EXACTLY a year ago today, President Benigno Aquino III conspired with the military and ordered the Army to stand down while the 44 Special Action Force commandos were being slaughtered in the fields of Mamasapano in Maguindanao, a police general who spoke on condition of anonymity said Sunday.
The order to stand down was issued so as not to jeopardize the immediate passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law, the President’s pet peace bill, the lynchpin in the government’s peace agreement with the secessionist Moro Islamic Liberation Front, said the police general who was privy to the investigation conducted by the police Board of Inquiry.
But this important piece of information was allegedly suppressed by the Palace and by then Interior and Local Governments Secretary Manuel Roxas II, President Aquino’s anointed standard bearer of the ruling Liberal Party, the police general told The Standard.
“You would never see in the BoI official report that the President had issued the stand down order. In fact, despite the sparing of the President and the Armed Forces generals from being held directly liable for the crucial stand down order, which was a huge mistake that cost the lives of 44 elite forces, the Board was pressured by the powers-that-be to change its report. The Board did not budge. The report was toned down as it was already,” the police general said.
“The defiance had cost BoI chief Police Director Benjamin Magalong the PNP chief post even if he was the top contender,” the police general said.
Earlier, former SAF chief police director Getulio Napeñas said there was a “grand design” to put all the blame on the SAF for the death of the 44 commandos.
“The truth was already suppressed since Day One,” said the police general.
He said Roxas, who created the BoI, refused to grant the body, then headed by Magalong, the subpoena powers that the board needed to ferret out the truth.
“Without the subpoena powers, Magalong’s group had failed to compel the military generals to submit their cellular phones for forensic examination,” the general said.
However, he said, the field investigators of the BoI had gathered that the stand down order was issued to and received by Maj. Gen. Edmundo Pangilinan, commander of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division.
“The field investigators had gathered that despite the repeated pleas to send artillery support, not one was fired, not one helicopter was sent or not one airplane took off to send cover so that the men in the field could have retreated to safety,” the police general said.
“The President micro-managed the Mamasapano operations. He was in Zamboanga City to see to the success of the operations and was promptly updated and when something went wrong, he was made fully aware that the SAF commandos were being massacred,” said the police general, who was the same source that told The Standard the President assigned the Mamasapano operations to then suspended PNP chief Director General Alan Purisima.
At the time, Purisima was suspended by the Ombudsman for graft charges.
Four days after the massacre, the President broke his silence in an address to the nation to explain the role of Purisima.
Napeñas affirmed the police general’s assertion and said: “We exhausted all avenues to seek the President’s and the generals’ help. Even before the first shot by my men was fired, after they realized they were fatally surrounded by enemies, we already sought the help of the AFP from morning, mid-morning, noon, mid-noon until late afternoon.”
“We begged for our men’s lives but to no avail,” Napeñas said. “And now we’ve lost 44 of those brave men. We seek justice for all of them.”
Napeñas said the President was given “mission updates” since last year and the latest update given to him was Jan. 9 at Bahay Pangarap, the President’s official residence.
He said Purisima also informed the President that the SAF would jump off at dawn of Jan. 25.
“The President was fully aware the SAF commandos would enter the MILF territory and my men knew the chief executive and commander-in-chief was informed of the operations. With that thought, my men were expecting help when they got there but no help came,” said Napeñas, in a separate interview.
“I should know. I was the one who briefed the President,” Napeñas said. “We only asked for basic leadership. My men were denied that. They all thought they had his back.”
Napeñas challenged the Senate, which moved to reopen the Mamasapano probe on Wednesday, to summon Pangilinan and all the AFP generals to shed light on the President’s stand down order.
Napeñas also said the Senate should review the testimony made by then AFP chief of staff General Gregorio Catapang Jr. when he said on the first day of the Senate inquiry that the military’s inaction to the series of requests for a rescue operation was to not jeopardize the peace process.
“After that testimony, General Catapang was already quiet about the peace process issue and it was Pangilinan who was made to justify the inaction, citing coordination [and] protocol as excuses in the second, third and fourth Senate hearings,” Napeñas said.
“Pangilinan should be made to explain to the public why for so many hours, he refused to send help. It was Lt. Gen. Rustico Guerrero, chief of AFP Western Mindanao Command, who intervened and sent help late afternoon or early evening after a day-long battle. The help came a little too late. The brave men who waited for rescue were already dead,” Napeñas said.
The Palace said Sunday if there were a cover-up in the Mamasapano massacre as former PNP chief Diosdado Valeroso said, he should present the evidence before the Senate investigation this week.
“In our opinion, the Senate would be the best forum to file testimony or evidence that could help out in presenting the truth regarding what happened in Mamasapano,” said Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr., in an interview over state-run radio dzRB.
“It would be best to wait for the start of the hearings in the Senate,” Coloma also said.
Veleroso, a retired police official on Saturday, said he has in his possession a digital audio recording of a conversation between a ranking government official and a lawmaker about the Mamasapano encounter.
Valeroso said during a press conference in Quezon City that he received a copy of the audio recording last Tuesday, Jan. 19.
Valeroso said that the alleged conversation took place “a day or two” after 44 members of the Special Action Force were killed in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.
He said it appears that the two persons in the audio recording were talking about an attempt to cover up the Mamasapano incident to avoid its possible effect on the passage of the BBL in Congress.
Valeroso declined to name the two persons in the audio recording. He added that it seemed the two in the audio recording were having a face-to-face conversation.
The retired police official also declined to name the source of the audio recording. He said he received it via e-mail.
Valeroso said he will submit the audio recording to the Senate committee on public order and dangerous drugs, chaired by Senator Grace Poe, which is set to reopen its Mamasapano probe on Jan. 27.
The retired police official said they have refused the request of the SAF 44’s relatives to listen to the audio recording, saying it still has to be verified by technical experts.
The Mamasapano probe is being reopened upon the request of Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile.
Enrile had said that he has proof that President Aquino “actively and directly involved himself in the planning and preparation of Oplan Exodus.”
Several former and incumbent members of Aquino’s Cabinet, including former Interior Secretary Mar Roxas and Executive Secretary Pacquito Ochoa, have been invited to the inquiry.
Former Philippine National Police chief Alan Purisima and former PNP officer-in-charge Leonardo Espina have also been invited to attend the hearing. With Sandy Araneta
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