More questions for Aquino, Purisima on ‘Exodus’

Bea Cupin
More questions for Aquino, Purisima on ‘Exodus’
The Aquino-Purisima friendship is once again under the spotlight as the Senate tries to make sense of the bloody January 25 operation in Mamasapano

MANILA, Philippines – The President’s friendship with a now-resigned National Police chief comes under the spotlight as the Philippine Senate tries to make sense of a bloody operation in Maguindanao that ended in the death of 68, including 44 elite police commandos.

On Tuesday, February 10, the Senate resumes its probe into the circumstances surrounding “Oplan Exodus,” a January 25 police operation against Jemaah Islamiyah member and bomb-maker Zulkifli bin Hir, better known as “Marwan,” that killed him and at least 68 others, including 44 members of the elite Special Action Force (SAF) of the Philippine National Police (PNP.)

Then-suspended PNP chief Director General Alan Purisima played a key role – sitting in meetings and dishing out “advice” – in the lead-up to “Oplan Exodus.”

On December 4, 2014, Purisima was ordered suspended by the Ombudsman over a pending corruption case.

Based on the testimony of a police official, however, Purisima continued to participate in the operation despite his suspension.

According to sacked SAF commander Director Getulio Napeñas, he briefed Aquino and Purisima on January 9, 2015, in Bahay Pangarap, the President’s official residence, for a “mission update” and to discuss “the new concept of operations.” This would eventually be dubbed “Oplan Exodus.”

During the meeting, held a full month after Purisima’s suspension and at the height of government’s preparations for the visit of Pope Francis, it was decided that the SAF would only coordinate with the Armed Forces “time-on-target,” meaning they would only tell the military of their plans once they enter Mamasapano.

Purisima also told Napeñas to inform Acting PNP chief Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina and Interior Secretary Mar Roxas only when the operation was ongoing. During the February 9 hearing, Purisima insisted this was not a command but merely “advice.” (READ: Command or advice? Senators say Purisima story ‘incredible’)

More questions

Some key questions were not asked on Monday about the Bahay Pangarap meeting. (READ: Poe warns Napeñas of insubordination, misconduct)

Who else was present during the briefing? Was that the only time Napeñas briefed the President about “Oplan Exodus?” What was the objective of that briefing? To get the President’s approval? What did Aquino say? Why was Espina not in that meeting? Did the President hear Purisima’s orders to Napeñas to inform Espina only after the fact?

In his first televised speech on the Mamasapano clash, Aquino said he “repeatedly” told Napeñas to coordinate with other security forces. Was this order made in that meeting or did the President continue to communicate with Napeñas after? Did Napeñas really get such orders from Aquino? And was that the last time he got orders from the commander-in-chief?

During the hearing, Napeñas talked about text messages sent to him by Purisima before January 25. Did Napeñas receive text messages from the President, too?

Despite Purisima’s efforts to distance himself from “Oplan Exodus,” Napeñas’s testimony on Monday showed how the PNP high command was bypassed in this bloody operation that now threatens one of Aquino’s legacies: the peace process with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Aquino himself already accepted the resignation of Purisima.

The President’s personal ties with his former security aide is no secret.

In announcing Purisima’s resignation on February 6, Aquino said the general was pivotal in “restoring his confidence” in his security detail after he was ambushed during an attempted coup d’ etat in 1987. The police general, then a young lieutenant in the Presidential Security Group, was assigned to protect Aquino, the only son of former president Cory Aquino.

“From then, until today, Alan and I have gone through so much; he was with me in opposing powerful vested interests who were capable of threatening our lives,” said the President.

“For this reason, perhaps you will understand why I find it painful to see him leave the service under these circumstances. I have accepted, effective immediately, the resignation of General Purisima. I thank him for his many years of service prior to this tragedy,” Aquino added.

Meetings while suspended

Purisima’s involvement in “Oplan Exodus” doesn’t mean that Roxas and Espina were totally kept out of the loop.

In April 2014, Napeñas said he briefed the President, Roxas, and PNP officials on the first SAF plan to get Marwan, “Oplan Wolverine,” which was eventually aborted to give way to more “Oplans” against Marwan. (READ: Why SAF didn’t trust the military)

The next time the PNP SAF devised a plan to get Marwan in November 2014, however, Roxas and Espina were no longer consulted.

What changed? According to Napeñas’ narration, this time, it was Purisima himself who had intelligence on Marwan and Usman’s location.

Napeñas met Purisima at the White House, the official residence of the PNP chief in Camp Crame. There, Purisima told him to work with PNP Intelligence Group director Senior Superintendent Fernando Mendez to find the two terrorists.

Purisima, said Napeñas, told him “he has an agent in the area of location.” From then on, only officers of the SAF and Purisima were privy to the plan, which they called “Oplan Terminator.”

Purisima kept Aquino updated.

Thus far, Napeñas has revealed one more instance – aside from the January 9 Bahay Pangarap meeting – wherein Purisima appeared in key discussions for the operation during his suspension: On the 3rd week of December 2014, when Purisima joined a coordination meeting with Philippine Military Academy (PMA) classmates and military officers to discuss the possible use of precision-guided bombs to finish Marwan.

By that time, Purisima had already been suspended for over two weeks. He had also asked a court to lift his suspension. 

CLASS OF 81. Top military officials were part of a 'coordination meeting' with the already suspended Director General Purisima, according to relieved SAF commander Police Dir Napeñas.

Joining Purisima in the meeting were Napeñas, Armed Forces Chief General Gregorio Catapang, Jr., Wesmincom Commander Lt General Rustico Guerrero, and the Army’s 6th Infantry Division Chief Major General Edmundo Pangilinan. 

The plan was eventually aborted after they were told that the Philippine Air Force had no precision-guided bombs of their own.

Senator Grace Poe, chairman of one of the committees probing the incident, said there was no need to summon the President just yet, even as more questions linger. –

DAY ONE: Senate probes ‘Oplan Exodus’

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Bea Cupin

Bea is a senior multimedia reporter who covers national politics. She's been a journalist since 2011 and has written about Congress, the national police, and the Liberal Party for Rappler.