SAF officer tells army colonel: 'Man up, sir'
MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – His voice quivered from time to time, but Superintendent Michael John Mangahis did not back down when he told a military colonel to “man up” during a legislative hearing on a controversial police operation that claimed the lives of at least 67 people.
Mangahis, an officer from the Philippine National Police (PNP) Special Action Force (SAF) was refuting claims by Colonel Gener del Rosario, commander of the Army’s 1st mechanized brigade that the SAF was unable to give the right information in the morning of January 25, as SAF troopers were being gunned down by Muslim rebels in barangay Tukanalipao in Mamasapano town, Maguindanao.
“May I speak freely?” Mangahis said on Wednesday, April 8, as he was asked by Bayan Muna Representative Neri Colmenares to respond to Del Rosario’s narration.
Mangahis, del Rosario, and former SAF deputy director Chief Superintendent Noli Taliño were the officers who met in the morning of January 25 at the headquarters of the 1st mechanized brigade.
That morning, close to 400 SAF troopers entered Mamasapano town in Maguindanao to neutralize two terrorists. Just as troopers from the 84th Special Action Company (SAC) had killed one of their targets, they found themselves in an encounter with local lawless elements.
A second group, the 55th SAC, meanwhile were trapped in the cornfields of Mamasapano, under fire from fighters of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
Taliño and Mangahis went to del Rosario in hopes of getting artillery support.
Del Rosario, explaining why artillery support was not given to the SAF, said neither Taliño nor Mangahis could give him the exact location of the pinned down SAF troopers. The two police officers, Del Rosario said, only gave estimates of the troopers’ location.
Del Rosario, a graduate of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) Class of 1985, explained it would not have been wise to fire artillery since the 55th SAC was moving and civilians were in the area.
Besides, Del Rosario told legislators, the two SAF officers did not seem to have a extraction plan in mind for the 55th SAC.
Neither SAF officials were able to tell him just how many troopers were involved.
Both Taliño and Mangahis refuted his claims. “Naniniwala ako na first meeting namin ni Col del Rosario, na-explain ko po properly yung position ng troops (I believe that during my first meeting with Colonel del Rosario, I was able to explain the position of the troops properly),” Mangahis said.
Taliño, a PMA Class of 1984 graduate, lated added: “[We could not have kept quiet because] ang pinag-uusapan namin dito between life and death ng mga tropa. Sinabi namin ang gusto namin at nagrequest nga kami ng artillery support (We’re talking about the difference between life and death for the troops. We told him we wanted artillery support).”
Taliño also read out loud a 8:39 am text message sent to Del Rosario which indicates the grid coordinates of the trapped SAF troopers.
The one-star police general said Del Rosario eventually turned down the request for artillery, citing the lack of clearance from his division chief, 6th Infantry Division commander Major General Edmundo Pangilinan.
At around 11 am, Del Rosario relayed to Pangilinan the coordinates of the 55th SAC in an update via text message.
"I'd like to ask Superintendent Mangahis. Is he sure na kausap ko si General Pangilinan... kung may narinig ba siya na peace process (that I was talking to General Pangilinan when he heard me mention the peace process)?" said Del Rosario, pointing out that he was speaking to several people that morning.
Artillery support for the trapped SAF troopers – or the lack thereof – has been a sore spot for military and police officials. "Oplan Exodus" was highly-secretive and saw military and police officials out-of-the-loop until after troopers had killed their target.
Police, the SAF in particular, insist more could have been done while the military says given the dearth of information the morning of January 25, it was not safe to send in artillery.
Mangahis said does not buy the AFP’s claim that their assets were not available in the area. “That’s their backyard,” said Mangahis.
The exchange, which lasted close to 15 minutes, ended with strong words from Mangahis, who is years younger than both Del Rosario and Taliño (Mangahis is from Philippine National Police Academy Class of 2002).
“Man up sir. Man up sir,” Mangahis told Del Rosario.
Representative Samuel Pagdilao, Jr., a former police officer, proposed the two should undergo a polygraph test since they were telling conflicting versions of the story.
'Peace process is the victim here'
“The BOI report has a lot of tell-tale signs of a stand-down,” said Colmenares, citing delays in the AFP's decision to send artillery support.
Various sectors have accused President Benigno Aquino III and the AFP of putting the peace process ahead of the need to rescue trapped SAF troopers.
Colmenares demanded that Aquino be held accountable because "he has control of the operations."
The Philippine government is at the tailend of a long-awaited peace deal with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, whose fighters were involved in the day-long Mamasapano clash. The proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law is in danger of not being passed on time following the clash.
Chief government peace negotiator Professor Miriam Colonel-Ferrer later took exception to legislators’ insinuations that the peace process was responsible for the deaths in Mamasapano.
“[The peace process has been] unjustly blamed for whatever happened in Mamasapano… it is as if it is the peace process that caused all of the casualties that happened," she said.
“It is the peace process that has been the victim, which could not have happened if protocols were observed. [If we are] woman enough to stand up for the peace process, we hope the men who are responsible for this operation will also be man enough to accept the consequences,” she added. – Rappler.com