• The saga of SAF 44


    First of two parts

    Will General Getulio Napenas stay on the hot seat or will he get an exoneration?

    “How could I have said no to the President?”

    General Getulio Napenas was visibly stung when I propounded the question to him: “Why did you have to obey orders from General Purisima knowing that he had already been suspended?”

    “Would you say no to the President?” General Napenas asked in turn.

    “Oh, well,” I muttered tentatively. “Yes… On the principle of right to speak.”

    “You are not a military man,” the general snapped. “You must be a defense reporter to know that.”

    No worries there. General Napenas was just recoiling in the normal way a man does upon being forced to do something he would not do if he had his way.

    At an office in a plush building in Greenhills San Juan, he had accommodated my request for an interview. I had gotten this text message from the communication team of the Office of the Vice President about the general welcoming the re-opening of the Senate hearing on the SAF 44 massacre. It is a matter of course that a continuation of the Senate inquiry into the incident will give the sacked SAF Director a chance to clear his name of any culpability for the death of those 44 who perished in perhaps the most outrageous carnage ever suffered by the Philippine police. I have this particular concern that the Mamasapano incident could be bearing heavily upon the current election fever and a talk with the general would certainly afford me personally needed clarification on the matter. And so I replied to the text message: “Get me a one-on-one with Napenas.”

    “If not for the fact that you said you are from the Office of the Vice President, I would not have agreed to this interview,” said the general as we sat facing each other across the long table in what appeared to be a conference room. I had not actually said I was from the OVP; what I phoned him about when I requested for an interview was that I was referred by someone from the OVP communication team who gave me his mobile number.

    Another guy, youngish and in barong, whom he introduced as a lawyer, sat a seat away from him, obviously intent to stay and witness to the talk.

    “Well,” I found myself musing, “Napenas has not been a topnotch general for nothing. If he must talk at all, then somebody must be there to make sure he is not misquoted, or misrepresented, or some such.”

    The general volunteered the opener.

    “Since this involves such a long story and we don’t have much time, let us just focus on things that have not yet been touched upon. Those that have been widely publicized, you may just refer to news accounts.”

    “So,” I said, eyeing him by way of asking, “Shall we start?”

    And the general nodded.

    My first salvo went.

    “How true is it that Oplan Exodus was a brainchild of the FBI?”

    The general gaped rather in bafflement. Of the many questions he must have conjured up in his mind to be raised in this interview, that FBI angle must have been not one of them.

    “The FBI?” he uttered. “No. Oplan Exodus is ours.”

    Actually, I was remembering a news item about a lawyer in California who came forward after the Mamasapano massacre, announcing his claim to the $5 million bounty on the head of international terrorist Zulkifli Abdhir, alias Marwan. According to the lawyer, it was he who gave the information to the FBI that Marwan was hiding in Maguindanao and on the basis of that information the US investigation agency crafted the plan for his capture. But since General Napenas did not indicate any intention to deal on this issue any further, I let him have the interview his way.

    The general narrated that it was the Police Regional Director of Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) that got the whole ball rolling for the capture of Marwan. An informant passed on to the agency the whereabouts of Marwan and the ARMM coordinated with the Regional Intelligence Director of SAF ARMM which eventually planned to get him.

    In the course of the Senate inquiry on the SAF 44 Massacre, by the committee headed by Senator Grace Liamanzares, the Board of Inquiry (BOI) of the Philippine National Police (PNP) submitted the report of its investigation on the Mamasapano incident and in that report the above assertion by General Napenas is reflected thus:

    “In August 2014, then Regional Director of the Police Regional Office of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, Police Chief Superintendent Noel de los Reyes, submitted to Napenas the grid coordinates of the possible new location of Marwan and Usman in Barangay Pedsandawan, Mamasapano, Maguindanao. They also started intelligence coordination in the battlefield, knowing that their operation would be risky due to the difficult terrain and the reported presence of thousands of MILf and BIFF members.”

    “But perhaps I had better tell you first about Terminator 1, “ General Napenas cut himself short on the narration on Oplan Exodus.

    “Terminator 1?” I asked.

    The general began to elaborate.

