THE killing of dozens of members of the elite Philippine National Police-Special Action Force (PNP-SAF) in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, on Sunday requires a deeper probe to find out who authorized the operation without coordinating with the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
According to a seasoned intelligence officer who was instrumental in the capture of foreign terrorists in the past, the fact that local military and police commanders were not immediately made aware of the operation meant that the order to proceed was given by “somebody from the national level.”
“It was a special operation that went wrong. If the ARMM [Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao] police director knew nothing about it, then it follows that the one who gave the order was more senior, if not more powerful,” the source, a military colonel, told The Manila Times.
The officer said he called his counterparts at the 6th Infantry Division to determine if the entry of the SAF policemen was coordinated.
“They said they were not informed,” he added.
In Malacañang, Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said the policemen were in the area “to arrest a high value terrorist, Zulkifli bin Hir, also known as Marwan, whom he said was a member of the central command of the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI).
With Marwan was Basit Usman, a Filipino trained in bomb-making by the JI and who has a $1-million reward for his capture.
“The PNP-SAF [personnel]performed their mission with courage and professionalism. There was a high likelihood that primary target Marwan has been neutralized,” Coloma said in a news briefing.
“We are piecing together the entire picture. It is not just to make a conclusion that is not based on concrete evidence or incomplete assessment of what really happened,” he explained.
The Times source, meanwhile, said the SAF officer who gave the go-signal for the troops to proceed has a lot of explaining to do. He added that he believes there are two possible reasons why the operation was launched against Marwan and his fellow terrorists.
“First, it could be the PNP’s response to the bombing in Zamboanga City last Friday. They wanted to get even and redeem their name. Or, second, it may only be about money. There’s a $5 million prize for Marwan’s capture,” the source said.
Whatever the case, he added, the troops should have factored in the “rido” or clan wars existing among several families in Maguindanao, not just the presence of the MILF or the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), whose members took part in the ambuscade.
“You cannot just come in and bring guns to these areas, lest you’ll be misconstrued as their enemy,” the source said.