Police BOI report confirms US role in ‘Oplan Exodus’
MANILA, Philippines–Six “American nationals” were at the command center of the Special Act ion Force (SAF) in Shariff Aguak town, Maguindanao province, hours before members of the elite police counterterrorism unit swooped down on the lair of wanted Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias “Marwan,” in nearby Mamasapano town on Jan. 25.
Direct involvement of US forces in the SAF operation is among the findings of a Philippine National Police board of inquiry (BOI) that investigated the mission that cost the lives of 44 elite police commandos.
The Department of Foreign Affairs has said that it checked reports of US involvement in the SAF operation with the US Embassy in Manila and that the embassy denied the United States had participation in the mission.
The board of inquiry submitted its report to Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina, PNP officer in charge, on Thursday.
The board also concluded that resigned PNP Director General Alan Purisima had “no authority” in involving himself in the implementation of “Oplan Exodus,” the SAF operation that killed Marwan but ended in a gun battle between the police commandos and guerrillas from the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
Besides the 44 SAF commandos, 18 MILF guerrillas and five civilians were also killed in the gun battle.
The board of inquiry report said Purisima, one of President Aquino’s closest friends in the government, had no authority since he was already serving the six-month suspension imposed on him by the Office of the Ombudsman when Oplan Exodus was discussed with the President in January.
Quoting the sworn statement of Director Getulio Napeñas, the sacked SAF commander, the board said the PNP’s “US counterparts had been providing reliable information” about Marwan and his Filipino lieutenant, Basit Usman.
Napeñas said the information given by the US authorities “were considered in covert operations against the high-value targets.”
“This technical intelligence support also facilitated the formulation and execution of the Oplan Exodus,” the report said.
The report said the information about the presence of the Americans at the SAF command post was provided by Supt. Michael John Mangahis, a senior SAF official who was also involved in the daring police mission.
Left index finger
“Mangahis revealed that six American nationals were at the TCP (tactical command post) in Shariff Aguak starting on the eve of the operations to provide real-time information to the SAF troops,” it said.
“Toward the retrieval operations, US forces also helped in the medical evacuation of the besieged and wounded SAF commandos. Mangahis maintained that the ‘pilots of the helicopter who helped in evacuating wounded personnel to the hospital’ were among the identified American nationals at the TCP,” it added.
Napeñas also told the board that he handed Marwan’s left index finger, which the SAF troopers cut off for DNA samples, to two officials of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in General Santos City three days after the disastrous police operation.
Earlier reports said the SAF commandos cut off Marwan’s right index finger for DNA testing.
“The pictures of Marwan, taken by the (84th Special Action Company) Seaborne immediately after he was killed, were also turned over to the FBI as well as the DILG (Department of the Interior and Local Government) and the PNP as part of the evidence,” the report said.
The 120-page report noted that Purisima “did not possess any authority and responsibility to perform the functions of his former position and office” when he and Napeñas briefed Aquino about Oplan Exodus in Malacañang on Jan. 9.
The report said Purisima, who was suspended by the Ombudsman over graft charges involving an irregular contract for the delivery of gun licenses, was “not part of the chain of command.”
Chain of command broken
“The chain of command was broken as regard to (Purisima), who could not act with authority by reason of his suspension. Therefore, his orders and directives in whatever form did not produce any legal effects as far as Oplan Exodus was concerned,” it said.
The report said Napeñas “took orders and heeded the advice of (Purisima) in executing Oplan Exodus” and owned “full responsibility and liability” for following Purisima’s instructions.
It stressed that Purisima’s authority as chief of the 150,000-strong police force “ceased to exist on the day his suspension was served” as noted by Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago during a Senate hearing.
The report said Purisima set up a “de facto chain of command” when he “communicated and reported directly” to the President and gave orders to Napeñas despite his suspension from office.
“There are indications that (Purisima) was not merely acting in an advisory capacity. For instance, he expressly assumed responsibility for certain aspects of Oplan Exodus such as when he assumed that AFP support would be provided,” the report said.
“Even if Purisima was suspended, his actions indicate that he was asserting and exercising command responsibility in relation to Oplan Exodus,” it added.
The board of inquiry also slammed the resigned PNP chief for giving “inaccurate and ambiguous information from unreliable sources” during the “crucial stage of the crisis.”
The board’s report said the wrong information fed by Purisima “resulted in the eventual erroneous decisions.”
It said Purisima’s “lackadaisical stance” was evident when he sent a text message to Lt. Gen. Rustico Guerrero, commander of the AFP Western Mindanao Command, at 7:07 a.m. of Jan. 25.
The message read: “Baka puede artillery support sa AFP (We request artillery support from the AFP).”
The report said Purisima’s message “does not connote a sense of urgency as its seemingly gave Guerrero a choice to either send support artillery to the battle zone or not.”
“Prudence would have required (Purisima) to take a quick action and give clear, decisive instructions. However, the suspended CPNP (Chief PNP) failed to do the same,” it said.
“Furthermore, the exchanges of text messages between the suspended CPNP Purisima and President Aquino reveal that the former provided inaccurate information,” it said.
Director Benjamin Magalong, head of the board and chief of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG), described the seven-volume report on the investigation as a “very exhaustive undertaking and endeavor.”
A smiling Magalong met reporters moments before he and the two members of the board—Chief Supt. John Sosito and Director Catalino Rodriguez—handed the report to Espina at the PNP headquarters in Camp Crame, Quezon City.
The three police officials signed each page of the spiral-bound report titled “Board of Inquiry: The Mamasapano Report.”
“It’s probably the most challenging investigation I have ever done,” Magalong told reporters.
Asked if the President’s speech on Monday blaming Napeñas for the Mamasapano debacle influenced the outcome of the investigation, Magalong replied, “We did not give attention to it.”