‘American tried to give orders in Mamasapano’

Carmela Fonbuena

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‘American tried to give orders in Mamasapano’


'There is a need to refine and delineate the defense relationship between the Philippines and the US including cooperation on matters relating to anti-terrorism,' says the Senate report on the Mamasapano incident

MANILA, Philippines – One of the 6 Americans who tagged along sacked Special Action Force (SAF) commander Police Director Getulio Napeñas tried to order the military around at the height of clashes in Mamasapano – a move that angered 6th Infantry Division commander Major General Edmundo Pangilinan.

“One of the Americans ordered Pangilinan to fire the artillery. However, Pangilinan refused and told him, ‘Do not dictate to me what to do. I am the commander here!'” revealed the complete draft of the Senate report released on Wednesday evening, March 17.

The office of Senator Grace Poe, who chairs the Senate committee on public order and dangerous drugs, provided the media with copies of the draft report. Poe’s committee prepared the draft Joint Committee Report with the committees on peace, unification, and reconciliation, and finance.

The Senate report is critical of US involvement in the SAF operation on January 25, the bloodiest one-day operation in the history of the Philippine National Police (PNP) which led to 67 deaths – 44 SAF commandos, 18 Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) fighters, and 5 civilians.

Senate report: Working with an ally as the US apparently gives us access to information and resources that have assisted us in our local operation. However, the question is, what must we give in return? Are there any consequences to working with the US in pursuing its global war on terror? Obviously, in the Mamasapano operation, the consequence of that mission to get Marwan and Usman was the death of a large number of Filipino soldiers and civilians.

The 129-page report concluded that the “ultimate responsibility” for the operation lies with President Benigno Aquino III. He made a mistake in allowing his close buddy, then suspended police chief Police Director General Alan Purisima, to continue his participation in the operation even as he was under suspension over graft charges. 

The report said it was a “fatal mistake” not to coordinate with the Armed Forces of the Philippines, which Purisima had assured Napeñas he was going to do, since artillery fire could have rescued the SAF commandos.

Speaking to reporters earlier on Wednesday, Poe cleared the military of any legal liability largely because the SAF had kept them out the loop. But Poe cast doubts on the military’s reasons behind withholding artillery, saying that the situation required flexibility.

Pangilinan repeatedly explained he couldn’t approve artillery fire because incomplete information could mean friendly fire or, worse, hurt civilians. The police Board of Inquiry report said the military considered the peace process, a claim denied by the military. (READ: Emotional Army general: All efforts done to help SAF)

Poe had also said that military officials never mentioned the peace process as a consideration for their actions in Mamasapano during the Senate hearings and the executive sessions.

Reward money enticed SAF?

The report also raised questions on the multi-million dollar reward as a motivation for the SAF commandos to ignore risks, a claim that the SAF denied. (READ: Context: The US in PH anti-terror campaigns)

“Who is driving the cart? Was the Mamasapano operation authored by Filipinos? It must be remembered that the US offered a reward of US$5 million for Marwan. Clearly the staggering amount could have enticed law enforces to conduct operations to support the intrests of others despite the high risks involved,” the report said.

SAF killed Malaysian Zulkifli bin hir or Marwan but Filipino bomb maker Abdul Bassit Usman, the other target in the SAF operation, escaped. He is currently the subject of a manhunt.

Existing cooperation agreements between the Philippines and the US allow the USforces to train, advise, and assist their Filipino counterparts in counter-terrorism. 

But the report noted that while the US forces were not involved in combat operations on the ground – the one thing that the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) strictly forbids – “the roles of Americans who were present during the operation cannot be readily dismissed as those of mere observers.”

‘Not 100% Filipino planned’

The report enumerated the involvement of the Americans as follows:

  • Napeñas brought 3 Americans into the Army Brigade HQ. A helicopter arrived and 3 more Americans came into the HQ and joined Napenas at his work table.
  • One of the Americans, identified by Napenas as Mr Al Katz, supposedly handled the training of the Seaborne.
  • One of the Americans ordered Pangilinan to fire the artillery. However, Pangilinan refused and told him “Do not dictate to me what to do. I am the commander here!”
  • The Americans provided surveillance in the area through their ISR. TV monitors were brought in by the Americans to the HQ.

“The testimonies of various resource persons, particularly during the executive hearings, appear to contradict the statement of the Department of Foreign Affairs that Oplan Exodus was 100% purely Filipino planned and implemented,” the report added.

The Americans trained and gave equipment for the use of the 84th SAC or the Seaborne Unit. It is the main effort that crawled to Pidsandawan in Mamasapano to kill Marwan.

Napeñas cover up

In a press briefing earlier on Wednesday, Poe scored how Napeñas initially tried to cover up US involvement in the SAF operation. She narrated that it was not until Senator Vicente Sotto III named the US personnel involved that the SAF commander admitted it.

When asked why the 6 Americans were there, Napenas supposedly responded: “Bigla na lang sila sumulpot doon (They just suddenly appeared).”

He later admitted their involvement in intelligence cooperation, training, and equipment provision. They even provided the maps used in the operation.

Napeñas: Your Honor, tumulong iyong US counterpart doon sa intelligence… Mayroon kaming isang US counterpart doon sa Seaborne who is working with them in terms of training at saka iyong….equipment provision. Your Honor. Kasama po iyon na ibinibigay nila iyong maps na ginagamit for operation. But never nakasama iyong US counterpart in actual combat operation.

(The US counterpart helped in the intelligence. We have a US counterpart in the Seaborne working with them in terms of training and equipment provision. That included the provision of maps used in the operation. But the US counterpart was never part of the actual combat operation.)

Later in the day of the clash, the Americans also flew in choppers for medical evacuation.

The SAF also delivered Marwan’s finger straight to the FBI in nearby General Santos City. (READ: DNA tests confirm Marwan’s death)

Review treaties with US

The report recommended a review of treaties with the US and to ensure that foreign policies serve the national interest.

“Those in government who are responsible for crafting our foreign policies on security must endeavor to understand the truth behind these international agreements, whether such agreements genuinely serve our national interest,” the report read.

“There is a need to refine and delineate the defense relationship between the Philippines and the US including cooperation on matters relating to anti-terrorism,” the report added.

Senate report: Balance national interest vis-a-vis treaty obligations to allies such as the US. Balance the interest of the government to abide by its international commitments versus the interest or welfare of the police officers who must carry out the mission.

The call for a review comes at a time when the administration is looking forward to implement a new deal that further expands military-to-military cooperation with the US through the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), which is pending before the Supreme Court following a petition questioning its constitutionality.

The EDCA, however, is aimed at helping the country respond to the maritime tension in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea). The US is already winding down its anti-terrorism activities in the Philippines– Rappler.com

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