TENSION gripped the second and last day of the congressional inquiry into the Mamasapano incident as a police Special Action Force officer dared his military counterparts to “man up” and admit their fault in the January 25 police mission where 44 SAF troopers were killed.
Wednesday’s joint hearing of the House Committee on Public Order and Safety and the Committee on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity convened around 9 a.m. and was still ongoing as of 9:30 p.m.
Mohagher Iqbal, vice chairman and chief negotiator of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), whose absence in Tuesday’s hearing “displeased” congressmen, appeared in the hearing. Legality of his use of an alias or nom de guerre was brought to fore during the hearing.
The usually composed AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. made heads turn about four hours into the hearing when he accused the sacked SAF commander, Director Getulio Napeñas Jr., of having no trust in his military counterparts for keeping them out of the loop in the planning and implementation of Oplan Exodus or the top-secret “law enforcement” mission to capture international terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan and Abdul Basit Usman.
Secretary Teresita Deles, the presidential adviser on the peace process, also lost her cool after Zamboanga City Rep. Celso Lobregat remarked that the government peace panel should start taking the side of the Philippine government. She snapped back and dared the congressmen to file a complaint against them if they believe they are siding with the MILF.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima again defended President Benigno Aquino 3rd and exonerated him of any criminal liability for the bungled police operation, reiterating that the concept of “chain of command” does not apply to a civilian agency like the Philippine National Police.
She disclosed that a Department of Justice panel is completing its report on the case that she said would pave the way for filing of criminal cases in court against people involved in the death of the SAF troops.
De Lima said they have secured a witness who claims to have seen how the firefight between the police commandos and armed men, including fighters from the MILF and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters as well as private armed groups, unfolded.
Supt. Michael John Mangahis sought permission from the congressional panel that he be allowed to “speak freely” after Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Neri Colmenares asked him to respond to a narration of Col. Gener del Rosario, commander of the Army’s 1st Mechanized Brigade, on how the Mamasapano incident came about.
Del Rosario earlier said they failed to come to the aid of the beleaguered men from the 55th SAF Company while they were under heavy fire because they were not given the right information on where they were exactly located.
Mangahis, along with then SAF deputy commander, Chief Supt. Noli Taliño, met del Rosario at the headquarters of the 1st Mechanized Brigade at the time the SAF commandos arrived in Mamasapano town to execute Oplan Exodus.
As members of the 84th SAC managed to gun down Marwan, the 55th SAC troops who served as the blocking force were trapped in a cornfield and were under fire from MILF fighters. Taliño and Mangahis went to del Rosario and asked him for artillery support.
The police and the military have been at odds over the allegedly delayed artillery support for the beleaguered SAF troops. Police officials said they would not have suffered heavy casualties had the military immediately responded to their request. The military had been insisting that they could not order cannon fire as they did not have enough information from the ground.
Explaining why they could not provide artillery support, del Rosario said the SAF officers could not give the exact location of the beleaguered SAF troops and were only giving him estimates. He claimed civilians were also in the area.
Taliño and Mangahis refuted his claims.
“I believe that I already had properly explained the position of our troops in our first meeting with Col. del Rosario,” Mangahis said in Filipino.
Taliño, who later replaced Napeñas as SAF commander, read aloud his text message to del Rosario in which he pinpointed the grid coordinates of the trapped SAF commandos. He said del Rosario eventually turned down the request, saying he lacked clearance from his commander, Maj. Gen. Edmundo Pangilinan, commander of the 6th Infantry Division.
Mangahis rebutted del Rosario’s account, saying the question that begs for answers is how the military acted “from the first minute that they were informed until the last bullet was fired by our troops.”
“During our briefing with Col. del Rosario at 7 to 8 a.m., I was able to explain the location of our troops. He even gave a recommendation with a tactical map for artillery and ground reinforcement, then infantry. Then I heard him talking over the phone, and the peace process was mentioned. That is why I know Col. del Rosario understands what I told him about,” he said.
The 15-minute verbal tussle between del Rosario and the police officers ended with strong words from Mangahis, who told the military colonel to, “Man up sir. Man up sir”.
ACT-CIS party-list Rep. Samuel Pagdilao, a retired police general, moved to subject the officials to a lie-detector test to determine who among them is not telling the truth. The motion, however, was opposed by Rep. Elpidio Barzaga of Dasmariñas City, Cavite, and Rep. Rodolfo Biazon of Muntinlupa City (Metro Manila) for fear that such would scare off future resource persons, if not violate their right against self-incrimination.
Basilan Rep. Jim Hataman-Saliman, chairman of the House Committee on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity, decided to defer ruling on Pagdilao’s motion.
Magdalo party-list Rep. Ashley Acedillo, a former Air Force officer, then made a motion to strike Mangahis’ “Man up” dare from the record since it is tantamount to condemning the military official as a liar.