MANILA, Philippines – Senator Grace Poe on Tuesday, March 17, cleared the military of any legal liability in failing to rescue elite cops who were cornered by rebel groups in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.
This is largely because the police Special Action Force (SAF) that conducted the operation did not properly coordinate with the military when it hunted down international terrorist Zulkifli bin hir or "Marwan." Poe said this failure was the "biggest factor" that botched the SAF operation.
The Senate panel that investigated the January 25 incident said in its draft report, however, that questions remain on the hesitation of the military to fire, at the very least, white phosphorous that could have scared away the hostile forces and probably saved more SAF troopers.
Poe released to the media that afternoon copies of the executive summary of the Joint Committee Report drafted by the Senate committee on public order and dangerous drugs, which she chairs, and the committees on peace, unification, and reconciliation, and finance.
"With the military, there is no legal liability that I see," Poe said as she presented to reporters the executive summary of the Senate's draft report on the Mamasapano tragedy.
She added: ""Hindi naman pwedeng basta randomly, 'Halika dito salakayin natin ito.' Teka muna ano ba mission ni'yo? Sino ba 'yung ililigtas natin diyan? Give them the due courtesy. Hindi man lamang nabigay 'yun."
(They can't just randomly tell the military, "Let's go attack this area. Wait, what is the mission? Who are we going to rescue?" Give them the due courtesy. That was not given to them.)
An examination of the terrain, however, raised more questions, said Poe.
She cited the 3 requirements cited by the military before firing white phosphorous or artillery in an area – friendly forces on the ground, enemy forces, and forward observer.
"Pero nakita naman natin ang aerial shot ng Mamasapano na patag e. Halos walang mga bahay doon. Wala naman civilian. At that point, talaga bang takot sila na may crossfire at civilian ang matamaan? O mayroon pa ibang pumipigil sa kanila kaya hindi sila nagpadala ng white phosphorous?" Poe asked.
(But we saw in the aerial shot of Mamasapano that it is flat. There were hardly any houses there. There were no civilians. At that point, were they really afraid of a crossfire that could hit civilians? Or were there other factors that stopped them from firing white phosphorous?)
Sacked SAF commander Director Getulio Napeñas had openly blamed the military for its failure to immediately fire artillery in the area of the encounter in Mamasapano on the morning of January 25.
A word war between the police and military followed the botched SAF operations, culminating in the emotional episode involving Napeñas and 6th Infantry Division commander Major General Edmundo Pangilinan in a Senate hearing.
The police Board of Inquiry report said the peace process was part of the reason the military hesitated to fire its cannons, a claim that the military has repeatedly denied.
Poe said the military never mentioned the peace process as the cause behind its observed hesitation to to provide artillerty support to the SAF in Mamasapano, during the Senate hearings and even the executive sessions.
The senator also raised questions on the failure of the Malacañang security cluster – most of whom were with President Benigno Aquino III in Zamboanga on January 25 – to convene and better address the situation in Mamasapano.
The Senate draft report agreed with the police Board of Inquiry findings on the responsibility of President Benigno Aquino III. Poe said his biggest mistake was allowing a suspended police chief, his close friend Director General Alan Purisima, to participate in the operation.