PRESIDENT Benigno Aquino 3rd knew of the clash in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, at dawn of January 25 because he was informed about it by suspended Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Alan Purisima.
Purisima admitted sending a text message to the President at 5:45 a.m., telling him that Marwan was killed by Special Action Force (SAF) commandos.
At the resumption of the Senate committee hearings on the Mamasapano clash on Monday, the now resigned PNP head disclosed the exchanges of text messages between him and Aquino on January 25 when more than 300 SAF men carried out a mission to arrest terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan.
“Sir good morning. For info SAF elements implemented oplan against high value targets. As of now sir result indicate that Marwan was killed and one SAF trooper wounded. The body of Marwan was left behind but pictures were taken. The troopers are now withdrawal phase and progress report to follow,” the message sent to the President at around 5:45 a.m. read.
Purisima received a reply from Aquino at 7:36 a.m., asking why the body of Marwan was left behind. He told the President that the SAF troops had to pull out because they were fired upon by a group of Muslim rebels.
Based on the transcript of text messages, Purisima also told Aquino about the presence of artillery support from the military.
When asked by Sen. Francis Escudero why he informed the President about the artillery support when the military has not yet sent reinforcements, the suspended PNP chief explained that he only forwarded the text message of Lt. Gen. Rustico Guerrero, who said that military support teams are available.
Guerero, who was present at the Senate hearing, clarified that his text message was to inform Purisima that the military had teams that can be deployed upon orders.
“My intent was to tell him these are the available sources on the ground. I didn’t say that my artillery and tanks are already there providing support,” the military official also explained.
Purisima also gave updates about the clash to now suspended SAF chief Getulio Napeñas.
Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas 2nd said he also received a text message from the director of the PNP Intelligence Group (IG) at 7:43 a.m. containing a forwarded message of Napeñas about the operation against Marwan.
Roxas, who was then on his way to Zamboanga City, said he forwarded the message to the President.
Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said he learned of the Mamasapano operation around 11 a.m.
The officials, however, claimed that they were not aware of the real situation.
While the Senate panel made public some of the text exchanges between the President, Purisima and other government officials, it is still unclear what Aquino was doing from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on that day.
The President’s last text message to Purisima, based on the transcript, was sent at 10:16 a.m. when he was in Zamboanga City purportedly to attend a briefing on a bombing that rocked the city.
There were reports that Aquino monitored the Mamasapano clash at the drone command center at the Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) in Zamboanga City but no such information was brought out during the hearing.
The President also on Monday met with the leaders of the House of Representatives to discuss the Mamasapano tragedy and its implications on the peace process in Mindanao, a Malacañang official said.
Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said Aquino briefed the House leaders on the background of the operation for the capture of Malaysian bomb Marwan and Filipino bomb maker Usman.
According to him, the President said he had given specific instructions to Napeñas on the need for coordination with the Armed Forces of the Philippines and for Purisima to inform PNP Officer-in-Charge and Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina.
He, however, found out later that these instructions had not been followed, Coloma said.
WITH CATHERINE S. VALENTE