Good job, BOI

/ 12:11 AM March 16, 2015

Despite its limitations (which are meticulously noted in its comprehensive report), the board of inquiry (BOI) convened by the Philippine National Police to determine the facts in the Mamasapano clash did a sterling job. We join the growing chorus of praise that recognizes the probity of character, the rigor of method and the clarity of vision that went into the fact-finding mission and its report.

That clear vision can be seen from the report’s very first words. The report’s Executive Summary begins thus: “On January 25, 2015, sixty-seven (67) Filipinos died in Mamasapano, Maguindanao as a result of an encounter triggered by Operation Plan (Oplan) Exodus.” Here, in the view of our men in uniform, colleagues themselves of the 44 Special Action Force troopers who died that day in that corner of Mindanao, is the truth devoid of partisan color: 67 Filipinos died, not 44, as preening politicians and political opportunists would have it. The BOI’s inclusion of the 18 Moro Islamic Liberation Front regulars and five civilians who died in the clash in the official death toll is a simple but potent symbol.


The probity of the board members, led by Police Director Benjamin Magalong and the board’s team of auxiliaries, was always on display during the mission; they conducted press briefings even though the process was ongoing and necessarily incomplete, they welcomed public participation in their inspection of the cornfields in Mamasapano where the clash occurred, they were forthcoming about their limitations.

But it takes strength of character for the board and its support team to conclude, unequivocally, that “The President allowed the participation of the suspended Chief Philippine National Police (CPNP) Police Director General Alan Purisima in the planning and execution of the Oplan Exodus despite the suspension order of the Ombudsman.” This is a fact that has already been established in public opinion; why would President Aquino accept Purisima’s resignation as national police chief if his good friend had not been involved in the operation in a substantial way? And if Purisima was in fact involved, it could only have been with the consent and active encouragement of the President. But the President himself and his spokespersons continue to pretend that that all-important fact, that the “President allowed the participation of the suspended Chief,” does not exist or is at best debatable.


The BOI only restores common sense to this part of the discussion: Purisima’s illegal participation was allowed by the President.

The rigor of method is evident in the board’s survey of two critical aspects: the planning stage (which means the operation had very little chance of success), and the actual execution (which means the operation should have been aborted at the earliest opportunity).

Conclusion No. 12 reads: “The mission planning of Oplan Exodus was defective due to: (1) poor analysis of the area of operation; (2) unrealistic assumptions; (3) poor intelligence estimate; (4) absence of abort criteria; (5) lack of flexibility in its CONOPS [the concept of operations]; (6) inappropriate application of TOT [the SAF chief’s now-controversial Time-on-Target concept]; and (7) absence of prior coordination with the AFP and AHJAG [the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group].”

Conclusion No. 13 reads: “The following factors affected the execution of CONOPS: (1) mismanaged movement plan from staging area to Vehicle-Drop-Off Point (VDOP); (2) failure to occupy the designated way points; (3) ineffective communication system among the operating troops; (4) unfamiliarity with the terrain in the area of operation; (5) non-adherence to operational/tactical Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs); (6) lack of situational awareness among commanders; and (6) (sic) breakdown in the command and control.”

In the public discussions that have roiled the country since the news of the incident broke, very little has been said about “abort criteria.” The BOI report helps the public focus on that dimension.

We do not expect anyone to agree completely with the report and its conclusions. The argument about the failure of the Armed Forces to provide artillery support, for instance, seems weak, but that may be a function of the military’s lack of participation in the fact-finding mission. The report as a whole, however, is a bracing look at what really happened—and Malacañang would be stupid to see it merely as speculation.

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