Did US drone help in Mamasapano operation? Napenas hedges

By RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 08 2015 05:04 PM | Updated as of Apr 09 2015 01:04 AM

De Lima says US involvement not wrong

MANILA - As the House continued to probe into the Mamasapano incident, former Special Action Force (SAF) chief Getulio Napeñas hedged on whether the United States deployed a drone in the operation to get suspected terrorists Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan and Basit Usman.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, however, maintained that based on existing information, there was nothing illegal in the involvement of the US.

Upon questioning by Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Zarate, Napeñas declined to go into details as to what the Americans set up as part of assistance when they joined him in the tactical command post.

But he did confirm that the US counterparts gave real-time information on the ground especially in the main effort of the 84th special action company or the seaborne which went after Marwan.

"Tama po iyon. Hindi ko alam kung nakikita yung ibang location pero kita ang 84th SAF. Tama po, mataas ang field of view pero nakatutok sa 84th SAF," he said.

Zarate tried to get Napeñas to confirm if it was a drone that was supplying the information. Napenas hedged.

"May I request kung pwede sa executive session?" he said.

Napeñas admitted again that they got assistance from US counterparts. On Tuesday, he said he had gotten a map from US counterparts. However, he denied there was an American casualty.

"Unang-una, yung casualty, namatay na American troops, walang katotohanan. Nabanggit ko na walang involved sa combat operations. Ang pagtulong ng Amerikano nag-umpisa sa Zamboanga, may training assistance na tinatanggap. If I may, pwede ma-discuss sa executive session. I request matters sa US involvement and support ma-take up in executive session."

He also confirmed there were six American personnel in the tactical command post. However, he said he only saw two.

"Isa kasama ko galing GenSan, almost 8 p.m. Later may dumating, dagdag. Hindi ko alam ilan dumagdag, pumasok isa, naging dalawa sa TCP gabi ng January 24. Unknown to me six pala sila, sasakyan nasa labas, gabi sila dumating. Nasabi ko sa Senate inquiry dalawa lang nag-set up sa loob ng TCP. Di ko nakita may kasamahan sa labas, makes it six... Nadagdagan the following day nung nagkaroon ng medical evacuation nung dumating yung casulaties," he said.

US INVOLVEMENT

De Lima, later on in the hearing, explained that any consideration of US involvement should be subject to legal parameters of the Constitution: foreign military bases in the absence of a treaty, freedom from nuclear weapons, independent foreign policy and non intervention.

"Kung titingnan ang mga lumabas na impormasyon about possible role, readily apparent that presence of US personnel does not per se any transgression of legal parameters... Lumabas ano type or nature of US involvement in Mamasapano incident, lumalabas po is on intel aspect, intel information to our own security forces and number 2, medical aid pagkatapos nang nagkaroon na ng casualties," she said.

"No arguable violation...so long as government exercised control over operations as indeed it has when it chose to abort previous operations, we cannot surmise any instance of unsolicited US intervention," she added.

"Bottomline is ability of Philippine government to determine for itself extent of US involvement and full exercise of control...exercised all throughout, under facts so far established."

COST

Also upon questioning by Zarate, Napeñas reiterated that the operation cost more than P300,000 from the regular budget of the SAF. This, amid reports special funding came from either the Office of the President or the United States.

Napeñas said, "Nasabi ko na rin sa Senate inquiry more than P100,000, sa aktuwal na accounting is P300,000, kasama pangkain at pang-hotel. I was informed binigyan ng pambayad ng van, gasolina, pangkain ang tropa. Solely sa operating expenes ng SAF."

Zarate, however, doubted the figure. "Kayo nag-move nasabi kahapon 392 personnel mula Luzon papuntang Mindanao. Tantiya ko, kung P300,000, kulang talaga. Sa pamasahe pa lang, milyon na. Sabihin na natin 392 personnel from Luzon to Mindanao P8,000 pamasahe, aabot P3.2 million. Paano napagkasya and P300,000 or P400,000?"

Napeñas argued that only a handful of them came from Luzon, and the rest were sourced from units in Mindanao so they just travelled by land.

"Yung marami na ginamit kapulisan naka-deploy sa Davao del Sur, North Cotabato, General Santos. Sila nag-by land. Yung galing Zamboanga nagrenta ng sasakyan by land," he said.