It was a rout – a massacre. On the early morning of January 25, forty four out of close to 400 elite, US-trained, Special Action Force (SAF) policemen were killed in a 12-hour firefight, in a remote barrio in Mamasapano, Maguindanao — a known rebel stronghold of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). They were reportedly on a top-secret counterterrorism operation to capture Malaysian bomb expert and Jemaah Islamiya leader, Marwan, said to be the equivalent of Osama bin Laden in Southeast Asia and his second in command, Usman. The two had a total of $7 million bounty on their heads courtesy of the United States government.
The facts and circumstances surrounding this latest debacle in the Aquino government’s anti-terrorist efforts have only been slowly trickling out, no thanks to Malacanang’s lack of transparency if not outright attempts to mislead and deceive. Mr. Aquino’s address to the nation four days after the Mamasapano incident was riddled with inconsistencies, obfuscation, half-truths and outright lies. (For one, there is no mention of civilian guides and paramilitary/CAFGU casualties, which the MILF reports counting, adding up to a total of 64 instead of just 44 killed on the government side.)
Thus the families and comrades of the slain are still seeking answers. They find little consolation in the Aquino administration’s declaration of a so-called national day of mourning, medals of valor for the dead and injured, and promises of financial support to the latter’s dependents. They are steadfastly demanding that justice be rendered for their kin’s untimely, avoidable and senseless deaths.
This demand underlies the calls by various quarters for an impartial and thorough investigation into the culpability of those who had instigated, authorized, and planned the entire operation.
Unfortunately, the warmongers and those with deep-seated anti-Moro prejudices have been garnering the most media mileage. They are calling for “all-out-war” versus the MILF, the junking of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) and a halt to further peace negotiations between government and the MILF on the premise that the rebel group is mainly, if not exclusively, to blame for the carnage.
Aquino and his defenders and apologists pretend to be sober and fully committed to achieving peace with the MILF despite this setback. They have labeled the Mamasapano incident as an unfortunate “misencounter” and have appealed to the public not to make any hasty conclusions until an investigation to be carried out by a PNP Board of Inquiry can determine the “truth”.
But the truth is Mr. Aquino and his clique of the closest “kabarkada” and “kabarilan” are hell bent on foisting a cover-up.
In the first place, more than a week after the incident, there is no admission as to who gave the go signal for what an Interaksyon editorial called a “fatally flawed mission”. Aquino, when asked by the media categorically whether he himself okayed it, hemmed and hawed and ended up saying his specific approval was unnecessary since there were standing warrants of arrest for the two high-value targets.
Nonetheless, it can be concluded, from his claim that he had repeatedly stressed in briefings the need for coordination, that he was continuously briefed on the progress of the operation and therefore had – or could have had — full and constant knowledge of it.
What has also eventually emerged as a fact is that SAF Director Napenas was directly reporting to suspended PNP chief Purisima, bypassing superior officers in the line of command up to PNP OIC Espina. Purisima in turn was directly reporting to Aquino, bypassing SILG Mar Roxas. This breakdown in the line of command, especially in giving Purisima the authority to direct the operations, is by itself highly anomalous and unjustifiable, even if the operation had been successful.
There is no need for any investigation to determine the immediate cause of the disaster. It was the deliberate decision not to coordinate with both the MILF and the AFP. It is clear that there was no coordination on several levels and fronts between the police and armed forces, from the SAF commandoes and army units on the ground up to the highest levels of command.
Within the police hierarchy, there was a clear breakdown in the chain of command, with the SAF Director Napenas neither informing nor reporting to the PNP Chief Espina, and instead directly reporting to suspended chief Purisima. Purisima, in turn did not inform nor report to DILG Secretary Roxas but to the President himself.
The MILF official statement sums up the lesson from the Mamasapano incident insofar as the peace process is concerned: “The MILF have (sic) been in negotiations with the Philippine Government for some time now. During this time both parties have established protocols, ways of proceedings and mechanisms, which support and keep the peace. Adherence to these mechanism (sic) have created a peaceful environment and lessened actual hostilities through the years. lt is unfortunate but not entirely surprising that when parties do not follow these protocols lives are placed in harm’s way.”
What emerges is the picture of a clique in Aquino’s Cabinet, headed by no less than the Commander-in-Chief, breaking the chain-of-command and illegally placing a suspended police officer in charge of a suicidal mission – a mission fraught not only with untold dangers and operational complexity but imbued with wider and more serious political implications on the ongoing GPH-MILF peace negotiations, particularly the passage by Congress of the controversial Bangsamoro Basic Law.
Some analysts attribute Aquino’s illegal and foolhardy reliance on Purisima and his coterie of trusted aides like Napenas to a combination of hubris, his eagerness to score propaganda points in the global “anti-terror” campaign, and just plain incompetent leadership.
What is overlooked however are the undeniable military and political stakes of the US Superpower in this bungled operation and their record of direct and indirect involvement in previous attempts to neutralize Marwan’s group. This includes the 2012 use of armed drone strikes against a suspected hideout of Marwan in Sulu which resulted in scores of civilian fatalities and an unscathed Marwan.
The “actionable intelligence” that Aquino touted as key to the decision to mount the Mamasapano operation has been traced, according to news reports, to a US mole within the MILF. This was allegedly verified through US drones and GPS tracking. Subsequently the US mobilized its Joint Special Operations Task Force (JSOTF) based in Mindanao for the latest operation; JSOTF forces were sighted in the aftermath of the Mamasapano operation. The US would also have nixed coordinating with the MILF despite the dangers of a firefight between the SAF and MILF forces because of intelligence information that Marwan was being given sanctuary by the MILF.
Thus it comes as no surprise that a certified US puppet like Aquino would have had no second thoughts about giving the go-signal for the ill-conceived operation at the sacrifice of the lives of so many SAF personnel in exchange for the prospect of having bragging rights to Marwan’s neutralization.
Speculations are rife and the entire truth will have to await an impartial and thorough investigation. But there are enough undisputed facts surrounding the Mamasapano disaster that point to an epic fail in intelligence and leadership, military and otherwise. #
Published I Business World
2 February 2015