SAF's Oplan 'Exodus' map came from Americans
MANILA, Philippines – Google Maps? Try maps sourced from American security forces.
Sacked Philippine National Police (PNP) Special Action Force (SAF) chief Police Director Getulio Napeñas on Tuesday, April 7, denied claims by the military that his officers used Google Maps to plot the locations of beleaguered policemen during a botched high-risk operation on January 25.
Responding to questions from legislators during the House of Representative’s second hearing on the controversial police operation, Colonel Gener del Rosario, commander of the Army’s 1st Mechanized Brigade, said SAF officers brought with them a “Google Map” when they were asking for help from military forces.
Del Rosario was referring to former SAF deputy director Chief Superintendent Noli Talinõ and Superintendent Michael John Mangahis.
The map was different from the tactical map the military typically uses.
But Napeñas debunked Del Rosario’s claim, brandishing a map which he said was not sourced from Google. Asked by Gabriela Representative Luz Ilagan where the map came from, Napeñas coyly said: “US counterparts.”
Del Rosario, however, said it was not the same map he saw on January 25.
Pressed on which agency or unit the United States counterparts had come from, Napeñas said he would be willing to answer the question during an executive session.
Napeñas did say, however, that they requested for the map.
The exchange between legislators, Napeñas, Taliño, Mangahis, Del Rosario, and 6th Infantry Division chief Major General Edmundo Pangilinan tackled at least two sore points in the high-risk and now highly-controversial police operation: the lack of artillery support and the involvement of American nationals.
Pangilinan confirmed before the House of Representatives an earlier statement he made before the Senate during an executive session: a foreign national had ordered him to fire artillery. The military general, however, said he could not determine the nationality of the “Caucasian-looking person in civilian attire.”
According to the Senate committee’s draft report on the bloody operation, which claimed the lives of at least 67 people, an “American” ordered Pangilinan to fire artillery to save the beleaguered members of the SAF’s 55th and 84th Special Action Companies.
But Pangilinan did not budge.
The PNP’s Board of Inquiry (BOI) report on the clash noted 6 American nationals were at the SAF’s tactical command post during the operation, giving “real-time” information to the troopers on the ground.
The same Americans helped in the medical evacuation of the clash’s survivors.
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Artillery support – or the lack of it – is a sore issue in police and military circles after the Mamasapano incident. Police officials have insisted that had the military launched artillery earlier, less lives would have been lost.
But the military insists information was dearth in the morning, preventing them from giving artillery support.
Del Rosario said Managhis called him at around 6:45 am on January 25 to ask for support for the beleaguered SAF troopers. Since Del Rosario was unaware of the details of the operation, he asked Mangahis to report to his headquarters for better coordination.
“When [Taliño and Managhis] arrived, I asked them how their troops were. They laid down a zoomed-in Google Map on the table and gave me a quick briefing. They pinpointed where their advance command post was, the first group, the second group, the third group, the main effort, but they did not tell me which units were involved,” Del Rosario said in a mix of English and Filipino.
Del Rosario added that neither Taliño nor Mangahis could give him complete details when they went to the 1st Mechanized Brigade’s headquarters. “I asked Taliño and Mangahis: So, sir, what’s your plan so we can help reinforce your troops?” Del Rosario asked the two police officers.
The military colonel said he was met with silence. Del Rosario said that since he “sensed” the SAF troopers were still “developing” their reinforcement plan, they took it upon themselves to analyze the situation.
Del Rosario said he then explained the situation on the ground and the nuances of Mamasapano town, a known bailiwick of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), its breakaway group the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), and private armed groups.
The options, Del Rosario said, was to either send in troops or armored vehicles.
But Taliño, Del Rosario recalled, wanted artillery support since the 55th Special Action Company by then were already pinned down by Muslim rebels. Del Rosario said it was a risky operation since they could not determine the exact location of their troopers – civilians have been in the area.
Del Rosario added that the authority to launch artillery was not his.
But the military colonel said the third option – launching artillery – was only introduced because “[Taliño is] a general asking me for an artillery.”
In the wee hours of the morning on January 25, some 400 SAF troopers were involved in an operation to neutralize Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias “Marwan” and Filipino bomb maker Abdul Basit Usman.
The SAF got Marwan but Usman fled in an operation that saw police commandos in clashes against the MILF, BIFF, and PAGs.
The bloodiest one-day operation in PNP history claimed at least 67 lives, including 5 civilians, 18 MILF fighters, and 44 of the SAF’s own. (Editor’s note: The MILF says 17 of its fighters died)
It is also the biggest crisis to hit President Benigno Aquino III’s administration. Aquino has been criticized for his supposed lack of empathy for those slain in Mamasapano and for his involvement in the operation.
The BOI said Aquino had broken the PNP’s chain of command in dealing with Napeñas directly instead of going through PNP officer-in-charge Police Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina.
Aquino, the BOI report said, also allowed the participation of his friend, now-resigned PNP chief Director General Alan Purisima, who at that time was serving a preventive suspension order.
The President’s trust and satisfaction ratings have dipped to their lowest in the aftermath of the clash. – Rappler.com