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MANILA, Philippines (4th UPDATE) – This is a Rappler timeline of what happened on the fateful day of January 25 in Mamasapano, Maguindanao. We also list the key events in the months leading up to it, as well as the days after.
We based this timeline on situation reports, various interviews with insiders, police officials, military officers and national government officials, as well as their public statements. The timeline also includes the narration of events of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP).
The Special Action Force briefs top officials, including President Benigno Aquino III, Interior and Local Government Secretary Manuel "Mar" Roxas II, and Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Director General Alan Purisima, about Oplan Wolverine. The operation involves the arrest of top terrorist Malaysian Zulkifli bin Hir, or Marwan, who has a $5-M bounty on his head. The specific plan on when or where to strike is not discussed.
The military's 6th Infantry Division conducts an operation against another terrorist, Abdul Basit Usman, in Mamasapano, according to an Army general. SAF commander Director Getulio Napeñas laments the military did not coordinate this with SAF. But the Army general says there is no need for coordination since the target area is within the jurisdiction of the military. (Editor's note: Napeñas was sacked after the January 25 operation.)
Purisima calls Napeñas to a meeting to inform him about intelligence reports that he (Purisima) has gathered regarding the whereabouts of Marwan.
SAF launches operation against Marwan under Oplan Terminator. The plan is “aborted” because the banca that the police use for the operation breaks down, according to Napeñas.
Another December plan against Marwan, this time by a bigger composite team not exclusive to SAF, is called off by higher authorities because of the arrival of Pope Francis on January 15, 2015. A high-level source says the government did not want to create unnecessary security problems during the Pope's visit. (The Pope returned to the Vatican on January 19, 2015.)
Before the Christmas break, Armed Forces chief General Gregorio Catapang Jr learns about SAF's plans to get Marwan. He instructs the military to coordinate with the police.
January 23-24, 2015
Operating under Oplan Exodus, SAF forces from other provinces in Mindanao, particularly Zamboanga City, enter Mamasapano in clandestine operations. The 84th SAF company, the main team tasked to get Marwan, jumps off 10 pm Saturday, January 24.
[In interviews after the operation, Roxas and Acting PNP chief Deputy Director Leonardo Espina said they were both unaware of Oplan Exodus. In a February 5 press conference, Napeñas explained: "Sinabihan ako mismo ni Director General Purisima na sabihan mo si General Espina kapag nandoon na. As to Secretary Roxas, hindi ako puwedeng dumiretso sa kanya because that would be a violation of our chain of command.] (I was told by General Purisima to inform General Espina only once we reached the area. Regarding Secretary Roxas, I could not go straight to him since that would be a violation of our chain of command.)
Sunday, January 25, 2015
2:30 am: SAF troopers infiltrate Mamasapano to conduct “law enforcement operations against high-value targets.” The teams are composed of the following:
3 am: Troops of the Army’s 45th Infantry Battalion notice SAF troopers enter Barangay Tukanalipao, which is about 15 kilometers from the highway.
4:15 am: The Seaborne Unit enters what they know to be the hut of Marwan in Barangay Pidsandawan. Marwan fires his gun but is shot at and killed. Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) forces come to reinforce Marwan’s security and engage SAF troopers in a gunfight.
4:30 am: In Barangay Tukanalipao, the 55th SAF blocking force spots a group of men less than a hundred meters away. Both sides wait for sunrise before firing their guns at each other.
Between 4 and 4:30 am: Espina and PNP chief of directorial staff Deputy Director General Marcelo Garbo receive a text message from Napeñas informing them that the SAF troopers are now in Mamasapano.
5 am: Napeñas sends a text message to Major General Edmundo Pangilinan, commanding general of the military’s Cotabato-based 6th Infantry Division, to inform him they're in Mamasapano. Pangilinan later relays the information to the commander of the 601st Brigade, which has jurisdiction over the area.
