Espina to MILF: Why the 'overkill' of my men?

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Philippine National Police (PNP) Office-in-Charge Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina had choice words for the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which signed a peace agreement with the Aquino government last year.

“Granting that my men failed to coordinate with the other party for the lawful arrest of these terrorists… was it enough reason for the overkill of my men? There was clearly no intent to let anyone live,” said the police general at the Monday, February 9 Senate hearing on one of the PNP’s bloodiest operations.

Forty-four members of the elite PNP Special Action Force (SAF) died in Mamasapano town on January 25 after a botched extraction operation during a mission to neutralize bomb-maker and top terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, better known as “Marwan” and Abdul Basit Usman. (READ: Timeline: Mamasapano clash)

“I am all with 150,000-strong members of the PNP for the support of the peace process as we are first and foremost peace keepers. However, we seek clear answers from the other party of the peace process,” said Espina, who took over the 150,000-strong PNP after the suspension of now-sacked PNP chief Director General Alan Purisima in December 2014. 

“44 of my men from the SAF were killed in a brutal and merciless fashion. They were killed while performing legitimate police operations,” he added. 

Two companies of the SAF were trapped in what another police official described as “unfavorable terrain.” All but one of the 36 troopers from the SAF’s 55th company were killed, while 9 from the SAF’s 84th seaborne company died in an encounter with fighters from the MILF and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF). 

“As all 36 [of the 55th company] were mercilessly killed, except for one who was able to escape. Almost all were shot in close-range, in the head, with high-powered riffles to see to it that they were dead. They were stripped of their uniforms, clothes, firearms and personal belongings and cellphones, even telling the wives of my men: patay na asawa mo, huwag ka nang tumawag (Your husband is dead, don’t call this number anymore),” said Espina. 

Espina never mentioned the MILF itself, instead referring to them as the “other party of the peace process.” He also bellied the MILF’s claims that the firefight was an act of self-defense. 

“Clearly embellished in the uniforms of my men were SAF patches, therefore clearly showing that they belong to government which the other party knows they have continuing peace talks with,” said Espina. 

Espina painted the actions of non-government fighters, locals of Mamasapano, as deliberate. “After killing all my men in the 55th, they maneuvered and joined other forces to kill more of my men in the 84th… this was after realizing that the troops in there were with government,” said Espina. 

Repeating previous statements, Espina also called on the MILF to answer the PNP’s questions and answer for the crimes, including the return of the SAF troopers’ firearms and belongings. (READ: Gov't, MILF in backchannel talks to return SAF weapons)

It has been a tough few weeks for the PNP and Espina, who has had to contend with long-brewing issues in the PNP even before the Mamasapano clash. Espina was left out of the loop during “Oplan Exodus,” and only found out about the operation after troopers had already entered Mamasapano.  

Espina, answering questions from Senator Francis Escudero later, said at least one SAF trooper was found to have been shot at after death. Espina added his statements were supported by the account of Police Officer 2 Christopher Lalan, the sole survivor of the 55th SAF company. 

The PNP OIC, however, could not give a specific number of how many troopers were “finished” off by enemy combatants after death. He committed to give the Senate a report of the autopsies of the 44 slain. 

The hearing is still ongoing as of posting. – Rappler.com