An analysis of the confluence of events surrounding the massacre of 44 Special Action Force (SAF) commandos inexorably points to President Benigno Aquino 3rd as the man who issued the stand-down order that prevented the PNP-SAF’s 45th Special Action Company and the Philippine Army’s 6th Infantry Division from reinforcing the beleaguered policemen.
Pinned and surrounded by the enemy, they as early as 5 a.m. on January 25 had called their superiors to plead for reinforcements.
The Manila Times has learned from a source, who requested anonymity, that Aquino, together with suspended Philippine National Police(PNP) chief Alan Purisima were in the US Drone base facility in Zamboanga on that fateful Sunday morning. They were monitoring the encounter between the members of the elite PNP-SAF and the combined armies of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and its supposed-to-be breakaway element, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).
Media were told Aquino had flown to Zamboanga sunday morning ostensibly to inspect the site of an earlier car bombing in that city.
According to the flight logbook, the presidential plane left Villamor Airbase at 9:15 Sunday morning and arrived in the Edwin Andrews Airbase shortly thereafter. Media were also told that Aquino left for Manila in the afternoon of Sunday. We stand by our source’s information that he was at the US Drone Center facility on Sunday morning.
Nothing was heard of from him for the next three days. Aquino broke his silence and went on national television on Wednesday (after three days of silence) to explain what had happened to the fallen SAF 44 commandos and the circumstances behind their massacre.
Unfortunately, instead of giving light to this dark disaster, his speech raised more questions than answers.
SAF supposed to be US men’s security escorts
According to our source, the SAF went to Mamasapano only to act as police security escorts for the American agents tasked to capture or pick up international terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan who had a $6-million bounty from the United States government and the Filipino terrorist Usman who carried a $1-million reward on his head.
Marwan was recently confirmed dead by the Federal Bureau of Investigation while Usman is reported to have escaped.
Generally unreported is the participation of the US government in the police operation for the capture of Marwan and Usman. The Times source said a team of US agents accompanied by the Philippine commandos went to Mamasapano to pick up Marwan and Usman on the strength of an agreement previously reached with the MILF in exchange for the $7-million bounty (which amounts to P315 million at P45 to $1).
The American government paid the MILF P60 million as “entrance fee.” But before the American agents could take Marwan and Usman into their custody, the MILF demanded the release of the balance of the bounty. The American agents reportedly balked and replied that they did not have the rest of the reward money with them but that it would be released soon after the terrorists had been turned over to the authorities.
‘Sir, papasok na kami’ ‘Negative. Negative’
A heated discussion followed. But raised voices were soon drowned out by the burst of gunfire, which came first from the ranks of the MILF fighters. The MILF leaders have disputed this, and pointed to the Americans and the SAF commandos as the ones who fired the first shots.
Our source told us the President and the others monitoring the proceedings in Mamasapano from the US Drone Command Base literally froze upon witnessing the bloody turn of events.
“Pati mga commander nag-freeze [even the commanders froze],” the source said.
An eerie silence blanketed the room for quite a while. It was followed by the blather of confused conversation.
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.”
Aquino was probably afraid that sending in reinforcements would violate the terms of the Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro (CAB) signed between his peace negotiators and those of the MILF. He must have also been apprehensive that if the comprehensive agreement were breached, a full-blown war could ensue and doom the fate of the Bangsamoro Basic Law now pending in Congress.
That also explains why he and Purisima chose to send in the PNP-SAF commandos — despite knowing that the PNP-SAF commandos are better in urban than in jungle warfare. The President did not want to send in members of the Armed Forces for the MILF would most likely see that move as a violation of the agreement. So he decided to send in the SAF policemen instead.
“By 5 a.m. Sunday,” our source continues, “Banatan, maneuver. Nagko-communicate sa higher ups [By 5 a.m. Sunday, raging firefight, maneuvers and communications to the higher ups]. Police General Leonardo Espina called Army General Pangilinan of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division asking for reinforcements, “Bok, tulungan mo naman mga bata ko [Bok, please help my men].” Bok is an endearing term used by PMAers in addressing their batchmates in the Philippine Military Academy.
Evacuate Americans first
In the heat of the battle, an order was issued to immediately evacuate the American casualties first ostensibly to avoid a public backlash over the involvement or participation of the Americans in a purely domestic affair. The Manila Times on February 3 had a story that an American was among those found dead apparently left behind in the evacuation.
Our source also said the operation to get Marwan and Usman was originally planned in the first week of January but that it was decided by the Philippine government to conduct the raid until after Pope Francis’ visit to the country on January 15-19.
It was apparent that by past 12 noon, the SAF 44 must have surrendered to the MILF when they ran out of bullets. Many of them were shot at close range. This was evident from the wounds sustained by the fallen policemen, some of whom had their heads blown off. Then their firearms and personal belongings were looted by the MILF.
SAF Commander Getulio Napeñas said his men were still alive at noon of Sunday. If reinforcements had been sent, some of the SAF members could still be alive today.
By 10 a.m. on Sunday, a team from the Malacañang Peace Process group arrived at the scene. They immediately interceded for the SAF men and asked the MILF to stop the firefight. But the carnage continued until past noon that day. If only the reinforcements came in, lives could have been saved, our source lamented.
Peace with justice and honor
Widows of the SAF 44 are crying for justice. The Muslims are crying for justice (there were two Muslim SAF members who were killed in the gruesome episode and Muslim civilians got killed in the fighting.) The Filipino people are crying for justice.
In the meantime, Malacanang and its lackeys are pushing for the immediate signing of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) on their misplaced appreciation of what is meant by peace. To them, it is “Peace at all cost.”
“Peace at all cost” is an oxymoron. It is a betrayal of the SAF 44 Heroes and those who before them had offered their lives in defense of peace.
The widows and their loved ones seek “Peace with Justice.” I couldn’t agree more. It should be a lasting peace. Peace with honor. Nothing else is acceptable.