5:37 am: Napeñas calls Government of the Philippines - Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (GPH-AHJAG) Chair Brigadier General Manolito Orense asking him to inform and coordinate with the MILF through the MILF-AHJAG that the SAF will conduct an operation in a few minutes. Orense tells Napeñas that he would try to coordinate with MILF-AHJAG chairman lawyer Abdul Dataya.
The AHJAG is a mechanism under the ceasefire agreement that outlines how government security forces and the MILF would coordinate in addressing lawless elements and terrorists in areas with MILF presence.
5:42 am: Napeñas calls Orense to inform him that they were withdrawing from the area and asks for assistance.
5:47 am: Orense calls the army's 601st Brigade Commander Colonel Melquiades Feliciano and instructs him to coordinate with local MILF commanders to halt the firing and provide assistance to the withdrawing SAF troops.
5:53 am: Orense sends an SMS to Napeñas:
“09175120085 – sir paki coordinate lang ke col mel feliciano, 601bde cmdr re your withdrawal para maalalayan nila kyo from the milf.”
(Sir, please coordinate with Col Mel Feliciano, 601st Brigade Commander re: your withdrawl so he can assist you from the MILF.)
6 am: Army soldiers hear a firefight but could not determine what it’s all about.
6:30 am: Pangilinan receives reports about a firefight in Mamasapano. He calls the 601st Brigade commander and orders him to call the shots and prepare the troops. At about the same time, Espina calls up Westmincom chief General Guerrero, his classmate at the Philippine Military Academy, to ask for reinforcement. The military sends reinforcement.
6: 38 am: The government ceasefire committee first learns about the firefight via an SMS from MILF-Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (MILF-CCCH) chair Rashid Ladiasan to GPH-CCCH Chair Brigadier General Carlito Galvez and its Head of Secretariat, Director Carlos Sol. Galvez and Sol were in Butig, Lanao del Sur accompanying members of the Independent Decommissioning Body (IDB) in a site visit to Camp Bushra, an MILF camp.
Ladiasan’s message says: “Salam bro, firefight erupted between the AFP and the 105BC at Tukanalipao, Mamasapano. The AFP troops moved in without any coordination and this is difficult to control to avoid encounters between our forces when there is no coordination. This is clearly disregarding and violating the ceasefire. Now with that situation the only option is to ceasefire otherwise it will escalate further.”
GPH-CCCH verifies the firefight with the 1st Mechanized Infantry Brigade, 601st Brigade, G3, 6th Infantry Division and the Police Provincial Office Maguindanao.
Contacts from the military units confirm the ongoing firefight, but deny the involvement of military troops.
PPO-Maguindanao informs the GPH-CCCH that troops belonging to the PNP-SAF were involved in the encounter.
6:42 am: Ladiasan sends an SMS to Sol:
“We have to ceasefire bro before its too late. Ano kaya bro kung puntahan natin sa area baka may staff kayo kasama at IMT bro ma invite mo sila.” (We have to ceasefire, brother, before it is too late. What if we go to the area, you and your staff. Also the IMT, you can invite them.)
7 am: Senior Inspector Ryan Pabalinas of the 55th SAF company radios Napeñas and deputy SAF commander Chief Superintendent Noel Taliño for help – the last time they would hear from him.
7:30 am: The crisis team is organized. Sol calls up International Monitoring Team Chief (IMT) Operations Officer William Hovland as the government ceasefire team makes its way for Cotabato. The IMT is the body tasked to oversee the ceasefire agreement between the government and the MILF.
The government and MILF ceasefire committees create a “Joint Ceasefire Crisis Team” whose mission would be to negotiate a ceasefire, separate SAF and MILF troops engaged in the firefight, assist in the evacuation of casualties, assess the situation of internally displaced persons (IDPs), and help stabilize the situation.
Galvez and Sol leave Iligan City. Galvez proceeds to meet with Orense and Pangilinan at the Tactical Command Post in Awang, Maguindanao to assess the situation in Mamasapano.
7:33 am: Galvez sends an SMS to Government Peace Panel Chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer to inform her of the situation.
