The science of psychology has an insight into the need for closure in every life crisis or ordeal that crystallizes the wound left behind by the Mamasapano tragedy with the nation, the Philippine National Police (PNP) and for the grieving families of the martyred SAF commandos.
To psychologists, closure is a comforting or satisfying sense of finality, especially for victims and victims’ families, that enables them to transcend tragedy and move forward to the future. That sense of finality we have not found in the Mamasapano case.
Coming two years after the tragic day in Mamasapano (January 25, 2015), President Rodrigo Duterte has decided to appoint an independent commission (similar to the Agrava Commission created by President Ferdinand Marcos to investigate the assassination of the late former senator Benigno Aquino Jr. on August 21, 1983) that would conduct an inquiry into the Mamasapano incident.
The decision to investigate by special commission is late considering the time that has passed since the tragic hour; it would surely have been salutary had it occurred soon after the event, and it might have made unnecessary the incomplete inquiries conducted by the Senate and the PNP board of inquiry, which fell short of finding closure for the tragedy.
The lateness does not diminish the importance of the independent inquiry. Indeed, by coming after the earlier inquiries, and with all the various bits of information and disclosures that have accumulated in the interval, the new inquiry will have the advantage of being gifted with a broad perspective on Mamasapano that has been enriched by the passage of time and the experience of unsatisfactory inquiries. It will have the ardent support of a Filipino public that is hungry to close this chapter in national life.
It is simply a fact, which surely most Filipinos now acknowledge, that many questions about Mamasapano remain unanswered or were even unasked.
In the quiet of national conscience, Filipinos know that the tragedy of Mamasapano and every instance of forgetfulness of the event, is unworthy of the nation and its values.
Indubitably, therefore, President Duterte is right to call for an independent commission and a new inquiry.
Questions that demand an answer
The nation‘s failure to investigate Mamasapano to a satisfying conclusion has left our people with more questions than answers about this bloodstained field in Maguindanao.
Three sets of questions continue to nag at us whenever we hear the word Mamasapano, and they will have to be answered convincingly by the inquiry using all the powers at its command.
1) Was the Mamasapano operation (Oplan Exodus) to get the terrorist Marwan an operation organized, funded, and directed by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)? Who got the $5 million bounty for Marwan which the US put up?
In his announcement of the new inquiry, President Duterte contends that Exodus was a CIA/American operation all the way–encompassing the training and equipping of the SAF commandos, the raising of the bounty money, identifying the dead Marwan by the FBI, to monitoring the firefight in Mamasapano to the rescue of some of the SAF troops in the battlefield.
Although the US Embassy, under then Ambassador Philip Goldberg steadfastly denied US involvement in the operation when asked during the official inquiries and by the Filipino media, a different story was told by the US government to the US media. In fact, the US was involved in Mamasapano.
In a report on the Mamasapano incident published on September 17, 2015, the Los Angeles Times reported that US operatives were closely involved with the operations in Mamasapano.
The PNP commando team that hunted Marwan, an elusive bombmaker with a US$5-million bounty on his head, did not hunt alone.
The LA Times reported: “Five or six US counter-terrorism advisors assisted from a police command post nearby, tracking the assault team in live video from a US surveillance aircraft circling overhead….”
As the 13 commandos closed in, one stepped on a buried mine. A firefight ensued, and the target was killed.
To make certain that Marwan was dead, they sliced the right index finger off the corpse. DNA tests by the FBI later confirmed that it belonged to Marwan.
Marwan’s death came at a dreadful cost: 44 police commandos and four civilians were killed, along with 17 militants, in a fierce daylong battle after the initial assault.
The LA Times also detailed how the Pentagon placed a special operations task force in the Philippines after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York City. It said that President Benigno Aquino III’s government delayed plans to give US troops, warships and aircraft wider access to military bases that the Obama administration sought for its strategic “pivot” to Asia.
Mamasapano was a bungled operation, said David Maxwell, a retired Army colonel who commanded the US special operations force in the Philippines in 2006 and 2007.
The LA Times account was based on interviews with US military officials and PNP officers, including survivors of the raid, as well as on formal inquiries by Philippine authorities.
Pentagon officials say the answer is clear: No Americans joined or issued orders to the assault team.
The paper concluded its report as follows: “The Mamasapano debacle marked an inglorious end to a little-known 13-year US military advisory operation in the Philippines, an effort credited with improving its army and police and with reducing the number of insurgent groups.”
At its height, five years ago, more than 600 US special operations troops deployed to Muslim-dominated Mindanao, the second-largest island in the Philippines, according to Maj. Karolyn McEwen, a spokeswoman for US Special Operations Command Pacific.
Given this 13-year background and the US obsession with getting Marwan, the new inquiry must determine whether US troops were mere onlookers in Mamasapano.
2) President Benigno Aquino III must answer a host of questions on Mamasapano, beginning with authorizing a CIA-directed law enforcement operation against Marwan in Maguindanao. This is against the laws of our country.
Duterte contends that President Aquino sent the commandos to their deaths in the Mamasapano operation. He delegated a suspended PNP director- general to supervise the operation, and he allowed the commando team to bypass the PNP chain of command and to avoid coordination with the AFP command.
From planning to execution of Oplan Exodus, Aquino was involved as the approving authority. The new inquiry must insist that Aquino answer these questions once and for all
Why no relief and rescue for SAF 44
3) The new inquiry must find an answer to the troubling question why relief and support operations were not provided by the Armed Forces in Mindanao to save the beleaguered SAF commandos in Mamasapano.
There are unverified reports that President Aquino did not order the Armed Forces to provide relief, even though the AFP Chief of Staff was with him in Zamboanga City at the time of the fighting, when the SAF commandos were desperately fighting for their lives. There are also unverified reports that Aquino even ordered the Armed Forces to stand down, and desist from going to the rescue of the SAF.
The Senate inquiry did not even bother to ask why no relief and rescue effort was mounted by the Armed Forces. It would not request Aquino to give testimony in person or in writing.
It is no exaggeration to say that the public is angry and aggrieved by what happened in Mamasapano, and by the failure of the national leadership and the AFP to save the SAF 44.
The work of the new commission and the new inquiry cannot begin soon enough.