Sacked SAF commander: What drones?

Bea Cupin

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Sacked SAF commander: What drones?
Relieved PNP Special Action Force commander Getulio Napeñas denies that high-tech gadgets were used to communicate with troops during the Mamasapano operation

MANILA, Philippines – There were no drones involved in the operation of the Philippine National Police Special Action Force (PNP SAF) to neutralize bomb maker and top terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, better known as “Marwan”, and Abdul Basit Usman.

This was revealed by its commander then, now relieved Police Director Getulio Napeñas, during a hearing Monday, February 9, on the operation in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, that claimed the lives of at least 68 individuals, including 44 elite SAF troopers. 

“The PNP SAF has no high-tech gadgets,” Napeñas told senators.

Earlier news reports said an unmanned aircraft, supposedly owned by the United States government, monitored the actions of SAF troopers on January 25 as they embarked on an operation against Marwan and Usman. 

The former SAF commander said they had access to the troopers on the ground via radios, satellite phones, and personal cellular phones. 

“Oplan Exodus” was the PNP SAF’s 10th and final attempt to get Marwan. SAF troopers were supposedly able to kill Marwan in the wee hours of the morning on January 25. 

During the extraction operation, however, elite cops were trapped inside what is known to be the territory of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Bangsamoro Freedom Fighters (BIFF). All but one policeman from the SAF’s 55th special action company died, while 9 from the elite 84th seaborne company were slain. 

The PNP SAF had opted to not coordinate with local military forces in Maguindanao. SAF leadership, Napeñas included, also did not inform PNP OIC Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina and Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II prior to “Oplan Exodus,” the PNP’s bloodiest operation to date. 

Kept in the loop was then-suspended PNP chief Director General Alan Purisima. Purisima resigned almost two weeks after the Mamasapano incident.

Senators also grilled police officials on a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) report, which had positively identified through DNA testing that a finger taken from a corpse in Mamasapano belonged to Marwan. 

None of the police officials at the Senate hearing, however, could answer how the index finger cut off from an individual believed to be Marwan ended up with the FBI. Officials said Marwan’s corpse was found in BIFF area in Mamasapano town. 

Roxas said the DNA sample did not go through the PNP. Instead, SAF provided it directly to the FBI. 

Police Director Benjamin Magalong, chief of the PNP’s Board of Inquiry, said 84th company commander Police Superintendent Raymond Train informed him that the Tuesday after the January 25 encounter, personnel were already in General Santos City, where FBI agents were waiting for the turnover over of the sample.  

SAF troopers typically get the best equipment and training, including training from the United States government. –

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Bea Cupin

Bea is a senior multimedia reporter who covers national politics. She's been a journalist since 2011 and has written about Congress, the national police, and the Liberal Party for Rappler.