8 am-10 am: Galvez says this is the period when the fighting gets most intense, based on reports he receives on the ground. At this time, he and his MILF counterparts are on their way to Mamasapano. They get in touch on the mobile phone with rebel forces to pacify them. “Mainit na sila,” MILF commanders in Mamasapano tell the higher-ups.
7 am-8 am: The AFP sends tanks to the closest “tankable area” in the encounter site but is unable to enter the encounter site. Taliño later proceeds to the headquarters of the Mechanized Brigade to brief the military on the secret operations. (Editor's note: Taliño is now acting SAF commander)
9 am: An aide of Roxas receives a phone call from a mayor in a neighboring town informing him of an encounter. The aide relays the information to Roxas, who advises him to verify this with Espina.
The Joint Ceasefire Crisis Team, the Joint Ceasefire Monitoring Post (JCMP) posted in Kitango in Datu Saudi Ampatuan, and the IMT, assembles at the IMT Headquarters in Cotabato City and proceeds to Baragay Kuloy, Shariff Aguak in Maguindanao to meet with two key commanders of the MILF's armed wing in the area:
- Zacaria Goma of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces - MILF (BIAF-MILF)105th base command
- Wahid Tundok of the BIAF-MILF 118th base command
Barangay Kuloy is about 60 km from Cotabato City.
9:25 am: The Army 45th Infantry Battalion links up with the SAF troops who mass up on the highway.
10:30 am: President Aquino arrives in Zamboanga City (in western Mindanao) to visit bombing victims.
10:34 am: Galvez, still en route from Iligan City, texts Ladiasan to inform him that they already asked the PNP to enforce a ceasefire:
“We already gave advise to the PNP to ceasefire. Request 105th BC to ceasefire also”
11 am: Galvez and the the rest of the government CCCH arrive in Barangay Kuloy.
12 noon: The crisis team meets with MILF commanders Goma and Tundok at Goma's residence.
12 noon: Rappler receives intelligence reports that 11 SAF troopers had been killed. Firefight continues. In interviews later, Napeñas claims his men were still alive around noon time and could have survived if reinforcements came.
12:10 pm: Galvez arrives at the Tactical Command Post in Camp Awang and joins Pangilinan and Orense to assess the situation in Mamasapano.
Meanwhile, the Crisis Team in Barangay Kuloy agrees to immediately effect a ceasefire and allow the passage of the PNP-SAF from the encounter site to safe areas located in Barangay Tuka, Mamasapano. The goal was to create a reasonable gap between the two contending forces and allow the evacuation of casualties.
The Crisis Team divides into two groups. The first group to by Tundok and his men, proceeds to the actual encounter site in Barangay Tukanalipao to inform BIAF sub-commanders of the call for ceasefire, and implement the repositioning of both forces.
The second group - headed by Ladiasan with Ronnie Arap and Dave Jungco of the GPH- CCCH secretariat; Butch Malang, and Toks Upham of the MILF- CCCH Secretariat; Suharto Elhad of the JCMP-Kitango, and Mr. Hovland of the IMT, all of whom were unarmed - proceeds to Barangay Tuka where a tactical command post had been established by the PNP and AFP.
Galvez informs Ladiasan that Pangilinan was already aware of the movement of the crisis team to the area of the MILF's 105th Base Command and the 45th Infantry Brigade.
Ladiasan updates Sol that the second group is moving towards the 45th Infantry Brigade and that Wahid’s group is working on the pull-out of the 105th sub-commanders and men. “Papunta na kami sa military sa 45IB sila Wahid mag pull-out tropa ng 105BC, kami naman with IMT sa military para tumulong maextricate PNP SAF. Paalis na kami sa kuloy sa base ni Zacaria Goma. Paki inform lang wag ma alarm sa bahay ni Goma marami tropa security nya yon.”
Goma stays in his house in Kuloy.
12:55 pm: The second group arrives at Barangay Tuka at the position of the 45th Infantry Brigade. The group relays to Police Superintendent Henry Mangaldan and Police Special Investigator Michael John Mangahis of the PNP-SAF and Lieutenant Colonel Romeo Bautista of the 45th Infantry Brigade that a ceasefire has been agreed on in the meeting with the two BIAF commanders in Barangay Kuloy.
