MANILA - A Palace spokesman on Monday said there was no "time on target" coordination during the January 25 operation in Mamasapano, Maguindanao that saw 44 Special Action Force commandos killed.
Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda said the concept of "time on target" in the operation to hunt down Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, and Basit Usman meant some form of coordination between the SAF and Philippine Army that could help extricate them in case of a firefight.
He said that during the January 9 briefing and even in a previous meeting in December, President Aquino had already informed SAF director Getulio Napenas Jr. to coordinate with the Army about the operation.
"Our understanding of time on target coordination is - prior to the actual operation, there would be some coordination...between the Army and SAF," he said in an ANC Top Story interview.
"General Napenas informed us, briefed us that they started at 10 quarter of Saturday evening (January 24). So 10 quarter in the evening and they went to the target of operation at 4 quarter (January 25). So between 10 quarter to 4 quarter, there was no time on target coordination between the Army and the SAF."
Lacierda pointed out that the operation to neutralize Marwan only lasted 15 minutes, which meant the operation was already over by 4:30 a.m.
Still, there was no attempt by Napenas to inform the 6th Infantry Division about the operation until 5:06 a.m. when he sent a text message to Major General Edmundo Pangilinan, commander of the 6th ID.
Pangilinan earlier told the Senate that Napenas' text message only said that the SAF was conducting "LEO (law enforcement operation) and serve WA (warrants of arrest) against HVTs (high-value targets) in Mamasapano, Maguindanao."
Lacierda noted that SAF troopers were already engaged in a firefight with armed groups when the text message was sent at 5:06 a.m.
The President's spokesman said that under Oplan Exodus, the SAF operation was supposed to be coordinated with four different groups: the 6th Infantry Division, the 1st Mechanized Brigade, the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG) and the Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH).
"There was no time on target coordination. In fact, out of the four, he did not inform the CCCH which is headed by General [Carlito] Galvez of the AFP. He did not inform them at all," he said.
Lacierda said it is questionable that there was no time on target coordination with the AFP especially since the Army had the artillery support in case there was a firefight.
He said SAF commandos who participated in the mission under the leadership of Napenas "expected coordination and rightfully, it should have been coordinated."
The spokesman said President Aquino was also misinformed about some of the details in the operation such as the alleged deployment of artillery support for the embattled SAF.
"He was informed that there was already artillery support and it turned out there was none," he said.
"He was given bits and pieces of information. He was led to believe that there was already artillery support in the morning of the 25th. There was no artillery support actually."
POLICY VS OPERATIONS
During the interview, Lacierda said there is an effort to involve the President "at a much deeper level" in the Mamasapano operation when the Chief Executive only dealt at a policy level.
He said that while the President's instruction was to get Marwan, the decision to operationalize the policy was left to the commanders.
"As commander in chief, you handle at the policy level. He already said in his speech that he is responsible whether the outcome is good or bad. The policy is really to go after terrorists," he said.
"There were instructions to coordinate with them that were not followed...The facts speak for themselves."
He also said he is not aware if there is any investigation on the leak of a video on the security briefing by Napenas a day after the Mamasapano operaton.