General who led Mamasapano probe running for Baguio mayor

Bea Cupin
General who led Mamasapano probe running for Baguio mayor
Benjamin Magalong sees his run as a 'moral obligation'

MANILA, Philippines – Benjamin Magalong, the police general who led a high-profile investigation into one of the bloodiest botched operations in police history, is running for mayor of Baguio City, a post that is going to be vacated by the incumbent who’s on his last term.

Magalong, accompanied by his wife and children, filed his certificate of candidacy at the Commission on Elections (Comelec) office in the city on Wednesday, October 17, the last day of filing. He’s been working in the private sector since he retired from the Philippine National Police (PNP) in 2016.

Baguio Mayor Mauricio Domogan is seeking a congressional seat, leaving the mayoral race wide open to 6 aspirants for the post.

“I was asked by a very influential person to run. He believed that I can make a difference,” said Magalong in a press conference that aired live on his official Facebook page. He refused to divulge who the “influential person” was. 

“Some political leaders are asking me: why didn’t you just run for the city council so you could understand the system? I’ve been in the PNP, in the PDEA [Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency], the corporate sector and I can easily adapt to the change in a different environment. If I go through the process, I believe I cannot institute change… it would be too slow,” said Magalong in a mix of English and Filipino. 

Magalong said that up until last weekend, he had decided against running. But he said he later saw it was a “moral obligation” to push through with his electoral plan. 

It won’t be easy for him. He’s the only political neophyte in the race.

Magalong is running as an independent against 5 other candidates: former councilor and Liberal Party bet Jose Molintas; administration bet Vice Mayor Edison Bilog; councilor Ed Avila from the Timpuyog Ti Baguio Party; former mayor and Lakas-NUCD bet Peter Rhey Bautista; and independent councilor Leandro Yangot.

Baguio’s son, Mamasapano general 

A retired two-star general, Magalong hails from Baguio. He graduated from the Philippine Military Academy in 1982 and was immediately deployed to the Cordillera Region. 

He later joined the PNP’s elite Special Action Force, where he founded the SAF Seaborne and Sniper Unit. While in the SAF, Magalong – then already a senior officer – led an operation to quell Abu Sayyaf prisoners during the infamous Bicutan siege in 2005. 

His most memorable stint in SAF came in 2015. Then the chief of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group, he was picked by then interior secretary Mar Roxas to head the Board of Inquiry (BOI) that investigated the operation in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, that was meant to neutralize wanted terrorists.

Forty-four police commandos, at least 5 civilians, and scores of Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels died in the clash that ensued after the SAF teams who entered Mamasapano failed to exit properly. 

The BOI report was the first to pin down then-president Benigno Aquino III for his role in the botched operation. – with reports from Frank Cimatu in Baguio City/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.