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No malice in army party before Mamasapano – PNP officer

Bea Cupin
No malice in army party before Mamasapano – PNP officer
Senior Superintendent Manolo Ozaeta breaks his silence amid insinuations that he invited military officials to a party to make sure they wouldn't get in the way of 'Oplan Exodus'

MANILA, Philippines – The police intelligence officer accused of hosting a “wine and dine” with army officials to “distract” them from a top-secret January 25 police operation broke his silence on Wednesday, March 25.

There was no malice involved in the planning of the get-together, Philippine National Police (PNP) Senior Superintendent Manolo Ozaeta said in a statement.

Ozaeta, who heads a special project for Mindanao, “submitted himself” to the police leadership following reports that he had purposefully invited army battalion commanders to a drinking session the same night police jumped off for “Oplan Exodus,” a PNP Special Action Force (SAF) operation to neutralize two terrorists in Mamasapano town, Maguindanao.

At least 67 people died during the operation, with most deaths caused by the clash between SAF troopers and fighters from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), its breakaway group the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), and private armed groups.

The SAF lost 44 of its men, while the MILF reported at least 17 of their fighters killed. Five civilians also died in an operation that was kept a secret from the police hierarchy and the military.

Senator Antonio Trillanes IV revealed the supposed “wine and dine” in a TV interview almost 2 months after the botched operation and weeks after official reports from the PNP and the Senate on the Mamasapano clash were released.

Ozaeta said it was “purely coincidental” that the get-together, which included police and military officials based in Region XII, was held the night before “Oplan Exodus.”

“It has no link whatsoever with the Mamasapano operations nor was it intended to divert our counterpart’s attention in reinforcements as both units did not expect such operations in Mamasapano in the first place,” the PNP statement quoted Ozaeta as saying.

Trillanes initially withheld the name of the PNP intelligence officer who invited army officers to a party in Koronadal City, but insinuated that this was done so police could monitor and make sure their military counterparts had no movements of their own.

The senator, who used to be an officer in the Navy, said the information came from the Senate’s confidential executive sessions. The senator spoke to Army officials separately so he would be able to discuss their revelations in public.

In a press conference on Wednesday, Trillanes stood by his earlier statements, and insisted the “objective” of the party was for the police to “solo the mission and make sure nobody got in the way” of “Oplan Exodus.”  

The Mamasapano clash has pitted military and police officials against each other, particularly over artillery support – or the lack thereof – as SAF troopers were outnumbered and overwhelmed by enemy fire.

The military insists sending artillery support right away was difficult because information was scarce at that time.

Ozaeta told the PNP that he hosted a “traditional boodlefight dinner” at Del Rio Splash Resort in Koronadal City “as a gesture of gratitude and goodwill” for military officers from the 601st Brigade.

The police colonel said this was in celebration of a successful joint operation by the military and police in Central Mindanao. – Rappler.com

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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.