PRESIDENT Benigno Aquino III knew everything about “Oplan Exodus” from beginning to end, and he was updated by suspended Police Chief Alan Purisima on the final operation of the PNP-Special Action Force that claimed the lives of 44 police commandos during a clash with Moro rebels in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, on Jan. 25 this year, an official said Monday.
Testifying before the first Senate investigation of the Mamasapano incident, Supt. Getulio Napeñas said he, Purisima and PNP Intelligence Group Director Fernando Mendez went to Malacanang and met the President on Jan. 9, a few days before the ill-fated police operation.
Napenas was immediately relieved as head of the PNP-SAF following the death of his men during the final police operation against the terrorist Marwan.
Napenas made his statement even as Malacañang said Monday it was not the intention of President Aquino to preempt the Board of Inquiry probe on the Mamasapano clash when he blamed sacked Special Action Force director Getulio Napeñas for the botched operation that left 44 elite police commandos dead.
Communications Secretary Sonny Coloma said the observations that the President exonerated Purisima over the incident were unfounded.
“The President did not absolve anybody. Neither is he preempting the BOI,” Coloma said.
“The President merely shared with the public the important information he has gathered. And like other leaders and the rest of the country, the President wants to get to the bottom of the incident and uncover the truth to give justice to the heroic acts of the SAF 44.”
Aquino delivered his first national address on the Mamasapano clash on Jan. 28 or three days after the carnage.
Days after his speech, Coloma said the President would refrain from discussing operational details so as not to be accused of exerting undue influence on the BOI probe.
“If the President speaks now, some people might accuse him of exerting undue influence on those who will be asked to give their testimonies. This is why the President is waiting for the complete testimonies and at the right time, as appropriate, he will express his position on these matters,” Coloma said on Feb. 3.
But on Friday, Feb. 6, the President delivered his second national address where he blamed Napeñas for the “ill-planned” operation.
Meanwhile, the Commission on Human Rights on Monday said there were no personal or political considerations in its probe of the Mamasapano incident.
Group Chairwoman Loretta Ann Rosales said their investigation was “simply a fulfillment” of the commission’s constitutional duty to investigate all forms of human rights violations.
“I assure everyone that there are no political or personal considerations behind this decision,” Rosales said.
Napeñas said that during the meeting in Malacañang they updated Aquino on their mission to get terrorists Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan and Abdul Basit Usman and gave him a new concept of the operations. `
He said that for the past four years, they had received several intelligence reports that Marwan was hiding in Mindanao under the protection of the Abu Sayyaf Group, the MILF and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters. While hiding, he continued to be involved in terrorist bombings and in training up to 300 terrorists on making and using explosives.
“We named this operation Oplan Exodus. Unfortunately, and with a heavy heart, I am very sorry to say that not all of our men who took part in Oplan Exodus made it back alive.”
Under Oplan Exodus, Napeñas said, coordination with the AFP would be time-on-target in order to avoid another compromise.
“Of course, many of you will ask: What could be the reason why the operations will be compromised?” said Napeñas who belied the claim of retired P/Chief Supt. Rodolfo Mendoza that he was Purisima’s underling.
He said the main reason was that information and preparations were leaked whenever major operations against high-value targets were conducted. Based on their experience, he said, their subjects were being cuddled by the MILF whose members had many contacts in the AFP and PNP. As a result, he cited the need for security and secrecy.
Napeñas specifically mentioned the botched operations to get Marwan and Usman as “Oplan Terminator” launched on Nov. 29, 2014 and Oplan Terminator 2” launched using tactical boats last December.
However, Oplan Terminator 2 was called off after the assault force was engaged by a lawless group along the river about 3 kilometers going to the target in Barangay Tukalanipao in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.
Napeñas recalled that after updating the President on Oplan Exodus, he went out with Mendez while Purisima was left behind.
He said Purisima then followed him and told him: “Huwag mo munang sabihan yung dalawa. Saka na pag nandun na. Ako na ang bahala kay General Catapang.”
Napeñas said Purisima was referring to Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II, who has direct supervision over the PNP, and PNP Officer-in-charge Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina.
Catapang is AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Gregorio Catapang.
Roxas, Espina and Catapang were never informed about the Jan. 25 operation until after the troopers had already entered the area, which was a known bailiwick of the MILF and the BIFF.
Senator Teofisto Guingona, chairman of the Senate Sommittee on Peace, Unification and Reconciliation, quizzed Purisima on what he was thinking when he ordered Napeñas not to discuss the operation with Roxas and Catapang because, “in effect, you ordered him not to follow the chain of command because the immediate superior of General Napeñas is General Espina.”
Purisima said that during his preventive suspension, he did not give any orders to any PNP official or personnel regarding “Oplan Exodus.”
“But if ever I uttered words to that effect, it was in the form of advice, not as a directive or order. This may also be in support of their plan that they will inform everyone time-on-target,” Purisima said.
Said Guingona: “But we know from the narration it would seem that he was really taking instructions from you, certainly not from General Espina. And if he was receiving instructions, then you were giving orders. And if you were saying it was a suggestion, come on, let’s not play with words here.”
“Your honor, I just gave advice,” insisted Purisima, to which Guingona blurted out: “Advice!”
Purisima said that when Napeñas informed him about the operation, the troops had already jumped off.
“You mean, you also didn’t know about it?” Guingona said.
“I did not know that the PNP-SAF jumped off already,” Purisima said.
“You did not know. So who knew? Napeñas by himself?” Guingona said.
Napeñas told the senators that on Jan. 19 at 6:31 pm, he received a text message from Purisima saying “Leo, what is your plan? “
“I responded: Sir, Good pm. The plan is for the operation to go with the time line which is January 23-26. The troops will move from Zamboanga to Central Mindanao on January 21-22, 2015 while intelligence will closely monitor the situation en route to the entry. There is no problem in the target area as the moment. Preparations continue so the troops are ready once the situation in the entry route is good.”
When Guingona asked who ordered him to go into the operation on the said day, Napeñas admitted there was no direct order for him to go, but he based his decision to go on the text message he sent to Purisima. He also talked about the SAF’s continuing operation against Marwan, which was approved on Nov. 29, 2014, by Purisima when he was still PNP chief.
Purisima confirmed he did not give any orders to Napeñas or the PNP-SAF to go ahead with the operation on that fateful day.
When Guingona again pressed him for the reason for not telling Napeñas not to inform Espina and Roxas, Purisima mentioned the SAF’s plan to inform everfybody time-on-target. “And I’m just following their plan,” he said.
Said Napeñas: “I believe it is clear that contrary to the unverified reports, the PNP-SAF did its best in the preparations and in the planning of our operations against Marwan and Usman.”
He said the ideal was zero casualties, but that was difficult to achieve when the subject of an operation were high-value targets. With Joyce Pangco Pañares and Rio N. Araja
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