MANILA, Philippines – It was the suspended chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP) who was on top of the operation to arrest top terrorists in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, that ended up killing 44 members of the police Special Action Force (SAF).
This was confirmed by Director Getutlio Napeñas Jr, the SAF commander during the bloody January 25 operation who was sacked after allegations he did not give the PNP hierarchy sufficient information on the plan.
“Inapprove ni General Purisima,” Napeñas said, referring to suspended PNP chief Director General Alan Purisima who is facing graft charges before the Ombudsman.
A friend and former aide of President Benigno Aquino III, Purisima was suspended on December 4, 2014 as a result of those charges. The President has not named any replacement and instead chose to appoint Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina as Acting PNP chief. (READ: Aquino, Purisima and the past that binds them)
“In November 2014, I was informed about [the] location of Marwan (or Zulkifli bin Hir) and [Abdul] Basit Usman,” Napeñas told a hastily called press conference on Wednesday, February 4. “Purisima said he had intelligence people on the ground.”
Napeñas recalled that sometime in November 2014, at 10 pm on a Sunday, Purisma called him to a meeting to tell him about intelligence reports pointing to the whereabouts of Marwan and Usman.
Purisima sounded certain about the information and ordered Napeñas to coordinate with the intelligence group to implement the plan, according to Napeñas. “At siya mismo ang nagsabi sa akin, meron siyang tao mismo na pinanggagalingan ng information niya. Sinabihan niya ako na magcoordinate sa intelligence group para magsagawa, magplano, makuha ang intelligence packet para sa paglunsad ng operation. Nakuha ng aking isang official ang packet at nagsimula na ng pagpaplano.”
Marwan carried a $5-million bounty for his arrest based on the US Federal Bureau of Investigation list. The Philippine government put up its own reward of P7.4 million for his arrest.
SAF launched the first operation in November 2014 under Oplan Terminator, according to Napeñas. The plan was “aborted” because the banca that the police used for the operation broke down, he said.
They tried again on December 12, 2014, Napeñas said, confirming an earlier Rappler report about a botched December operation.
He explained that the December operation was compromised when they engaged in a brief firefight with Moro rebels in the area. “Gumamit kami ng boats galing sa Zamboanga. On their way papasok sa target, nagkaroon ng engagement sa river. Na force na hindi ituloy ang mission,” Napeñas said.
All this time, Purisima supervised the operation, he said.
This was Napeñas’s way of explaining why Purisima, even if already suspended by January 25, remained on top of the plan. “Nabanggit ko kanina na sa kanilang 2 nag-rereport [Purisima and Acting PNP chief Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina) ako sa kadahilanan na yung project na ‘yun inumpisahan pa ni General Purisima noong April pa November tuloy tuloy at siya ang may hawak ng intelligence,” Napeñas said.
Yet, the ex-SAF commander admitted he only informed Espina about the January 25 operation after the troopers had entered Mamasapano – also upon the specific instructions of Purisima. “Sinabihan ako mismo ni Director General Purisima na sabihan mo si General Espina pag nandoon na,” he said.
Plan began April
Espina and Interior Secretary Mar Roxas earlier said they were kept out of the loop in the January 25 plan.
Napeñas was adamant that the PNP hierarchy, as well as President Aquino and Roxas, knew of the plan to arrest the two terrorists.
But Napeñas was referring to an April 2014 command briefing for the top echelon – or 9 months before the January 25 attack and one month after the Aquino administration signed a peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
“Yung April na nabanggit ko kanina, nagkaroon ng presentation doon sa command conference sa Camp Crame. Nandoon ang ating mahal na Pangulo, SILG, PNP Purisima, Gen delos Reyes at ako, at immediately pagkatapos ng presentation ng Oplan Wolverin, present ko rin may Police Deputy Director General Espina sa kanyang office.” Chief Superintendent Noel De Los Reyes was then regional police of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
Napeñas did not say whether Aquino or Roxas approved the plan, although the President himself said he was privy to the operation and was in touch directly with Napeñas.
The long-running intelligence operation also had 3 Oplans (operation plans): Oplan Wolverin (April 2014), Oplan Terminator (November 2014) and Oplan Exodus (January 2015). This explains confusing statements from SAF officials who were referring to the January 25 plan either as Oplan Wolverin or Oplan Exodus.
Napeñas said he’s sure that they got Marwan, threatening to quit if they killed the wrong man. (READ: Marwan and the ties that bind)
The incident however has put Aquino in a corner, as he’s being criticized for not taking responsibility for it and not showing up at a military airbase when the bodies of the slain cops arrived in Manila.
It also further proves the influence of Purisima with the President. The general is sitting out a 6-month suspension, which ends in June this year. By then he would only have 5 months to serve before his scheduled retirement in November.
The clash has also jeopardized the peace agreement that his government has signed with the MILF, which lost at least 17 members that day. (READ: ARMM governor asks MILF to return SAF weapons)
The Senate is set to investigate the clash. Several lawmakers however are calling for the creation of a Truth Commission to conduct the probe. – Rappler.com