MANILA, Philippines – Had “Oplan Exodus,” a police operation to neutralize bomb maker and terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias “Marwan.” not killed at least 65 people, including 44 elite cops, national police office-in-charge Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina and Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II would not be making an issue about not knowing about it beforehand.
This was the claim of resigned Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Director General Alan Purisima in a position paper he submitted to the Senate on Wednesday, March 11. A copy of the paper was given to the media on Thursday, March 12, by the office of Senator Grace Poe.
“Had there been no or few casualties, the successful mission against Marwan would have been credited to the OIC PNP and the DILG secretary,” said Purisima in the 13-page paper.
Purisima, currently serving a preventive suspension order over a graft case, resigned from the post of chief PNP more than a week after the deadly January 25 operation where troopers from the PNP Special Action Force (SAF) encountered fighters from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), its splinter group the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and private armed groups.
The operation has been controversial for a number of reasons. Among them, the SAF’s decision to inform the military, Espina, and Roxas “time on target,” or only after troopers had entered Mamasapano town in Maguindanao. The military said this is why they were unable to send reinforcements, since information on the operation was scarce the morning of January 25.
In his paper, Purisima pointed out that neither Espina nor Roxas seemed to take issue over being informed “time on target” until, that is, they learned about the high death toll.
The following are excerpts from Purisima’s position paper:
“…the record would bear that [Espina] did not complain when he was first informed by Napeñas about Operation Exodus in the early morning of January 25….He even congratulated Napeñas on the successful operation against Marwan. He did not mind that he was previously informed about the mission. It was only after he learned about the casualties that he began to claim that he did not know about the mission.”
On Roxas, Purisima said:
“…even the DILG secretary’s actions on January 25 show that he did not complain about being informed about Operation Exodus time on target. In his sms to the President that morning, he did not complain about any lack of knowledge or information about the mission. Like the OIC, PNP, the DILG Secretary only made an issue about his supposed lack of knowledge after he learned about the casualties…”
“Had there been no or few casualties, the successful mission against Marwan would have been credited to the OIC, PNP and the DILG Secretary,” added Purisima.
Poe said that Purisima’s paper was his “own conclusion” and her committee will come up with its own findings in a report due next week.
“His argument is not [compelling] as far as the committee is concerned. The committee did not require him to submit a position paper, and we will take it for whatever it may be worth for or against him depending on the committee’s own appreciation of the facts and applicable law,” Poe told Rappler in a text message.
A report from the PNP’s Board of Inquiry (BOI) submitted to Espina on Thursday, March 12, noted that Purisima’s “powers and authorities…ceased to exist on the day of his suspension,” adding that it was Espina who had the authority to approve the mission.
But in his position paper which was submitted to the Senate the day before the submission of the BOI report, Purisima insisted accusing him of usurpation of authority was “simply absurd.”
“I never misrepresented or falsely represented myself to be the chief, PNP – either to Napeñas or to any other person involved in Operation Exodus; neither did I perform, under the pretense of an official position, any act pertaining to any person in authority or public officer,” he said. (READ: SAF gave Purisima full briefing)
As to his involvement on January 25 itself, Purisima said he was “merely relaying information and assisting Napeñas on his request for assistance from the AFP.”
Purisima explained that he had given the go-signal for operations against Marwan as early as November 2014, or before his suspension. “Oplan Exodus” was the SAF’s 5th consecutive try to get Marwan.
“Thus, considering I already approved the law enforcement operations against Marwan and Usman as early as April 2014, I likewise already delegated to the force commander – in this case, director of the PNP SAF – the necessary control and supervision over the law enforcement operations against Marwan and Usman,” said Purisima.
“Once the Chief, PNP delegates his authority to a force or unit commander, that commander assumes control and supervision over that mission. After which, the force or unit commander may inform other officers consistent with operational security,” he added.
“I categorically deny giving any orders to any PNP official or personnel regarding Operation Exodus during my preventive suspension. I did not even know when the PNP SAF would launch Operation Exodus,” said the resigned chief.
On accusations that it was under his command – or advice, as he refers to it – that prompted Napeñas to only inform Espina and Roxas “time on target,” Purisima said “with or without my advice, Napeñas would still not inform the OIC, PNP and the DILG Secretary about the mission.”
Purisima pointed out that Napeñas similarly kept Espina and Roxas out of loop in previous failed operations against Marwan.
The former PNP chief, a close friend of President Benigno Aquino III, also emphasized the President should not be accused of giving the go-signal for the operation since the operation was “both a legal authority and duty on the part of the PNP, which does not require prior presidential approval before implementation.” (READ: Ally accuses Aquino of brazen cover-up)
“Oplan Exodus” is the bloodiest operation in PNP history and is one of the biggest crisis to his the Aquino administration. During a Monday, March 9 gathering of Evangelical leaders in Malacañang, Aquino said Napeñas had tricked him and that the former SAF chief was to blame for the carnage in Mamasapano. – with a report from Ayee Macaraig/Rappler.com