THE massacre of 44 members of the Philippine National Police-Special Action Force (PNP-SAF) in the hands of Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, last Sunday could have been avoided had the covert operation been carefully planned and coordinated in advance with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin was reacting to accusations that the AFP did not reinforce or it took the military quite some time before coming to the aid of the embattled SAF team that at the time were already at the receiving end of the separatist MILF rebels, who were superior in number and masters of the terrain.
Gazmin on Thursday confirmed that the 6th Infantry Division had received the SAF’s request for reinforcement but it was made too late or some three hours after the police commandos’ first engagement with the group of international terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir alias “Marwan,” a Malaysian.
“Their request for assistance arrived at 6 p.m. when their first encounter with Marwan, which was at about 4:30 p.m. [or]5 p.m. [or]thereabouts,” the Defense chief said.
“Kung nagkaroon ng oras dun sa coordination, hindi mangyayari yang pinangangambaha nating ganyan [Had there been time for coordination, what we feared would not have happened],” Gazmin added.
He pointed out that soldiers from nearby units or detachments were also securing certain areas and could not be simply pulled out on short notice.
“Such major operation needs careful planning because what we entered was a big MILF and BIFF camp. You need a bigger force,” Gazmin said.
BIFF is the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, a breakaway group of the MILF.
A military source also on Thursday disclosed that the 6th ID has conducted a parallel investigation of the Maguindanao clash on orders of higher headquarters.
“There are sensitive issues, but one of our jobs is to take a look [at such issues].
Appropriate investigation is being conducted,” the source, who requested anonymity for lack of authority to speak on the matter, said.
He pointed out that information was deliberately withheld to maintain the secrecy of the operation, considering the sensitivity of the targets and situation in the area.
“But it appears that the operation had no proper planning and they were not able to mitigate the situation,” the source said.
By “they,” he was apparently referring to military leaders.
The source noted that what made matters worse was that the reinforcement team did not know the exact location of the encounter.
“I understand that we were kept in the dark until it became something that we did not want to happen. When we knew [about]it, it was too late. We didn’t know also how to address [the situation],” he said.
Another source said the investigation would focus on circumstances surrounding the carnage, on the role of the AFP in the incident and on preparations for a congressional inquiry into the bloodbath.
“We committed no lapses. We just want to look into the gaps, the flaws committed so that it would not be repeated,” he added.
The source said the 6th ID sent six armored personnel vehicles and the 55th Special Action Company but were not able to enter the area because they did not know where exactly the fighting was taking place.
“Reinforcement teams were able to link around 10 p.m. with the 36 SAF men who died,” he said, adding that many lives were saved despite hitches.