MANILA, Philippines – Two years ago, on January 25, 2015, 44 elite cops were killed in a bloody firefight with Muslim rebels in Mamasapano, Maguindanao – a clash that has since been remembered as one of the darkest days in the history of the Philippine National Police (PNP).
The Special Action Force (SAF) commandos were tasked to capture two top bomb makers – Zulkifli bin Hir (alias “Marwan”) and Abdul Basit Usman – in a police operation dubbed Oplan Exodus. But the operation turned into an hours-long firefight, resulting in the deaths of 44 SAF troopers, 18 members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), and 3 civilians. (TIMELINE: Mamasapano clash)
Much has been said of the clash, prompting a series of investigations and promises to uncover the truth. But two years since Mamasapano, the victims’ families are still clamoring for truth on what really happened and who is to blame. (READ: No closure without justice for Mamasapano victims)
What has happened in the last two years? Rappler lists down the developments related to this bloody incident.
A series of investigations
On the eve of the second anniversary of the Mamasapano clash on January 24, President Rodrigo Duterte announced he would create a commission to reinvestigate the incident.
Duterte said he wants civilian members, former Supreme Court justices, and “men of integrity and honor” to compose the commission. He also pledged to give it the same powers granted to the Agrava Commission, which investigated the death of former Senator Benigno Aquino Jr in 1983.
Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II has also ordered prosecutors to file a motion for the transfer of the trial court to spare the judge from “pressure” in ruling the case. He said the move aims to ensure the safety and security of the witnesses and families of the victims.
In 2015, various government agencies also conducted their separate investigations on the Mamasapano clash. These include the Department of Justice, which formed a Special Investigation Team with members of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and National Prosecution Service (NPS); the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) through the PNP Board of Inquiry; the Commission on Human Rights (CHR); and committees of the House of Representatives and the Senate.
The Senate investigation, concluded after 5 public hearings and 5 closed-door meetings, said there was an “undeniable breakdown of both leadership and command and control in the PNP,” with resigned PNP chief Alan Purisima heading the operation despite being on suspension for corruption charges.
For its part, the CHR criticized the Senate report for being based on “emotions rather than an objective interpretation of facts.”
Almost 8 months after the firefight, the NBI filed criminal complaints against 90 individuals involved in the clash. Included in the complaint for the complex crime of direct assault with murder were 26 MILF members, 12 members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), and 52 others who were either from unaffiliated, or from private rebel groups.
The charges came 5 months after the release of the joint NBI-NPS report recommending sanctions on these individuals, who were identified by 5 witnesses.
However, then justice secretary Leila de Lima clarified that these complaints only covered the deaths of 35 members of the SAF-Special Action Command (SAC) or the “blocking force” of the operation. She said it did not include the 9 troopers from the SAF’s 84th Seaborne Company because they “failed to find a single credible witness.”
In July 2015, the Ombudsman also approved the recommendation to file charges against Purisima, then PNP-SAF Chief Police Director Getulio Napeñas, Police Chief Superintendent Fernando Mendez Jr, and 8 other police officers.
The Ombudsman said Napeñas, Mendez, and Purisima “persuaded or convinced one another to… commit a violation of the law or ordinance as what happened in the conduct of the operation in Mamasapano.”
Purisima also faces charges of usurpation of official functions.
On January 24, 2017, the Ombudsman filed with the Sandiganbayan criminal charges again Purisima and Napeñas.
The Ombudsman panel had earlier absolved Aquino of any criminal liability.
Promises to families
Speaking to the families of the fallen soldiers in Malacañang on the eve of the clash’s 2nd anniversary, Duterte questioned why only two soldiers were given the Medal of Valor when 42 others died in the operation. He promised the families that the soldiers will be remembered for their heroism.
“The highest that I can give them is the award of the Medal of Valor,” Duterte said.
Last year, the PNP reported that the families and beneficiaries of the fallen soldiers have received almost P70 million in benefits and pensions. – with reports from Cathrine Gonzales, Addie Pobre, and Alanis Banzon/Rappler.com
Cathrine Gonzales, Addie Pobre, and Alanis Banzon are Rappler interns.