Lawmaker says PNoy ordered half-hearted mission to help SAF
President Benigno Aquino 3rd hampered the Armed Forces’ efforts to rescue the Special Action Force (SAF) members who were pinned down by Muslim rebels in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, on January 25.
Alliance of Concerned Teachers party-list Rep. Antonio Tinio made the accusation in light of the admission of Western Mindanao Command Lt. Gen. Rustico Guerrero that he sent text messages to 6th Infantry Division Commander Gen. Eduardo Pangilinan asking the Armed Forces how it can carry out a rescue mission for the embattled SAF commandos as instructed by the President.
Guerrero’s first text message to Pangilinan read: [Rescue them in] best effort without endangering our reinforcing troops per guidance from President. Ensure no friendly fires since it is night time. If we can resupply them with ammo and food, how?
The second text message added: “Give me your con ops on how to rescue or resupply the SAF platoon. The President wants it tonight.”
“The instruction was clear: Best without endangering our reinforcing troops per guidance of the President. How do you understand this? I would say the President is saying, rescue them, but actually, he tied their hands because the instruction was best effort and don’t endanger the rescuers,” Tinio pointed out.
“This is very different if the President would say rescue them at all cost,” he said.
Guerrero, however, maintained that the President genuinely wanted to rescue the SAF, considering that eight commandos were already dead, 11 others were wounded and 17 were unarmed when the SAF appealed for help.
“We were thinking at [the]time that all of them [SAF commandos] could be killed so the mission of the Sixth Infantry was to rescue them, with a link-up to the division commander, the President and the Cabinet members in Zamboanga City, your honor,” the military official said.
He added that Aquino was in Zamboanga City with Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas 2nd, Armed Forces chief Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin when the SAF commandos were fighting Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) members.
Guerrero made the admission during intense grilling from Tinio, who wanted to know the extent of the President’s involvement in the sending of reinforcement teams to rescue the SAF commandos.
He said Aquino and the other officials were monitoring the fighting in Mamasapano.
“So malinaw po lumalabas na alam ni President Aquino at sinusubaybayan niya ang rescue operations, tama po ba [So it is clear that the President knew about and was monitoring the rescue operations, is that correct]?” Tinio said.
“We were in Zamboanga with the President. We were briefing him about (the) Zamboanga City blast and so during that time when reports were coming [in], we were together, the chief of staff, secretary of Defense and secretary of the Interior, they were being updated from time to time and so when we were updating the President, he asked me how we (can) rescue the 84th SAF (members),” Guerero said.
“I was ordered to give him an update and how do we do the rescue so I asked the 6th Infantry Division commander how he’s going to do that,” he added.
“So napapapasama niyo si Presidente sa Zamboanga habang nagaganap ‘yung mga pangyayari sa Mamasapano [So you were with the President in Zamboanga while the fighting in Mamasapano was going on]?” Tinio asked.
Guerrero answered yes, explaining that they were with the President from around 10 a.m. until he left Zamboanga City at about 8 p.m.
Tinio later moved that Aquino be invited to the House inquiry into the Mamasapano incident.
The Manila Times’ Chairman Emeritus Dr. Dante Ang earlier reported that Aquino, together with suspended Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Alan Purisima, was in the US Drone base facility in Zamboanga monitoring the encounter between the members of the elite SAF and MILF and BIFF fighters.
The media were told that Aquino had flown to Zamboanga on that Sunday morning ostensibly to inspect the site of a car bombing in the city.
According to the flight logbook, the presidential plane left Villamor Air Base at 9:15 a.m. and arrived in the Edwin Andrews Airbase shortly thereafter. Media were also told that Aquino left for Manila in the afternoon of Sunday.
Dr. Ang’s source said Aquino and the officials with him froze upon witnessing the bloody turn of events.
“Pati mga commander nag-freeze [even the commanders froze],” the source said.
“It was not clear from our source who radioed the Drone command center and addressed words to his superiors, saying, “Sir, papasok na kami [Sir, we will now go in].” To which the President allegedly responded, “Negative, negative. Stand down,” Dr. Ang said in his report.
In Wednesday’s hearing, Purisima refused to disclose details of his communication with Aquino regarding the Mamasapano operation that left 44 SAF members dead.
He was asked by Rep. Terry Ridon of Kabataan party-list on the President’s role in the Mamasapano operation.
The resigned PNP chief said he would have to get clearance from the President.
“Your honor, even in executive session, we will still have to get clearance from the President if we can answer your questions regarding that communication between me and the President,” Purisima replied when House Committee on Public Order and Safety Chairman Rep. Jeffrey Ferrer asked if the former PNP chief was asking for an executive session.
Misamis Occidental Rep. Henry Oaminal pointed out that executive privilege can only be invoked by the President.
In the end, Purisima was given time to answer the question on Tuesday.