Aquino’s postmortem on massacre | Inquirer Opinion

Aquino’s postmortem on massacre

/ 12:10 AM February 20, 2015

As late as Feb. 6, President Benigno Aquino III was stepping up his demonizing of the commander of the Philippine National Police-Special Action Force, who was sacked for the Jan. 25 massacre in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, of 44 SAF commandos by gunmen linked to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

In a televised speech to the nation on that day, the President pilloried his favorite scapegoat, SAF commander Getulio Napeñas, laying all the blame on him while dodging responsibility for the massacre.

The President said his personal inquiries into the massacre showed that “there were no fewer than three separate instances when the mission could have been aborted or postponed, or when the plan could have been dramatically changed.” The mission he referred to was Oplan Exodus, which sought the arrest of two wanted terrorists—the Malaysian bomb expert known as Marwan and his Filipino associate Basit Usman, who had been given sanctuary in an area controlled by the MILF.

The unannounced entry of the SAF commandos into the MILF-controlled territory sparked an armed clash between the government forces and Moro guerrillas allied to the MILF, which led to the massacre.


According to an Inquirer report, the President made his own critique of the bungled operation despite the fact that it is unclear until now if it was he who had given the order to launch it. The President was reported to have noted three things that went wrong with the plan, such as:

  1. Only 13 of the original 38 members of the SAF Special Action Company or Seaborne were able to cross the river going to the hideout of Marwan and Usman in the early hours of Jan. 25.
  1. The 55th SAC was two hours behind the original appointed time of rendezvous with the 84th SAC, which by then had accomplished its mission and was already in the withdrawal phase. The original plan showed that the 55th SAC should have been at its “guide point position” at 2:30 a.m., but it arrived at 5:30 a.m.
  1. As a result, the other SAF units that should have made up the blocking force to safeguard the exit of Seaborne were unable to take their positions. The officers of the 55th SAC got pinned in a cornfield where they were spotted by hostile forces.

In his speech the President asked why the mission proceeded “when it deviated so far from the original plan and our troops were already in grave danger.” He said “there was an even greater need” for adjustments in the mission considering that Napeñas was “well aware that no coordination had been made regarding expected assistance, since the Armed Forces could render little aid, if at all, because they were not given sufficient time to prepare.”

Napeñas has said that he did not coordinate the SAF operation with the military and the MILF. The latter had also blamed the government troops for not coordinating with it (meaning, sought its permission) before they entered the territory.

It should be noted that the President’s critique, in his effort to dodge responsibility as head of the chain of command of the security forces, highlighted the lack of trust and coordination between the police and the military. It should also be noted that the critique hardly condemned the MILF and its allies embedded in its “territory,” as if all the blame for the fiasco should be laid on the government security forces while the President was turning a blind eye to the atrocities committed by the MILF and its guerrilla cohorts who shot the wounded SAF commandos at close range.


The SAF commandos were under orders to arrest two wanted terrorists sheltered by the MILF, not to do battle with it and its guerrilla allies. So far, we have heard very little, even in the Senate and House inquiries, as to what was the order of battle of the SAF when the President and the then suspended PNP chief Alan Purisima discussed Oplan Exodus in utmost secrecy, excluding even the acting PNP chief and the interior secretary from their deliberations. We know even less about who gave Napeñas the go-ahead to launch Oplan Exodus.

The President, in his critique, said Napeñas should answer in a proper forum or an official inquiry why the operation was not aborted after it deviated from the original blueprint showed to him and Purisima. But the President should be asked: Can Napeñas, the lowest ranking officer in the line of command, abrogate a plan that has received clearance from the President and Purisima, once he, Napeñas, dispatched the SAF troops to implement the orders from above?


A commander in charge of the operation, if he is worthy of his mandate, has to amend plans as his force encounters changes on the ground according to his tactical judgment. That’s what Napeñas did in the encounter at Mamasapano. He made judgment calls as he saw fit. That the operation led to the massacre was not entirely his fault.

The President’s critique underlined the failure of coordination—a focus that exonerates him of responsibility for the debacle. He has no right to dump all the blame—and the stigma—on a scapegoat. The Commander in Chief is not blameless. His hands are stained with the blood of our slain law enforcers sent to the killing fields without adequate protection.

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TAGS: Benigno Aquino III, mamasapano clash

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