Why SAF didn't trust military

MANILA, Philippines – If there’s one person who knows how difficult it is to run after Jemaah Islamiyah terrorist and bomb-maker Zulkifli bin Hir (alias “Marwan”), it’s the relieved commander of the Philippine National Police (PNP)’s Special Action Force (SAF).

“Almost 10 years of my career were spent in my pursuit to serve justice to Marwan’s victims,” said Police Director Getulio Napeñas during the Senate’s first hearing on “Oplan Exodus,” the PNP’s last and final operation to get rid of Marwan.

Napeñas, a long-time member of the elite SAF, said “it all started” in 2005 when he was provincial director of the South Cotabato Police Office.

“Every minute the threats of bombing in the province existed,” he said.

Marwan, a Malaysian, is a known bomb-maker and bomb-making teacher not only in the Philippines but in Southeast Asia.

After years of being hunted down, Marwan was killed by SAF troopers on January 25 but it came at a price: 44 elite police died in a fumbled extraction operation in Mamasapano town, Maguindanao.

Police officials, Napeñas included, are in trouble over an operation that bypassed the chain of command. Former PNP chief Director General Alan Purisima, it turns out, played a key role in the operation – providing intelligence and sitting in briefings – even as he was serving a 6-month preventive suspension order over a corruption case.

Napeñas only informed the PNP’s OIC, Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina, of the operation after troopers had already entered Moro Islamic Liberation Front and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters territory.

PNP SAF officials also chose not to coordinate with the military during the operation.

From 2010 to January 25, 2015, the PNP SAF, either in cooperation with or independent of the military, hatched at least 9 operations to neutralize Marwan. The timeline, said Napeñas, would explain why the SAF ultimately decided to forego coordination with the military.

Based on past experiences, Napeñas explained, information manages to leak whenever they coordinate with the military.

“These are just a few of the reasons why in succeeding operations, [it was decided that] the coordination with the AFP will be time-on-target of the arresting force, in order to avoid the possibility that our operation would be compromised,” said Napeñas.

Here’s a list of the operations, as told by Napeñas during his opening statement before the Senate on Monday, February 9:

December 2010 - Napeñas supervises a police operation against Marwan in Sulu but he is able to escape.

February 2012 - The Armed Forces of the Philippines announces that Marwan is among those killed in a February 2, 2012 bombing operation. On February 24, Rappler reports that contrary to the military’s claims, Marwan was still alive.

July 2012 - Another police operation against Marwan is launched but he escapes again “just a few minutes before SAF troopers arrived," Napeñas said.

April 25, 2014 - “Oplan Wolverine” is stopped even before it is launched because the Army’s 6th Infantry Division “withdrew its commitment to provide Mechanized Brigade units to support the operations,” according to Napeñas.

Privy to “Wolverine,” according to Napeñas were then President Benigno Aquino III, PNP chief Purisima, Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II, and then-PNP ARMM chief Chief Superintendent Noel delos Reyes. The operation already had the go-signal of his bosses.

Napeñas said he then briefed Espina, the PNP’s Deputy Director for Operations.

“I duly informed [Purisima] through phone stating the reason why the operation was aborted. [Purisima] told me that he will inform higher authorities regarding what happened,” said the beleaguered police general.

May 30, 2014 - The PNP SAF, in coordination with the AFP, launches another operation against Marwan but this is cancelled because they monitor “heavy armed groups’ activity” at their planned vehicle drop-off point.

June 10, 2014 - Napeñas says the 6th ID “all of a sudden” conducts an operation against Marwan in Mamasapano “without coordination from the SAF.” The military however earlier said the target of that operation was another terrorist, Abdul Basit Usman.

August 2014 - Delos Reyes gives Napeñas grid coordinates to the possible new location of Marwan in Barangay Pidsandawan in Mamasapano town, Maguindanao. “The location is high risk because of the presence of thousands of MILF/BIFF and the difficult terrain,” said Napeñas.

November 2014 - “Oplan Terminator” is born after Purisima calls Napeñas on a Sunday evening, telling him to proceed to the “White House,” the PNP chief’s official residence inside Camp Crame.

Purisima tells Napeñas to work with Senior Superintendent Fernando Mendez, the director of the Intelligence Group on the new location of Marwan and Usman. “[Purisima] told me that he has an agent in the area of the location,” said Napeñas.

Purisima’s “intelligence packet” is the eventual basis of a mission plan which SAF officials present to Purisima also in the White House. Purisima gives them the go-signal but adds he has “to tell the President."

November 29, 2014 - Days before the Ombudsman suspends Purisima, Oplan Terminator is launched but aborted because of “equipment failure.” Napeñas and other SAF officials report to the White House to tell Purisima what happened.

November 30, 2014 - SAF officials meet with Purisima at the Presidential Security Group Firing Range Compound inside Malacañang Park “where Purisima rendered mission update [to the President].”

November 2014 - The SAF launches “Oplan Terminator 2” but this is again called off because troopers encounter enemy fire 3 kilometers away from the target in Barangay Tukanalipao, Mamasapano.

December 4, 2014 - The Ombudsman suspends Purisima over an allegedly anomalous deal in the PNP’s Firearms and Explosives Office.

December 2014 - AFP chief of staff General Gregorio Catapang Jr, Wesmincom chief Lt General Rustico Guerrero, 6th ID Major General Edmundo Pangilinan, Purisima, and Napeñas meet in Camp Aguinaldo to discuss the possible use of precision-guided bombs to neutralize Marwan.

This meeting happens during the AFP’s anniversary. All those present, save for Napeñas, are members of the Philippine Military Academy Class of 1981.

Purisima is already serving his suspension at this time.

December 23, 2014 - Guerrero, 3rd Air Force Division chief Major General Emeraldo Magnaye, Pangilinan, Napeñas, and 84th Special Action Company Intel Officer Superintendent Raymund Train meet to discuss the possibility of using a precision-guided bomb.

Magnaye, however, informs the SAF that they do not have their own precision-guided bombs. Mendez, who had with him the intel packet, avoids the meeting after finding out the Air Force doesn’t have its own bombs, according to Napeñas.

January 9, 2015 - Purisima, Mendez, and Napeñas meet with the President at Bahay Pangarap – Aquino’s official residence – to discuss what would eventually become “Oplan Exodus.” Conspicuously absent are Roxas and Espina.

Purisima later tells Napeñas to only inform the two officials after troopers enter the area of operation. He also promises to take the lead in informing General Capatang, his PMA classmate.

The resigned PNP chief during the hearing denies these were orders but merely "advice" to Napeñas.

January 19, 2015 - Purisima's involvement does not end with the briefing in Malacañang. Napeñas receives a text message from Purisima, asking about his plans.

Napeñas says it's all systems go. 

January 25, 2015 - 392 SAF troopers are deployed for “Oplan Exodus.” Only two companies – the US-trained 84th seaborne unit and the 55th special action company – actually enter the area. Marwan is slain but the operation also kills 44 SAF troopers.

Read the full text of Napeñas speech here:

– Rappler.com