Sporadic gunfire could be heard from the direction of Barangay Tukanalipao. The crisis team learns that Tundok’s group came under fire while moving towards the encounter site to effect the ceasefire.
About 15 minutes later, while the PNP-SAF were disseminating the call for a ceasefire by phone, radio, and personal contact to the troops on the ground, gunshots were again heard coming from three different directions.
The second group of the Crisis Team quickly takes cover at the roadside near the banana trees at the side of the irrigation canal. They wait for the go signal of Tundok that they can already leave Barangay Tuka to proceed to the encounter site in Barangay Tukanalipao.
1:15 pm: The second group receives a radio call from Tundok advising that the other members of the crisis team can enter the encounter area.
The second group pulls out from Barangay Tuka and proceeds to the Office of the Municipal Mayor of Mamasapano Mayor Benzhar Ampatuan to request assistance from the Mayor and the Barangay Chairman of Tukanalipao.
2:04 pm: While still in Awang, Galvez calls Coronel-Ferrer to update her. He leaves Awang with Pangilinan shortly thereafter.
2:20 pm: Dataya, the head of the MILF AHJAG, assures Orense that the BIAF chief of staff already ordered all MILF commanders not to move.
2:30 pm: In a subsequent text message to Orense, Dataya said that the MILF-CCCH was already in the encounter site.
3:00 pm: Galvez and Pangilinan arrive in the Tactical Command Post of the 1st Mechanized Infantry Brigade at the provincial capitol in Shariff Aguak.
3:30 pm: The crisis team attempts to enter the encounter area in Barangay Tukanalipao. However, they observe the movement of armed men in the area and could not push through.
Members of the community report 32 cadavers are in the area. The information is forwarded to Napeñas and OIC ARMM Police Director Noel Armilla, who, at that time, were staying at the Headquarters of the 1st Mechanized Infantry Brigade in Poblacion, Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao.
4:00 pm: Rappler receives a report that 16 SAF troopers had been killed.
OPAPP's timeline says gunfire could no longer be heard. Members of both groups of the crisis team, together with Tukanalipao barangay officials, enter the site where they found cadavers scattered on the ground and in the nearby river.
They notice a group of armed men in the immediate vicinity who were later identified as belonging to the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) under Commanders Bongos, Bisaya, and Indal.
The crisis team returns to the municipal hall and informs Ampatuan about the situation and requests for equipment to retrieve the cadavers.
5:20 pm: The crisis team goes back to the engagement site with two Kuliglig tractors and an ambulance to start the retrieval operation. It was decided that the cadavers will be brought by the team to the highway where PNP-SAF officers were waiting.
While retrieving the cadavers, the crisis team hears gunshots from the northeast direction more or less two kilometers away from the encounter site.
At about the same time, Sol receives a phone call from Galvez informing him that there remains another group of PNP-SAF being fired upon by an armed group nearby.
Galvez calls the MILF-CCCH. Ladiasan gives assurance that there are no more MILF-BIAF troops remaining in the area and that the PNP-SAF were likely engaging the BIFF.
5:40 pm: The crisis team goes back to the tactical command post in Barangay Tuka. There, Bautista explains to the MILF-CCCH the situation and the need to facilitate the rescue of the surviving PNP-SAF in Barangay Tukanalipao. The elements of the 6th ID’s Reconnaissance Company (DRC) were to assist in extricating the said PNP- SAF from the area.
Ladiasan agrees and advises all BIAF forces nearby not to hamper the movement of the PNP-SAF.
6 pm: Local officials tell reporters at least 27 SAF troopers had been killed.
6:30 pm: Army fires white phosphorous near the area where the surviving members of the 84th SAF company are hiding.
7:30 pm: Civilians bring to the highway and turn over to the Army the first 5 bodies of SAF members belonging to the 55th SAF company killed in the firefight.
9:15 pm: Espina finally issues a statement confirming that SAF troopers were killed in the clash.
