ordered by the President to coordinate and I think we failed in that order to coordinate,” the AFP chief said.
“There was no break in the chain of command,” he told a news conference.
Catapang disclosed that he has been informed by the President about the Mamasapano operation as early as “maybe November 18” last year.
But he said now-sacked SAF chief and Police Director Getulio Napenas had neither provided the AFP with details of the operation nor coordinated with the military ground commander on the day of the mission.
“We were there when they needed us. The problem is the coordination came too little, too late, because they asked for reinforcement when there was already an ongoing firefight,” Catapang added.
The AFP Fact-Finding Committee, according to him, also exonerated the Army’s 6th Infantry Division (ID) and the Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) of allegations by some PNP men that they did not heed the police commandos’ call for reinforcement at the height of the gunbattle.
In November 2010, then-AFP chief Gen. Ricardo David and former PNP Director General Raul Bacalzo signed a joint letter directive creating the Joint Peace and Security Coordinating Center, which among others, mandates full coordination, cooperation, consultation and collaboration down to the lowest level of command in addressing all security and peace and order problems.
Under Republic Act 8551, the military and the police are also mandated to provide active support to each other in terms of internal security operations and in dealing with lawlessness.
Catapang said he has submitted a copy of the AFP committee’s investigation report to the President but the report would not be released to the public because it is confidential and in deference to an ongoing probe by the PNP’s Board of Inquiry.
He added that there were no lapses or shortcomings on the part of soldiers, apparently pointing to an operational blunder on the part of the PNP for its supposed failure to coordinate and share information about the presence of Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan and local terrorist Basit Usman in Tukanalipao barangay (village) in Mamasapano town.
Catapang said a distress call was made by Napenas to 6th ID chief Maj. Gen. Gaudencio Pangilinan and another one by PNP Officer-in-Charge and Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina to Westmincom commander Lt. Gen. Rustico Guerrero.
Both calls were made at a time when the SAF’s outnumbered blocking force was already at the mercy of some 1,000 well-positioned rebels from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).
“Well, you know, when you go to war, it takes week to prepare. [It is not a] party [where you say, ‘Bro, let’s go to a party tonight, bring a bottle of red wine as your]share . . . It will take time for coordination because we go there, we will . . . skirmishes with the MILF,BIFF, we do not know what will happen next,” Catapang said.
“They [commandos]were there to execute a law enforcement operation but unfortunately they ran into the MILF, BIFF and other armed group[s]. So it really was a very difficult situation and we just have to manage it,” he added.
According to Catapang, they could not also use their air assets to find the exact battle location because they could be recognized as reinforcement for the SAF and would be shot down.
“The area is really hard to manage or hard to traverse, it is a marshland and then we have to come in full force and then of course there was ongoing negotiation for a ceasefire [between]the rebels and the CCCH (Coordinating Committee on Cessation of Hostilities). So we have to give primacy [to]that ceasefire agreement, that’s why it took [time]to tell everyone to put a stop [to]the fighting,” the military chief said.
Catapang admitted that the military reinforcement, which included armored personnel carriers, was there not to join the fight but to help extricate the dead and wounded SAF members under the existing ceasefire agreement between the government and the MILF.
He pointed out that coordination can only be disregarded if the area of operation is not within an MILF area or territory.
But in the Mamasapano case, the AFP chief said, there was need to coordinate because the SAF entered an MILF area where the rebel group’s 105th, 106th and 118th base commands are stationed.