National Police officer-in-charge Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina on Wednesday called on Muslim rebels to explain why members of the Special Action Force (MILF) had to be “overkilled” in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, amid an ongoing peace process.

Espina’s call came amid talk of lack of coordination between the PNP and Armed Forces, and between the SAF and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) with whom the government signed a preliminary peace deal last year.

“Ang aking punto rito eh doon sa mga nakalaban… Granting, for the sake of argument, hindi nag-coordinate ‘yung SAF troopers, was it enough reason for the overkill?” Espina told reporters in Camp Crame.

“Was it justifiable on their part na mayroon kaming usapan, magkaroon ng overkill? They did not have the intent to let anybody live,” Espina said, in an apparent referrence to the MILF.

Members of the SAF also clashed with members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), which is not engaged in peace talks with the government.

The clash in Brgy. Tukanalipao on January 25 left 44 police commandos dead and 16 others injured.

Eight of the slain policemen were members of the 84th Special Action Company (SAC), which carried out a raid against Malaysian bomb expert Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan and Filipino bomb maker Abdul basit Usman, while 36 were from the 55th SAC which served as a “blocking force.”

According to Espina, some SAF members were already dead before they were shot to the head and stripped off of their uniforms and personal belongings.

“Pagkatapos patayin pinagbabaril sa ulo. Finishing touches… Bakit mo babarilin sa mukha? Tatanggalin mo ang uniform. Kukunin mo ang cellphone, tatawagan mo ang misis nung isa sasabihan na wala na ang mister mo?” he said.

Espina pointed out that the commandos had SAF markings on their uniforms, clearly showing that they are government forces.

“We behave according to the protocol, we expect the other party to behave. Forty-four na buhay ang kinuha ninyo. Meron tayong usapin. Remember those 44. But we will always abide by the peace talks,” he said.

‘Mission accomplished’

In a separate press briefing, former SAF commander Dir. Getulio Napeñas assured that Marwan was killed in the early morning raid in neighboring Brgy. Pidsandawan before the commandos clashed with MILF and BIFF forces in Tukanalipao.

“Mission accomplished. At tinataya ko, magre-resign na ako siguro kung hindi si Marwan… Napakalaki ‘yung kredibilidad na siya ‘yung target at namatay doon sa operasyon,” Napeñas said.

Napeñas, who was relieved as SAF commander following the death of 44 police commandos, revealed that the force started targetting Marwan in December 2010, but early attempts to get the Malaysian terror suspect failed.

Operations had also been planned in 2012 but were shelved.

Purisima OK’d plan

Napeñas said other operations were planned from April to November 2014 and these were approved by PNP chief Director General Alan Purisima before the later was suspended from office by the Ombudsman in December.

He said January 25’s operation in Mamasapano stemmed from the “go signal” that Purisima had given in November.

“Yung go signal na ‘yun ay nag-umpisa pa noong November. Tinuloy-tuloy namin ‘yan. Doon sa rule number 4 ng ating police operational procedure, ‘yung head of office ay puwedeng magsagawa ng operasyon lalung-lalo na may operation na ganyan dati pa,” Napeñas said.

He said Purisima, in November, also told him to inform Espina — then deputy chief for operations — about the raid only when the SAF commandos were already on the ground.

Two ‘chiefs’

So on January 25 — when Purisima is already serving suspension and Espina is officer-in-charge — Napeñas was reporting to both superiors.

“Dalawa sila na nire-reportan ko sa kadahilanang ang project na iyon inumpisahan ni Gen. Purisima noong April pa hanggang November, tuloy-tuloy, siya mismo ‘yung may hawak ng intelligence nung project na iyon,” Napeñas said.

Napeñas also said he did not report to President Benigno Aquino or even Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas because doing so goes against the “chain of command.”

“Doon sa chain of command ng PNP, chief PNP or OIC PNP ang aking unang sasabihan at hindi ako puwedeng lumaktaw,” he said.

Coordination clash

Meanwhile, Espina and Napeñas belied claims that the PNP did not coordinate the SAF raid with the Armed Forces so the latter failed to send reinforcements during the police commandos’ time of need.

Espina said he learned of Marwan’s reported killing 5:30 a.m. and the ensuing clash with BIFF and MILF forces by 6 a.m., so he sought help from AFP Western Mindanao Command chief Lt. Gen. Rustico Guerrero.

Espina said Guerrero “mobilized” troops after that and he texted the latter some grid coordinates showing the SAF troopers’ location exactly 7:51 a.m.

The AFP and even President Aquino, in previous statements, pointed out that the military was not given enough time to prepare or send reinforcements for the SAF.

The AFP, in a statement earlier this week, said it did “all that can be done,” but only mentioned the extrication of wounded SAF personnel, not combat support.

Unnamed military sources, in some news reports, also claimed that soldiers manning helicopters, tanks, and Howitzer cannons, at the time did not know the beleaguered SAF troopers’ location.

Napeñas said evidences of coordination, particularly the grid coordinates, will be seen in the probe being conducted by the PNP Board of Inquiry.

He also explained that under police operational procedures, coordination can be done either “before or during” an operation.

“Kaya ‘yung coordination ay puwedeng before o during, sa kadahilanan na nagkakaroon ng compromise kapag nagko-coordinate kami doon sa lugar. Habang naghahanda sila (military), namo-monitor na kaagad,” he said.

Espina was quick to say that the AFP and PNP are “solidly together” and are “always coordinating.”

300 did not sit idly

Napeñas, meanwhile, strongly denied claims that the 300-plus other SAF troopers involved in the operation did not do anything to help their fellow commandos, especially those in the 55th SAC which was “pinned down” by Muslim rebels.

“Hindi po totoo ‘yun. Maraming attempt na dinig na dinig po namin sa radyo, ‘yung battalion commander po mismo nadidinig ko mismo na nag-uutos na pasukin ‘yun… Siya mismo ang nakakaaalam na ‘yung mga tao niya ay nandun sa looban at pinipilit nila na tulungan at reinforce-an ‘yung 55th Company,” he said.

The man on the radio is Supt. Hendrix Mangaldan, commander of the 4th Special Action Battalion that is comprised of the 41st, 42nd, 43rd, 44th, and 45th SACs.

The 45th, 42nd, and 41st SACs were tasked to support the 84th SAC in its raid against Marwan and Usman, while the 43rd and 44th companies were positioned along the road to prevent ambuscades, Napeñas said.

“Ginawa lahat ng effort nung 45th, 42nd, at saka ‘yung 41st company na i-rescue sila (55th SAC) pero dahil sa dami at grabe ng volume of fire hindi na sila nakarating,” he said.

Wait and see

Napeñas, who had been silent since the incident, said he decided to speak in public after learning of statements derogatory to the SAF.

“Minabuti ko na hindi muna magsalita dahil gusto kong hintayin, bigyan natin ng galang ‘yung resulta ng Board of Inquiry pero dahil sa mga statement na lumabas ngayon lang, na sinisira na ‘yung puri ng director ng Special Action Force, pati na ‘yung Special Action Force at buong kapulisan, pagka hindi ako magsasalita, magkakaroon ng public opinion, magseset-in na. Para ito magkaroon lang ng balanse,” he said.

The former commander declined to reveal more and said he will just wait for results of the probe being carried out by the BOI.

“Ang pinakamaganda, hintayin natin ‘yung resulta ng Board of Inquiry para sa ganun ‘yun ang magpapatunay kung ano ang katotohanan sa mga nangyari,” Napeñas added. (John Roson)

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