Covering up #Mamasapano (part 1)

By Inday Espina-Varona

Posted at Feb 25 2015 02:35 PM | Updated as of Feb 26 2015 04:55 AM

It just took one hearing at the House of Representatives.

Its leadership suddenly halted the probe into the Jan. 25 Mamasapano tragedy. Their explanation: Too much emotions in the air.

Mamasapano saw 44 Special Action Forces (SAF), 18 Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels, seven civilians and an undetermined number of Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) slain. The clashes stemmed from the hunt to get Zulkifli bin Hir, also known as Marwan, and Usman Basit. Marwan is on the world’s most wanted list of terrorists,

Too much emotion may be right. Hawks have been calling for all-out war. Outside of Congress, the BIFF was bristling; engaged in firefights with the MILFF, their former mother group. Thousands of civilians had fled to safer ground. Families of the slain SAF men were angry by what they perceived as Mr. Aquino’s lack of empathy.

Members of the Philippine National Police carry the body of one of the members of the Special Action Force slain in fighting in Mamasapano town, Maguindanao on January 25. Forty-four were killed from the government side following a clash with Muslim rebels. Photo: Reuters

But there were too many inconvenient truths surfacing, too. By then, ACT party-list Rep. Antonio Tinio had managed to raise one very important point: that President Benigno Aquino III had known of the unravelling debacle in the early hours of the morning.

The House leadership seem to equate defusing tensions with burying the truth.

Because a week later, they were huddling with Mr. Aquino in Malacanang — getting his word, and only his word, about who exactly was responsible for the tragedy. He told them that Alan Purisima, the suspended national police chief, had lied to him about events on the ground and the presence (or lack thereof) of reinforcements for the hapless SAF troops.

After that meeting, the House leadership said they would resume hearings. They have no intention to unearth the truth about Mamasapano. Rather, they are out to push, at the President’s instructions, passage of a law that would create a Bangsamoro autonomous body.


Mr. Aquino, after several painful days of military and police officials raking each other to pieces, now blames Purisima — a police chief on preventive suspension for serious corruption charges — for the horror of Mamasampano.

Mr. Aquino, of course, ignored Purisima’s suspension and placed him in charge of what, by all accounts, was a very high-value and high-risk operations.

Mr. Aquino is commander in chief of the Armed Forces. He is also chief executive of the civilian bureaucracy. He has publicly proclaimed the peace process with the MILF as one of his top legacies.

In the legislative hearings, Mr. Aquino’s military officials stressed that the lack of coordination not only cost the lives of people; it also jeopardised the peace process he holds so dear.

Until tthe Senate hearing where Senators Nancy Binay and Grace Poe paralysed government witnesses with the simple questions — who told the President and when” — Mr. Aquino seemed removed, distant, from the Mamasapano mess.


The Chief Executive had several public appearances already where he spoke about Mamasapano.

  • In his first televised speech, Mr. Aquino claimed that Purisima was on top of things until his suspension. Thereafter, he was called in only to advice on the “intricacies” and “nuances” of the operation.
  • In his second televised address, Mr. Aquino went hammers and tongs after Special Action Force chief Director Getulio Napeñas, claiming he alone was responsible for the mess. The President said he had ordered close coordination with the military, an order which Napenas disobeyed.
  • In the same speech, Mr. Aquino sorrowfully, almost angrily, accepted Purisima’s resignation (after Napenas had squealed that disgraced police chief had ordered him not to tell PNP Officer in Charge Leonardo Espina of the operation; and that Purisima had assumed responsibility for informing AFP Chief of Staff General Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr). He was sad because Purisima was an old friend who protected him during his tenure as opposition senator.
  • Kin of the fallen SAF troops, after a visit from the President, also told reporters that he kept on blaming Napenas.
Photo by Ryan Chua

Now, Mr. Aquino blames Purisima for misinforming him. That misinformation came via text messages between the President and his good friend.

But Purisima was only supposed to have given advice. So why was Purisima reporting on the day of the operation?

And yes, the President spoke only with him — before and during the Mamasapano clash — until things were so bad that he had to consult the military commanders and civilian executives who’d been left out in the cold.

Mr. Aquino never spoke with Espina, although earlier he had warned that anyone not obeying the latter would be punished.

Even granting that Purisima had hatched the hunt for Marwan and Basit Usman, there was no reason to leave out the PNP OIC. Government witnesses read through several regulations that say substantial movement of personnel and logistics need to be approved by higher officials.

Instead, insisting on a laughable “time on target” doctrine that seems nothing but an FYI — when action has commenced — Purisima and Napenas (on orders of the former) went their merry way.

What Mr. Aquino did was let a suspended police chief operate a shadow chain of command, with intelligence officers and the SAF director, bypassing their superiors and reporting directly to Purisima. Indeed, it was Purisima who arranged meetings with the President.

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