Says he would not have approved 'Mission Impossible'
MANILA (UPDATED) - President Aquino on Monday condemned relieved Special Action Force (SAF) commander Getulio Napenas Jr for pushing through with the January 25 operation despite deviating from the original plan and disobeying his order to coordinate the mission with the Philippine military.
In his most detailed explanation yet on the Mamasapano carnage, Aquino said he was "given the wrong information by the people who knew most what was happening," leading to the deaths of 44 SAF commandos.
"Maraming wishful thinking si Napenas as opposed to reality. Maliwanag sa akin: binola niya ako," he said.
"Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me," he added, vowing he would not allow a repeat of the same mistake again. He said any deviation from his order without justification is insubordination.
The President said Napenas disobeyed his order to properly coordinate the operation with the Armed Forces several days before its launch.
He said that during the January 9 briefing in Bahay Pangarap, he already told Napenas that the SAF cannot deploy just 160 SAF troopers in Mamasapano to take out Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, and Basit Usman when there were 3,000-4,000 potential hostiles in the area.
"He told me: 'Sir, mag co-coordinate kami on jump-off.' Sabi ko: 'Hindi pwede yung pagkilos dapat iposisyon yung kanyon. Kailangan iposisyon yung tangke. Kailangan iposisyon yung plano, yung tao, yung gasolina at yung bala ng kanyon, yung bomba ng eroplano." Hindi mo magagawa yan ng 30 minutes," he recounted.
When Napenas protested because of operational security, the President told the SAF commander to talk to the highest official of the AFP so that he could instruct his subordinates to ready their troops for the operation.
Instead of following his orders, the President said Napenas pushed through with the plan without informing either Armed Forces chief of staff Gen. Gregorio Catapang or the Philippine National Police officer-in-charge Leonardo Espina.
Napenas earlier said this was due to the "advice" of suspended PNP chief Alan Purisima, who was present during the January 9 briefing.
The President said that during the actual execution of the operation, Napenas had two instances when he could have aborted the mission.
These include the late arrival of the first SAF seaborne unit resulting in only 13 commandos crossing the river to the target area, and the late arrival of the reinforcing units for the extraction.
Aquino said the late arrival of the SAF troops was already a deviation of Oplan: Exodus, which pushed for a late night deployment and then extraction by 1-2 a.m. to take full advantage of the darkness of night.
He said the target dates of January 23 to 26 were specifically chosen because the SAF could use their night vision goggles effectively when there was no moon.
Instead of arriving late at night, the SAF troops reached Marwan's hut at around 4 a.m. when Muslims were already waking up for morning prayer.
This led to the initial SAF team encountering heavy fire after raiding Marwan's hideout and going to the extraction point.
The President said another flaw in the operational plan was it did not take into account that the way points in Mamasapano were in an area that had no large trees to provide cover.
He said SAF troops who were sent to help the first team were left exposed in grassland and a cornfield.
"I could say tatanga-tanga si Napenas. Hindi niya alam yung lugar but he is the regional public safety battalion commander in 2007-2008. He knows the terrain and the culture. He knew he did not coordinate," he said.
What's worse, the President said, was Napenas' plan was to split up the SAF platoons to protect way points for the extraction of the 55th Special Action Company when the latter was already being surrounded by hundreds of armed fighters.
"There were 318 troops who could have helped the 55th Special Action Company. Instead of helping, they were ordered to go to the way points. Tinuloy yung plano when the conditions had changed," he said, noting that each way point has a distance of 100-200 meters.
When the SAF troops tried to link up and help the 55th SAC, the MILF and other hostiles were already using mortars.
The President said that during the presentation of Oplan: Exodus, Napenas removed a portion that would have showed the parameters that would have allowed the commander to abort the mission.
He also said he was surprised that the SAF was coordinating with the military via text message instead of using their sophisticated radio systems, without considering the weak cellphone signal in the area and issues on the lack of cellphone load.
SAF troopers were also not given tools that would have helped them make fox holes in the battle field.
The President said the Mamasapano operation became "mission impossible" because of lack of coordination and failure to follow the operational plan to the letter.
"Sinolo ni Napenas. Siya ang nag desisyon at may times na yung desisyon niya palpak. Pag alis niya sa akin nung January 9, lumalabas ngayon na wala siyang intensyon na tuparin yung utos ko sa kanyang mag-coordinate," he said.
Aquino said he was also receiving wrong information on the day of the operation, which further led to the lack of reinforcements for the embattled SAF troops.
He said on January 25, he first got a text message from Napenas that was relayed by Purisima informing him that the operation was already launched.
He said the message was sent at around 5 a.m. - 6 a.m. but he only read it at around 7:30 a.m.
Aside from the message that Marwan had been hit, Napenas also texted: "Extraction ongoing." The President said the text "had no sense of urgency" especially since the 55th Special Action Force was already under attack.
He said that when he arrived in Zamboanga City, it was clear that there was no coordination in the operation. He said authorities were only informed that there were two SAF units that needed help in the afternoon of January 25.
Even the commander of the Philippine Air Force did not know about the operation to take out Marwan, he said.
The President said he was not informed at any time during the January 25 operation that the SAF troops were surrounded and that the military reinforcements had yet to arrive.
"Sana nasabihan ako: 'Sir, napaligiran na at mabagal ang pagpasok ng AFP.' Ang sinabi bago ako umalis ng bahay papunta ng airport lilinigtas na lahat at tumutulong na lahat ng dapat tumulong.' Hindi pala totoo yun. Ang totoo - yung armored support umalis ng kampo - mga 8:20 a.m."
Aquino said he felt bad that he is being blamed for the carnage when his order to Napenas was not followed, leading to the deaths of the SAF troops.
"Yun yung ikinasasama ng loob ko. Hindi dapat mangyari ito. Sumunod ka na lang sa utos, iba na sana nangyari. At the very least, mababawasan ang casualty natin," he said.
"Kung ako ang may kasalanan dito, bakit di ko aakuin lahat? Pero pag nakita niyo yung pagpaplano nito, napakahusay ng PowerPoint presentation. pag binansagan sa kalsada, ang ganda ng plano pero drawing pala ito."