9:30pm: Mamasapano LGU officials inform the crisis team that 5 cadavers of PNP-SAF officers been turned over to the PNP-SAF.
The crisis team suspends the retrieval operations due to darkness and security concerns.
11:30 pm: Division Reconnaisance Company (DRC) extracts the trapped 84th SAF Company near Barangay Pidsandawan.
Monday, January 26
Key government and security officials also go to central Mindanao and meet at the 6th Infantry Division in Camp Awang, Cotabato.
9 am: Officials hold a security meeting. They include Roxas, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, Catapang, Espina, and Pangilinan. It is in this meeting when Roxas confronts Napeñas, asking him where he got his orders.
10 am: Roxas calls for a closed-door meeting with senior government officials after Napeñas' statement. "All those not involved in the operations, leave the room," Roxas tells the rest, according to one of those present in that briefing.
1 pm: Army recovers a total of 44 bodies of slain SAF members.
2 pm: The only survivor of the 55th SAF company, Police Officer 2 Christopher Lalan, finds his way to the highway. He is brought to the Tactical Command Post.
2:30 pm: Roxas briefs the President on the phone. He tells the President he can return to Manila immediately so they can discuss the incident. The President does not commit to any schedule.
10 pm: The President asks Roxas if he and the rest of the security cluster in the Cabinet can meet that night. Roxas says it's too late, suggests an early morning meeting the following day instead. The President recommends a noon meeting.
Tuesday, January 27
Early morning: Roxas meets with Espina and Garbo to ask them if they knew of the operation. Both say they knew after the fact – through a text message they got from Napeñas at 4 or shortly past 4 am January 25.
Noon: The President meets with Roxas and key Cabinet members in Malacañang. They recommend a public address by the President. The President agrees to make one on Wednesday, January 29. He later decides to move it to 6:30 pm Wednesday.
(At this point we learn from police intelligence sources that the Seaborne Unit of SAF that killed Marwan relies largely on US intelligence.)
Wednesday, January 28
6:30 pm: President Aquino talks about the Mamasapano clash in a televised and livestreamed address to the nation.
Thursday, January 29
Friday, January 30
Wednesday, February 4
AFP chief Catapang holds a press conference to say the police failed to coordinate with them, and explains the role of soldiers in the Mamasapano operation.
Napeñas, hurt by Catapang's statements, responds in a separate press conference to say the military knew the SAF troopers' location.
Thursday, February 5
Friday, February 6
The PNP Board of Inquiry releases its report on its investigation into the Mamasapano clash. The report implicates Purisima for acting "without authority," and also said Aquino bypassed the chain of command by allowing Purisima to take part in the operation despite the latter's suspension.
The NBI files criminal complaints against 90 individuals involved in the deaths of 35 Special Action Company troopers.
On the eve of the 2nd anniversary of the Mamasapano clash, the Ombudsman files criminal complaints against Purisima and Napeñas.
On the same day, President Rodrigo Duterte says he will create a commission to reinvestigate the botched police operation.
Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, on July 14, indicts former President Benigno “Nonoy” Aquino III with one count of graft and usurpation of authority for his role in the botched military operation.
The Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) – which represents several relatives of the 44 slain SAF officers – files for a motion for reconsideration before the Ombudsman on July 19, insisting Aquino be charged with 44 counts of reckless imprudence resulting in homicide.
On July 23, Aquino files for a motion for reconsideration seeking a dismissal of charges against him.
On September 14, Ombudsman Morales denies the appeal of Aquino and affirms the charges against him. She also denies the appeal of several relatives of the victims of the clash to charge Aquino with 44 counts of reckless imprudence resulting in homicide.
The VACC announces on November 3, that it will file a petition urging the Supreme Court to review the Ombudsman’s alleged “downgrading” of charges against Aquino.
On November 8, at the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan, Aquino is charged with one count of graft and usurpation of official functions for allowing dismissed police chief Alan Puriisma to participate in Oplan Exodus despite his suspension at the time. – with reports from Carmela Fonbuena, Bea Cupin and Glenda M. Gloria/Rappler.com