TEXT exchanges between President Benigno Aquino III and then-Philippine National Police (PNP) Director General Alan Purisima on January 25 showed that the Chief Executive expected the armed forces to assist the Special Action Force (SAF) should they get into trouble during the Mamasapano mission.
That #39;s why President Aquino was somewhat bewildered when he was informed by Purisima via text at 7:48 a.m. that morning that the 160-strong PNP-SAF contingent had to retreat after encountering opposition from just “15 to 20 armed elements” in the Maguindanao town.
“If I remember correctly, 160 SAF troopers were directly involved in this operation plus provisions for other PNP and AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) to assist. The terrain is flat and clear as opposed to upland forested or jungle terrain. Why could they not contain and/or overwhelm the 15-20 opposing force?” read Aqunio’s reply 11 minutes later.
“They are presently in contact with reinforcing elements from the BIFF (Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters). The containment force are the ones in contact right now,” Purisima answered, referring to the SAF members.
The suspended PNP chief then somewhat reassured President Aquino by saying, “They (SAF) are supported by mechanized and artillery support (from the AFP) sir.”
Purisima #39;s message, which he said was based on information passed to him by AFP Western Mindanao Command head Lt. Gen. Rustico Guerrero, was sent to the Commander-in-chief at 8:17 a.m.
However Guerrero clarified before the Senate panel inquiry Monday that his message was only meant to inform Purisima of the units that were “made available” at that time. He said the assets, which included tanks, artillery and infantry, were yet to engage the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) or BIFF.
“Hindi ko po sinabi na pumuputok na. Ito lang available. Had I been informed earlier, I could have deployed air assets the day before,” Guerrero said, adding that there was no coordination from the PNP.
Worse, the opposing force that exchanged fire with the SAF commandos later turned out to be much larger than 15 to 20 individuals. Mamasapano is an MILF base camp.
Maj. Gen. Edmundo Pangilinan, the one ordered by Guerrero to respond, admitted during the hearing that the swamps and marshes in the area prevented the tank from advancing and ultimately, providing any help to the SAF.
Guerrero only learned of the Mamasapano operation from PNP acting chief Deputy Director Leonardo Espina at past 6:04 a.m. when the SAF troops were already in a pinch. (Randy K. Ortega)