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Analysis

BOI pours blame on Napeñas

The Philippine National Police board of inquiry (BOI) report on the Jan. 25 massacre of the 44 police commandos in Maguindanao province by Moro separatist guerrillas has concluded that President Aquino gave the green light for the launching of “Oplan Exodus”—aimed at flushing out most-wanted Islamic terrorists from Mindanao—but laid most of the blame for the bungled operation on sacked PNP Special Action Force (SAF) Director Getulio Napeñas.

Napeñas has become the scapegoat of an overkill effort by the Aquino administration to deflect public indignation from the heavy fallout over the slaughter.

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The BOI report that delved into which level of national authority should be held responsible/accountable for the miscarriage of the plan that led to a fire fight in which a badly outnumbered elite commando unit surrounded by up to a thousand guerrillas was butchered in an unprotected cornfield in the midst of a ceasefire period under a peace agreement calling for the establishment of an autonomous Bangsamoro region in Mindanao.

Responsibility

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The administration is embroiled in the issue of the President’s responsibility for authorizing the PNP to carry out Oplan Exodus, designed to arrest “high-value” terrorists who were given sanctuary by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Mamasapano, an area controlled by the MILF, in Maguindanao.

As head of state, who is deemed Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippine Republic, Mr. Aquino faces broad public clamor to take responsibility for the fiasco. He has been washing his hands of responsibility for the bloody outcome of the antiterrorist police action.

In political terms, the violent encounter in Mamasapano has pushed a three-month peace process on the comprehensive peace agreement between the government and the MILF, the main secessionist rebel group, on the verge of collapse as the Philippine Congress has now suspended legislative hearings on the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law implementing the peace agreement.

The massacre has presented the Aquino administration its gravest crisis of confidence on its competence in running a democratic republic threatened by dismemberment stemming from the secessionist challenge of the Bangsamoro insurgency.

2 central issues

The BOI report highlights two central issues: First, the command responsibility of the President; and, second, it pours most of the blame for the massacre on Napeñas in the government’s apparent overkill action to cover up for its perceived lapses in preventing the slaughter of the commandos in Mamasapano.

It has found that Mr. Aquino violated the PNP chain of command when he allowed his close friend, suspended PNP Director General Alan Purisima, who subsequently resigned, to direct Oplan Exodus.

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Conclusions

The conclusions of the BOI included:

The President gave the go-ahead and allowed the execution of Oplan Exodus, after the concept of the operations was presented to him by Napeñas.

The President allowed the participation of Purisima in the planning and execution of Oplan Exodus despite the suspension order of the Ombudsman.

The President exercised his prerogative to deal directly with Napeñas instead of the PNP officer in charge, Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina.

While the President has the prerogative to deal directly with any of his subordinates, the act of dealing with Napeñas instead of Espina bypassed the established PNP chain of command.

Under the Manual for PNP Fundamental Doctrine, the chain of command runs upward and downward. The manual requires the commander to discharge his responsibilities through a chain of command.

Violations

Purisima violated the preventive suspension order issued by the Ombudsman when he participated in the planning and execution of Oplan Exodus.

He also violated the special order of Dec. 16, 2014, issued by Espina, directing him and other suspended PNP officers to “cease and desist from performing the duties and functions of their respective offices during the pendency of the case until its termination.”

In the same meeting where the President instructed Napeñas and Purisima to coordinate with the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Purisima said to Napeñas, “Ako na ang bahala kay (I will take care of) Catapang,” referring to Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr., AFP chief of staff.

The PNP Ethical Doctrine Manual cites, “Word of Honor—PNP members … word is their bond. They stand by it and commit to it.”

The statement of Purisima may be construed as an assurance of providing the coordination instructed by the President.

Inaccurate info

Purisima provided inaccurate information to the President about the actual situation on the ground when he sent text messages to the President stating that SAF commandos were pulling out, and that they were supported by mechanized and artillery elements.

Despite his knowledge of the suspension order issued by the Ombudsman on Purisima, Napeñas followed the instructions of Purisima not to inform Espina and Interior Secretary Mar Roxas about Oplan Exodus. This violated the PNP chain of command.

Napeñas failed to effectively supervise, control and direct personnel, which resulted in heavy casualties of SAF commandos. Under the Manual on Fundamental Doctrines, command responsibility means that a commander is responsible for effectively supervising, controlling and directing his personnel. Under the same doctrine, a commander is responsible for what his unit does or fails to do.

Napeñas followed his time-on-target (TOT) coordination concept despite the directive of the President to coordinate with the AFP prior to the operation.

The TOT coordination adopted by the SAF does not conform to the established and acceptable PNP concepts and protocols.

The protocols of the established peace process mechanism, through the Coordination Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) and the Ad hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG), were not observed during the planning and execution of Oplan Exodus.

Defective planning

The mission planning of Oplan Exodus was defective due to: poor analysis of the area of operation; unrealistic assumptions; poor intelligence estimate; absence of abort criteria; lack of flexibility of the concept of operations; inappropriate application of the TOT; and absence of prior coordination with the AFP AHJAG.

Napeñas “way-in/way-out by foot, and night-only strategy was high risk.”

Artillery support (for the SAF mission) from the 6th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army was not delivered when needed because Maj. Gen. Edmundo Pangilinan, division commander of 6th Infantry Division, “considered the ongoing peace process and protocols in the use of artillery.”

The lack of situational awareness, limited cover and concealment, ineffective communication and sustained enemy fire prevented the 1st Special Action Battalion (SAB) and 4th SAB containment forces from reinforcing the beleaguered 55th Special Action Company.

Finally, to sum up the flaws of the operation, the BOI report said: “There was a breakdown of command and control at all levels due to ineffective and unreliable communication among and between the operating units.”

While the BOI inquiry was harsh in blaming Napeñas, the lowest officer in the hierarchical pecking order of the PNP, it allowed the President, at the apex of command responsibility pyramid, to go unscathed in this vast cover-up of players on the summit of the power structure.

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TAGS: Benigno Aquino III, board of inquiry, BOI, BOI probe, BOI report, Getulio Napeñas, mamasapano clash, Oplan Exodus, PNP report, Police, SAF, Special Action Force
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