IT’S now clear from the televised Senate hearings last week that the massacre of 44 Special Action Force (SAF) commandos in Mamasapano, Maguindanao was the fateful product of PNoy’s arrogance, the lingering mistrust between the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), and the doublespeak of Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
More than two weeks before the Mamasapano massacre, PNoy knew that the operation to take down suspected international terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan (dubbed “Oplan Exodus”) was a go. In fact, relieved PNP-SAF director Getulio Napeñas even gave PNoy a “mission update” at the latter’s residence in Bahay Pangarap, together with suspended PNP chief Alan Purisima, and PNP Intelligence Group Director Fernando Mendez.
We’re sure the absence of PNP officer-in-charge Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina and Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas in that meeting would surely not have gone unnoticed by PNoy, more so considering that Oplan Exodus was a major police operation (392 SAF troops—an entire battalion—were deployed for the mission) against a high-value target.
It is therefore quite unbelievable and highly improbable that PNoy did not approve, or at the very least, agree to keep Roxas and Espina in the dark about the Mamasapano operation.
Notwithstanding his glaring incompetence as a warfare strategist, PNoy probably thought that by quarterbacking this secret operation with his trusted friend Purisima by his side, Oplan Exodus would be a success. That’s why he even went to Zamboanga City to monitor the covert mission in the guise of inspecting the site of a deadly car bomb attack two days before.
It is PNoy’s arrogance that is the root of the Mamasapano disaster. His reckless decisions cost the lives of 44 SAF policemen. And now that their secret operation has blown up in their faces, Purisima and company are all scrambling to cover PNoy’s ass.
Perhaps that explains why Purisima would not say—or admit —who informed PNoy about the Mamasapano clash. This despite PNoy’s televised admission that he already knew in the morning of January 25 (Sunday) that the SAF troopers had killed Marwan and were engaged in a firefight.
By refusing to answer, Purisima has incriminated himself. Whatever story Purisima and PNoy may concoct, most Filipinos won’t believe that Purisima did not talk to or update PNoy while the Mamasapano clash was unfolding, especially since they were the only two top officials who knew about Oplan Exodus. All circumstances point to PNoy knowingly allowing a suspended police official to run a major (secret) operation outside the chain of command.
It is also not improbable that PNoy knew that coordination with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) officials would be “time-on-target,” meaning, the military leadership would only be informed when the SAF assault team had reached its target destination.
Why the secrecy about Oplan Exodus? According to Napenas, the SAF, either alone or in cooperation with the military, hatched at least nine operations to neutralize Marwan. But based on past experiences, Napeñas claimed that confidential information manages to leak whenever they coordinate an operation with the military.
It is this mistrust of the military establishment that led to Purisima’s “time-on-target” strategy – and doomed any rescue attempt for the trapped SAF troopers. The military leadership will definitely not sacrifice their men by throwing them in the midst of an intense firefight to extract non-AFP units. Call it self-preservation. Or institutional rivalry.
The litany of boo-boos played right into the hands of the MILF who have mastered the art of doublespeak. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Mamasapano incident.
For instance, the MILF knew it was engaging government forces as early as 6:30 a.m. but they continued to attack the SAF positions. Two MILF commands even joined the MILF’s 105th Brigade after the local ceasefire committee began negotiations. It took five hours for the MILF to agree to a ceasefire, and by that time, the 44 policemen were either dead or summarily executed.
Mohagher Iqbal, chief negotiator of the MILF, tries to wash his group’s hands for the massacre saying that “the MILF was not the only group that was present in the area” and that “the SAF fought other armed individuals belonging to different networks and groups—BIFF, private armed groups, local militias, etc.”
If true, then it only proves that the MILF does not have full control of its so-called Bangsamoro territory. Why then should the MILF be allowed to hold sway over a large swath of Mindanao under the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) when it cannot even restrain the various armed groups in its area?
And what happens when another firefight with the government erupts in the Bangsamoro-controlled territories? Will they blame the BIFF and other armed militias again?
Unless and until the MILF shows that they can effectively control all armed groups in the Bangsamoro territory, Congress should place the BBL in the backburner. That’s a small token of justice for the 44 lives needlessly sacrificed for PNoy’s aggrandizement.