AFP clears troops of liability in Mamasapano

SAF 44: Members of elite Police Special Action Force carry bodies of their comrade who was killed in an encounter in the town of Mamasapano, Maguindanao province. EPA/ALTHEA BALLENTES

SAF 44: Members of elite Police Special Action Force carry bodies of their comrade who was killed in an encounter in the town of Mamasapano, Maguindanao province.

EPA/ALTHEA BALLENTES

MANILA, Philippines – The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has completed its report clearing its troops of possible lapses when they assisted the police Special Action Force (SAF) troopers who were trapped in a firefight with Moro rebels in Mamasapano town in Maguindanao on January 25.

"The Army was not remiss in its duties to assist and reinforce the beleaguered SAF elements in Mamasapano and did all that was possible under the circumstances when they received the request of help after the fact," AFP Public Affairs Office chief Lieutenant Colonel Harold Cabunoc said in a statement on Monday, February 2.

The boodbath killed 44 SAF troopers, 17 Moro Islamic Liberation Front combatants, and several civilians. (READ: Zamboanga's heroes are Maguindanao's fallen, too and Region in mourning: 1 in 3 slain SAF sons of Cordillera)

"The AFP categorically states that everything that could be done was done under the circumstance with due consideration to avoid fratricide and collateral damage," the statement added.

Major General Edmundo Pangilinan, commander of the Maguindanao-based 6th Infantry Division, was among those who appeared at the fact-finding committee that was convened on Sunday, February 1. He presented to the committee the findings of the Board of Inquiry that he launched within his own division.

Major General Benito De Leon, the AFP Inspector General, was in charge of the fact-finding committee.

"In its report to AFP Chief of Staff General Gregorio Catapang Jr. last night, the committee was able to establish that the Army had readily provided support by organizing a quick reaction force composed of troops from different infantry units including Armor assets of the 1st Mechanized Infantry Brigade which were deployed for the extraction of wounded SAF personnel," Cabunoc said.

A Rappler report published last week detailed how the SAF asked the military for artillery support. The military failed to provide it, however, because of poor coordination. The SAF kept the operation secret, preventing the military from preparing contingency plans to assist in the SAF operation. (READ: Inside story: SAF kept the military out of the loop

Strained ties

Soldiers have been hurting from reports insinuating that they failed to help the SAF troopers.

A PNP official earlier told Rappler that the military did not do enough to help the SAF. An emotional police general said that top officials could have directly communicated with MILF leaders to stop the carnage, provide air assets, or hold "persuasion fights" to intimidate the MILF and BIFF.

Cabunoc said the 6th ID provided support one hour after it received requests from SAF, apparently referring to the tanks of the 1st Mechanized Brigade that were positioned on the road. The troops were able to get inside the combat zone Sunday evening to save a platoon of SAF troopers and to retrieve the casualties. 

Cabunoc said the military is ready to submit its findings to the police Board of Inquiry. – Carmela Fonbuena/Rappler.com