HAD President Benigno Aquino 3rd not compartmentalized and excluded the military from a police operation to get two terrorists in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, casualties in that tragic incident on January 25 could have been minimized, a former military commander in Mindanao said over the weekend.
The former AFP official, who spent most of his career in the field in the South added that Aquino, during a briefing on Oplan Exodus in Malacanang, could have easily pulled rank as Commander in Chief in backing up the Philippine National Police-Special Action Force (SAF) troops in their mission to get Malaysian bomber t Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan and his Filipino protégé, Abdul Basit Usman.
The retired general was referring to the January 9 meeting in Malacanang between Aquino, now-resigned PNP chief Alan Purisima, Intelligence Group director Fernando Mendez and sacked SAF commander Getulio Napenas.
In the meeting, the three officials presented to the President a mission update and a “new concept of operations” for Oplan Exodus.
“Kung pinag-isipan lang na maigi, andali naman niyang [Aquino] i-impose na teka delikadong area yang papasukin ng SAF, isama natin dyan ang 6th ID [Infantry Division] at ang brigade commander para bukod sa ground troops, mayroon tayong air and artillery support kung ano man ang mangyari [If it was thought out carefully, Aquino could have imposed himself as Commander-in-Chief because it was dangerous territory that the SAF team was going to enter, so the 6th ID will have to be brought in, plus the brigade commander apart from ground troops, and air and artillery support should be available when the need arises],” the former military commander told The Manila Times in an interview.
He requested that his identity be temporarily withheld because he and other retired military and police officials are still conducting meetings and assessment on the tragic Mamasapano incident and the events that followed it.
“[The President should have sent for Maj. Gen. [Edmundo] Pangilinan], 6th ID commander, and the brigade commander and made to join the operation. The SAF commandos will be a back-up force and nobody should tell the MILF [Moro Islamic Liberation Front] that the operation will be launched. If it was done that way, the casualties would have been minimal],” the former general said.
Echoing an earlier statement of Jesus Dureza, former government peace panel chairman, the source said prior coordination was never required in the peace process against “high value, priority targets.”
The problem, he added, was Aquino made a priority the peace process over safety of his men.
“Look what had happened. The SAF men were poorly equipped. One report said they don’t even have [military]canteens. [They were very thirsty but they have nothing to drink water from]. If they were backed up by the military, it would not be that tragic. We would not be talking here of time on target. The PNP [Philippine National Police] and the AFP [Armed Forces of the Philippines] would not be pointing fingers at each other,” according to the former military official.
Told that Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin should have advised the President on this being a former military officer himself, he said, “Eh wala rin alam yan si Gazmin [Gazmin does not know anything].”
“They baby the MILF too much. That is why many are disgusted with the AFP, especially the foot soldiers. We have lost all the bargaining powers in the peace talks because caprices of the MILF are being taken seriously],” the former military official added.