• Investigating Mamasapano: This time we must find closure



    First Read
    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.



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    1. After reading in the news former President Aquino’s response to the questions raised about the Mamasapano incident, I thought what a dismal example and poor apology for a president. By all means, the case should be revisited so justice can be served. However, I doubt it, if the Senate/Congress is allowed to conduct a hearing again. It will only allow the legislators to preen in front of the camera, with no satisfactory result. Look at what happened to the long hearing on Senator Delima. It looks like she hasn’t been touched by it at all and is still, unbelievably, actively participating in another Senate hearing.
      Since some evidence has already been gathered on Mamasapano from previous hearings, why not take the case directly to court and televise the proceedings if you must. Oh I forgot, the Ombudsman is an Aquino appointee, and the current DOJ head is so slow and incompetent. So there you have it. At least one thing you can admire Aquino for – the swiftness with which he and his team disposed of opponents or any potential scandal – i.e., suspension of a Chief Justice; jailing of President Arroyo; cover-up of PDAF money questions; Yolanda funds, etc.

      • The reason why President Duterte said he is forming an “independent commission” to investigate and have closure to the issue, for reason you said Senators will be “grandstanding” to stymied the inquiry and with no end or closure. Hopefully Duterte keep his word, and I think he will.

    2. looking into my cystal ball I see the following:
      – penoy will have himself admitted into a hospital
      – then as the hearing progresses and when he sees that he is going to be found guilty and responsible for the massacre, his doctor will make up a cockamamie story about how penoy needs to be treated in the US
      – this will be penoy’s excuse to escape from the Philippines and run and hide in America

    3. What do you expect from Noynoy?
      Brainless and clueless in running a country.
      Its the sympathy vote that put him there.
      The Hyatt 10 is actually his whole brain that advised him in running the country and no experience militarily.
      Lets put an end to it. We should put Noynoy in jail, including Purisima, Napengas and others.

    4. in an urban terrorist warfare the 44 elite pnp group were ambushed in an area of terrorist comfort zone,outnumber in aratio to one to ten, outgunned with the element of a surprise encounter. this spell a disaster result,

    5. Must be a tough time and very rough road ahead for an arrogant, negligent, pretentious former president. Karma has a natural way of catching up.

    6. Don’t forget the inadequate equipment such as defective grenades for the launchers. The CIA provided intelligence and oversite only. It’s really not an issue.

    7. Ano kasalanan ni Pnoy? He approved the operation, knowing it will violate the ceasefire agreement with the MILF which may renew the war with the Moro rebels. He allowed the operation to be handled by a suspended PNP Chief Purisima. He did not approve the rescue of the SAF 44 during the firefight with the rebels, as this would again violate the agreement with the MILF. He did not welcome the SAF 44 bodies which he sent to their deaths when it arrived in Manila, instead to attend the opening of a new MItsubishi plant. Lastly, Pnoy lied to the Filipino people repeatedly, about the incident to avoid responsibility. What can we do, people voted a tard for President then.

    8. Nothing will happen…patch here patch there…this is the way how PHILIPPINE LAW DOING.

      Look at Benigno Aquino during Marcos time… No one is convicted! (even though they know who are involve in assassination)

      I hope our new Pres. DU30 can fix this patchy’ patchy form of government…

      Question & another example: WHAT HAPPEN NOW ON Delima case? Is that another patched issue?

    9. Roldan Guerrero on

      FAKE Senator Grace Poe headed 2 senate inquiries and it was very obvious she was shielding Aquino due to her obscession that she`ll be annointed by Aquino to become the standard bearer of LP. She did not get her wish but ultimately she got another pay-off by having been declared a Filipino citizen by the AQUINO SC using bribe money to validate her citizenship issue. It is very good that there will be another inquiry to clear everything. Another case should be filed contesting the citizenship issue of Grace Poe who is a US citizen sitting as a Philippine Senator.

    10. 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.

      Thanks to Deal making Poe, Aquino bought Poe back in 2013 when Comelec elected Poe to the senate. The Poe lead investigation barely scratched the surface of the SAF 44 massacre skipping past all the major questions and not charging any of the officials for not cooperating with the investigation. The cell phone records could have proven many facts but Aquino and Purisima refused to cooperate.

      Poe tried to bury the report by not submitting to plenary so other senators could ask questions and since it was not submitted to plenary it then required a vote by the Aquino controlled congress to reopen.

      Poe shielded Aquino

    11. What about identifying the direct authors of the massacre and arresting them? Is it too much to ask? If justice needs to be done, maybe starting with the “murderers” would be a good idea.

    12. Mr. Makabenta, I did read anymore the whole page of your write-up today over the Special Action Force encounter in Mamasapano with the Muslim armed men there in Mindanao. The situation of the encounter was so complex when we look at it based on many agreements between Philippines government and the Muslim separatists; however, if we were to look at the encounter between government Police forces and the armed men of the Muslim separatists, we would know that common sense would say that the head of the state had all the power to decide to neutralize the on-going conflict no matter how complex the situation would be, especially when the head of the state knew about it and it was coming from his command. Former President Aquino knew the operation of the SAF. There were a lot of conversations among the Aquino’s group themselves for SAF operation, why did Noynoy Aquino abandon his ship (the 44 SAF on board into conflict with Muslim Separatists) when it was under troubled water? Why did he not send a helicopter bomber or the Philippine Armies to extract the 44 commandos from their impending death? Even if we would have considered the situation of conflict between the Special Action Force and the Muslims Separatists was uncalled for, Former President Aquino should be the one to be blamed for all the mess, because he did not use his power to extract the 44 commandos. Noynoy Aquino had all the means but why did he not use them? For any reason why Noynoy Aquino did use his power to extract the 44 commandos from impending death, therefore, he is the one to be blamed for and the other people in his group are secondary.