From InterAksyon (Jan 30): When military knew of SAF presence, 'it was too late' - officers
When the command group of the Special Action Force operation to get two wanted terror suspects in Mamasapano, Maguindanao informed the military of their presence, not only was it too late, they were apparently not yet aware that their men were already being slaughtered.
These new details of Sunday’s deadly carnage were disclosed Thursday by military officers involved in an internal investigation into the Armed Forces’ response to the disastrous operation that saw 44 SAF commandos killed in clashes with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters during the attempt to capture Malaysian Zulkifli bin Hir, alias “Marwan,” and Filipino Abdul Basit Usman, both known expert bomb-makers with links to international terrorist networks.
The officers, one from the 6th Infantry Division, the other from AFP General Headquarters, spoke on condition they not be identified.
Based on the account by the 6th ID source, “6:05 (a.m.) sila (SAF command group) nag-text na mag-conduct sila ng operation, pero nalaman ng commander ng SAF around 6:15 na binubugbog na pala ‘yung tropa nya sa baba (At 6:05 they sent a text that they were conducting an operation, but the SAF commander only knew around 6:15 that his men were already being pummeled below).”
By all accounts, the SAF launched their operations more than two hours earlier, at 4 a.m.
This was borne out by the GHQ source, interviewed independently, who chalked it all down to “poor planning,” “kaya nu’ng nagkaroon ng situation ay hindi nila na-mitigate ‘yung pangyayari (so when the situation developed they could not mitigate the succeeding events).”
The GHQ source said, “there was a delay in the transmission (of information from the SAF) kasi nu’ng nagpuputukan mga alas kwatro pero saka lang sinabi na merong pulis du’n sa loob, tapos nu’ng nalaman, hindi naman alam kung nasa’n sila, sino ‘yung dapat (tulungan), sa’n sila tutulong, so nagmo-monitor, naghihintay kung anong gagawin, kasi kakulangan ng impormasyon kasi hindi nga naplano maayos (because when the fighting started around 4 it took some time before they said there were policemen in the area, then even if this was known, we didn’t know where they were, who we were supposed to help, where to send the help, so the troops monitored and waited for what to do, because there was insufficient operation because it wasn’t properly planned).
As soon as the troops in the area realized the gravity of the situation facing the SAF, the 6th ID source said, by 6:30 a.m., the Army brigade responsible for the area and 6th ID headquarters were already mobilizing troops to assist the beleaguered policemen.
The division’s reconnaissance company deployed six armored vehicles “na pinapasok pero hindi makapasok dahil naka-block ‘yung kalaban du’n sa route papasok sa 36 na namatay (we sent in but could not enter the area because the enemy was blocking the route to where 36 had died),” referring to the 55th Special Action Company, which suffered the heaviest losses among the units involved.
The official toll shows the 55th SAC losing 30 men, including three officers.
Aside from the gunmen blocking the route, he said, “hindi namin alam ‘yung exact location ng ire-reinforce. ‘Yun pala, patay na lahat ‘yung 36 (we didn’t know the exact location of the troops we were reinforcing. As it turned out, all 36 were already dead) …”
By the time the Army troops reached the site where the policemen had died, he said, it was already 10 a.m.
On another end of the battlefield, where the 84th SAC, Seaborne had maneuvered, the unit was pinned down by BIFF fighters, he said.
By the time they linked up with the unit, it was running low on ammunition and had already lost, by the official tally, nine dead.
“Mabuti’t nakadikit ‘yung recon company namin so buhay sila, kaya lang may patay na sila (Luckily our recon company linked up with them so they survived, although by then they had suffered casualties already),” he added.
Both officers stressed that had the military command in the area been informed, they could have provided support or sent help earlier.
“I understand that we were kept in the dark until it became something that we did not want to happen,” the GHQ source said. “Nu’ng nalaman natin (By the time we knew), it was too late.”
For his part, the 6th ID source said, “Pa’no ka mag-reinforce kung hindi mo man lang alam ‘yung concept of operation at sinabihan kami engaged na sila? Dapat, bago pumasok nag-coordinate na para alam namin kung sa’n kami pupunta kung mabulilyaso sila, alam namin kung sa’n kami magpapabagsak ng kanyon, kung nasa’n sila, kasi may protocol kasi ‘yan e (How can you send reinforcements if you don’t even know the concept of operation and we were informed when they had already engaged? They should have coordinated with us before they entered the area so we would know where we needed to go if they ran into trouble, we would know where we should sight our artillery, where they were, because there are protocols for this).”
Asked if the military probe was also intended to pinpoint lapses in their response, the 6th ID source replied: “‘Yung sa amin, wala naman talaga kaming lapses, ‘yung amin lang is tinitingnan namin ‘yung mga gaps, ‘yung mga flaws para maayos natin o hindi na ‘yan maulit (On our part, there really were no lapses, what we’re looking at are the gaps, the flaws to ensure this doesn’t happen again).”
In a statement on Tuesday, January 27, Sereno said: “We call for sobriety as we all await the full report on the investigation. During this time, we must ascertain facts to avoid confusion and acknowledge the complexities of the situation to allow for the rule of law to truly prevail."
On January 25, about 400 Police Commandos attacked a stronghold of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Tukanalipao, Mamasapano, Maguindanao, in search of a top terrorist that the police suspect has been hiding in the area.
The ensuing firefight turned out to be the Philippines' bloodiest police operation in recent history which the MILF blames for ‘lack of coordination’. The PNP sacked the commander who ordered the operation, saying he did not clear it with his superiors.
"I and my colleagues on the Supreme Court express our deepest sympathy to the families and loved ones of our injured and fallen policemen," Sereno said in a rare media statement. "We deeply mourn for those killed, and weep with their families as we would weep for our own kin. No words are enough to console the families for their loss, perhaps even the promise of earthly justice will sound hollow at this time. But I ask them now to cling to the hope that there is always the eternal realm."
"A call for war and retribution should never be made lightly and should remain always a final option," Sereno said. "It should certainly not be made in the heat of the moment and in the face of, as yet, unclear facts and confusing narratives. Let us instead all contribute to our nation's search for just and lasting peace by encouraging all parties to bring any conflict to the table of peace instead of the battlefields of war."
"Let us not add to the darkness but to the light. It is the only way that we ensure that the sacrifices of our fallen policemen would not be in vain” she added.