MANILA (UPDATED) - The chain of command in the Philippine National Police (PNP) was violated when President Benigno Aquino III, former PNP chief Alan Purisima, and former Special Action Force (SAF) director Getulio Napeñas "kept information" on the anti-terror operation in Mamasapano on January 25 "to themselves."
This was one of the findings of the PNP Board of Inquiry (BOI), which was tasked to investigate the bloody operation which ended in the deaths of 44 SAF troopers following an encounter with Muslim rebels and other private armed groups.
A PDF copy of the 120-page report was uploaded by the PNP on its website on Friday.
"The Chain of Command in the PNP was violated. The President, the suspended CPNP Purisima and the former Director SAF Napeñas kept the information to themselves and deliberately failed to inform the OIC PNP and the SILG. The Chain of Command should be observed in running mission operations," the BOI said.
The BOI said the President, who "gave the go-signal" for Oplan Exodus that targeted wanted terrorists Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan and Basit Usman, "allowed the participation" of Purisima in the planning and execution despite his suspension.
Purisima, meanwhile, also violated the preventive suspension order issued against him by the Office of the Ombudsman in connection with graft charges. The suspension order was issued in December last year.
Purisima was the one who "advised" Napeñas not to inform PNP officer-in-charge Leonardo Espina as well as Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas about the January 25 operation.
The supposed advice was given by Purisima after their meeting with the President on January 9.
"PDG Purisima could not legally form part of the Chain of Command by reason of his suspension," the BOI said.
According to the BOI, the President also "bypassed" the PNP chain of command when he directly dealt with Napeñas, instead of Espina.
"The President exercised his prerogative to deal directly with Napeñas instead of...Espina. While the President has the prerogative to deal directly with any of his subordinates, the act of dealing with Napeñas instead of OIC-PNP Espina bypassed the established PNP Chain of Command," the BOI report read.
"Under the Manual for PNP Fundamental Doctrine, the Chain of Command runs upward and downward. Such Manual requires the commander to discharge his responsibilities through a Chain of Command," it added.
The BOI said Napeñas likewise violated the chain of command since he followed the instructions of Purisima despite his knowledge of the former PNP chief's suspension.
OPLAN EXODUS 'DEFECTIVE'
The board said the operation to neutralize the wanted terror suspects "was defective from the very beginning." The movement of the troops was "mismanaged" and there was lack of effective communication among them.
"[C]ommand and control was ineffective and foremost, there was no coordination with AFP forces and peace mechanism entities," it said, pertaining to the Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) and the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG).
It said the command responsibility fell on Napeñas, who "dominated the mission planning" and "disregard[ed] inputs from his subordinate commanders." It noted Napeñas himself had also admitted having command responsibility with respect to the operation.
"The concept of the way-in/way-out, by foot, and night-only infiltration and exfiltration in an enemy-controlled community with unrealistic assumptions was a high-risk type of operation," the BOI said.
"Napeñas failed to effectively supervise, control and direct personnel, which resulted in heavy casualties of the SAF Commandos," it added.
It also pointed out that the former SAF director followed his "time on target" coordination concept despite directive from the President to coordinate with the AFP prior to the operation.
The BOI said the time on target coordination concept is "applicable only to ordinary police operations."
"This concept however does not conform to the established and acceptable operational concepts and protocols of the PNP. Even AFP commanders asserted that the TOT concept is alien to the Armed Forces and runs counter to their established SOPs. Without coordination, following the AFP definition, support to operating units such as artillery or close air support is not possible since these entails preparations."
Purisima earlier admitted that after their meeting with Aquino on January 9, he told Napeñas that he would be the one to coordinate with AFP chief-of-staff Gregorio Catapang Jr. regarding the operation. He, however, later said that that coordination meant time on target, or only when the operation has already been executed.
The lack of prior coordination with the AFP has been blamed as one of the factors that led to the deaths of the 44 SAF troopers. Eighteen fighters of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) were also killed in the clash, which also involved members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).
As for the military's response, the BOI noted that the AFP did not deliver the artillery fire support the SAF needed in consideration of the peace process with the MILF.
AMMUNITION ALSO 'DEFECTIVE'
Several rounds of ammunition for the elite cops' M203 grenade launchers were also found to be defective, according to the BOI.
The troopers' common Motorola handheld radios also failed when submerged in water.
Their mobile communication devices also fell short of what were needed to relay real-time information and coordination of activities to and from the chain of command.
"There was a breakdown of command and control at all levels due to ineffective and unreliable communication among and between the operating units," the board said.
The BOI also said that Purisima provided the President "inaccurate" information when he sent text messages stating that the SAF troopers were already pulling out and that they had artillery support.
US NOT INVOLVED IN ACTUAL COMBAT OPERATION
As for the reported involvement of the United States in the operation, the BOI said this was only limited to intelligence sharing and medical evacuation of troops as well as the identification of Marwan through DNA analysis.
It said no US personnel was involved in the actual combat operation.
According to the BOI, appropriate government agencies should pursue the investigation of the Mamasapano incident to determine criminal and/or administrative liabilities of relevant government officials, the MILF and other individuals.
The AFP and the PNP should also jointly review their manuals and protocols to "synchronize, reconcile and institutionalize" inter-operability.
MAR BLAMES PURISIMA, CLEARS PNOY
In a press conference this morning, Roxas pinned the blame on Purisima and on the other hand cleared Aquino of any liability in the bloody operation.
After reading the BOI report, Roxas said Aquino only performed his duties as commander-in-chief.
He said the President, recognizing the suspension of Purisima in December last year, had directed the former PNP chief to keep Espina in the loop about the operation. That order, however, was not followed, Roxas said.
The DILG secretary added that Purisima, as well as Napeñas, clearly ignored the President's order to coordinate with the AFP.
The President, for his part, had pinned the blame solely on Napeñas, saying the former SAF chief deviated from the original plan and disobeyed his orders.
The camp of Napeñas, in turn, criticized Aquino for allowing Purisima to be part of the operation.
Malacañang, meanwhile, assured the public that Aquino will be objective in handling the BOI's findings and recommendations.
Critics have expressed apprehensions the President would water down the BOI report especially in the case of Purisima, a known close friend of Aquino.