    “Terminator 1” was the first of two operation plans codenamed “Terminator” devised to ensnare Marwan, who sometime back had eluded attack by government forces in Sulu. With the information that Marwan, together with Usman Sali, had escaped to Mamasapano in Maguindanao, the PNP SAF began planning operations to get the two; the Board of Inquiry report uses the term “neutralize” for doing away with Marwan and companion.

    It was one Sunday in the 2nd week of November at 2200 hours when General Napenas was summoned by CPNP General Alan Purisima to his quarters at the White House in Camp Crame and instructed to coordinate with the Director, Intelligence Group (IG) regarding a certain “packet of intelligence” on the whereabouts of Marwan and Usman.

    “The packet of intelligence,” Napenas informed me in the interview, “is a package of information detailing the location of Marwan, the terrain, including the distances between houses, etc.”

    Napenas learned from the Diretor, IG, the following day that such packet of intelligence was in the hands of 84 SAC based in Zamboanga. Upon contact with the SAF Intelligence Officer in Zamboanga, Napenas confirmed the existence of the intelligence packet on the basis of which the 84 SAC was now undertaking mission planning. One week later, the Zamboanga SAF Intelligence Officer arrived in Manila and presented the plan they had devised to SAF Director Napenas and other senior officers.

    “Subsequently, I presented the plan to PDG Purisima at the Gazeebo in his quarters,” informed Napenas. “Present during the presentation were Deputy Director, SAF and other SAF Intel Officers.”

    This seemingly dry narrative of events are essential to understanding its implication upon the issue at hand: Who is to blame for the Mamasapanao carnage?

    From the meeting, two things stare us in the face.

    First, in special operations of the Philippine National Police, the planning is a job by the team of operatives which will carry it out. In the instance of Terminator 1, it was a job by the Regional Director for Intelligence of SAF ARMM.

    And second, the flow in the chain of command is upward. Such a flow is emphasized repeatedly in the BOI report. Note that in the instance of Terminator 1, the flow is from the Regional Director for Intelligence of SAF ARMM to General Napenas, who was the Director SAF PNP. And upward from General Napenas, to Director General Philippine National Police (DGPNP) General Alan Purisima.

    Did the flow in the chain of command stop with General Purisima?

    As the BOI report bears it out, General Purisima said in that meeting, “This is a go. But I will have to tell the President.”

    (The second part will come out tomorrow Sunday January 17.)


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    1. Reopening the Mamasapano fiasco is to me a waste of time and money. I see this as another expenses to Filipino taxpayers and politicking by opposition led by Binay’s group. The incident is clear to me that the execution of the operation plan did not work perfectly. Albeit the goal was achieved, the lost of 44 soldiers would have been avoided if there was a massive back-up forces on the ground and the fast reaction by other agencies of military. The question is whether the plan was well thought and all risks have been identified. Blaming General Purisima for the failed operation should not be the focused alone in the investigation. Colonel Napenas should take full responsibility for the operation. If the operation was successful things would have been different, Col. Napenas would have take full credit, possible promotion and would have taken the million dollar reward. Instead he blundered and has joined the opposition to cover up his faults. For delicadesa, Col. Napenas would have stayed private and prayed for the fallen SAF 44 sake.

      • Can always count on JRT to follow the yellow government spin.

        44 police were abandoned and left to die, There were support troops in the area but they were not allowed to help. Why did they allow those men to die ? I for one would like to hear why.

        I would love to hear why Aquino lied to the nation on Jan 28th when he said Purisima was involved only up to his suspension and not after.

        I would like to know why Roxas and Gasmin did not lift a finger to help those men when they knew Aquino was abandoning them.

        General Napenas was the only truthful official out of the whole bunch while the rest did not cooperate by turning over their cell phones. The only thing Napenas did was trust his superiors would provide support they were supposed to and that got his men killed.

    2. Who is to blame for the Mamasapanao carnage?

      Napenas is also to blame for proceeding with this unrealistic plot. Even Napenas admitted that there could be 10 members of SAF who would die.

      Noynoy is more liable for not sending support to SAF, so that the peace talks with the MILF would not be compromised, and he would get his much coveted Nobel Peace Prize award.

    3. One important question for Napenas relates to how well he had prepared the SAF-PNP team. One glaring item is about map-reading skills, meaning why were the different blocking-teams not in their assigned places? Ano ba iyan?!!!!