On January 25, 2015, the Special Action Force (SAF) of the Philippine National Police (PNP) launched an operation in Mamasapano, Maguindanao in Mindanao called "Exodus" to arrest or kill Zulkifli ben Hir or alyas Marwan a well-known international terrorist who was involved in the Bali bombing where many tourists were killed. Another target of the operation is Basit Usman, a local terrorist and said to be an accomplice of Marwan. Reports say that around 4:00 A.M., the SAF troopers swooped down on the house where Marwan was last seen. The SAF troopers said that Marwan was awakened by the blast of booby traps set by him around the house and started firing on the raiding team who fired back and killed Marwan while Usman escaped. Proof of the death of Marwan is a photo showing him lifeless and bloodied with some missing fingers which the raiding team took for DNA analysis. Around past five in the morning, the SAF troopers were fired upon by armed men believed to be members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and private armed group operating in the area. At the same time, the blocking force of the SAF were also fired upon by armed groups
As early as 7:00 A.M. the soldiers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) were already in the highway of Mamasapano. Reports say that they tried to enter the encounter area but were fired upon by armed men and they were forced to retreat. The AFP said that they could not use their cannons because they do not know the exact coordinates of the SAF troopers who are fighting in the area. Later, the AFP Chief, Gen. Catapang said that they did not provide reinforcement to the SAF for fear of more casualties and could also result to an all out war that will destroy the peace agreement with the MILF and the government. It was already late in the afternoon when mediators for the cessation of hostilities finally succeeded in stopping the fire fight. The surviving SAF troops where extracted by the AFP. The following morning, the PNP and AFP returned to the encounter area to retrieve the bodies of 44 SAF troopers who died in the encounter. The SAF is an elite group of the PNP and their training is extensive and difficult, then why such a big casualty? Reports say that the area is called "the box" because it is surrounded by different armed groups who are mostly blood relatives. The area is a killing zone for the SAF soldiers and this was aggravated by their lack of familiarity of the terrain.
The Mamasapano incident has created ripples of shock all over the country. The SAF Chief Director Getulio Napenas, was immediatedly sacked by President Aquino who made a press release saying that he knows about the operation but was not informed when it will be executed. He declared the 44 SAF men who died as heroes and said that the killing of Marwan is a priority to prevent more bombings that kill innocent people. It was also reported that the suspended PNP Chief Gen. Allan Purisima was also involved in the planning and giving of information regarding the operation whose success will give Purisima a chance to go back to his position. Initial findings indicated that Dir. Napenas did not coordinate with Pres. Aquino, DILG Sec. Mar Roxas and the AFP. The fallen soldiers were flown to the Villamor Air Base and many people were disappointed when Pres. Aquino was not able to welcome the dead soldiers because of his prior appointment with the blessing of the Mitsubishi plant in Laguna; but the next day he was able to attend the eulogy of the soldiers. The whole country is mourning the death of these 44 SAF troopers who were killed in action doing their duty to stop terrorism that affects the lives and livelihood of ordinary citizens in the country. In their effort to protect their countrymen, they have offered their life so that others will live peacefully.
Below are questions that could also be asked by ordinary citizens who want to know the truth about the Mamasapano incident where 44 loyal SAF soldiers died. We pray that their death be not in vain and justice will be given to these courageous fallen heroes:
On the part of the MILF/MNLF/BIFF:
Why is the MILF/BIFF/MNLF harboring terrorists like Marwan and Usman if they are sincere in the peace agreement?
Why were Marwan and Usman were not alerted when report was saying that as early as 10 P.M. there was already a SAF troop build-up in the area? MILF/BIFF/MNLF sympathizers or lookouts could easily have seen this troop build-up and could have sent runners to alert Marwan and Usman. At the same time the lookouts could have verified what type of troops are in the area and could have relayed this information to their commanders in the area for analysis and decision.
Could the MILF/BIFF/MNLF have a prior knowledge of the operation to kill Marwan and this involves the US regarding the reward money of $5.0 million?
Could Marwan be a victim of a set-up where after he (Marwan) is killed the US will give the MILF the reward money for providing information on the exact location of Marwan?
Did the death of the 44 SAF soldiers provide a "smoke screen" of the true nature of the operation to kill Marwan?
The MILF and the military have an on-going ceasefire agreement at that time. Most of the people in the area are blood relatives and could somehow act accordingly if told by their elders or superiors even if they belong to different armed groups. There could have been a hesitation on the part of the MILF or MNLF or BIFF to engage the SAF troops in a fire-fight for fear of jeopardizing the enactment of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).
Was the fire-fight started by a private armed group thereby confusing the MILF/MNLF/BIFF fighters who later on joined the fire-fight? If this is true, the motive of the persons who owned the private army is to sow confusion and create trouble between the MILF and military which could result to demoralization and blaming within the ranks that could also lead to political destabilization. A TV interview of a private individual who allegedly joined the fire-fight attests that a private army of an influential clan was also seen participating in the fire-fight.
On the part of the SAF/AFP:
Why was the arrest of Marwan and Usman timed during the processing of the BBL? There was a high risk of jeopardizing the enactment of the BBL which the Aquino government does not want to happen in order not to tarnish their image as peace advocate. Why did Dir. Napeñas did not wait for a little more time to give way for the passage of the BBL where the MILF could have surrendered their firearms and political situation in the area is already stable which can give way for peaceful negotiation for the surrender of Marwan and Usman?
Was Pres. Aquino really not informed or briefed by SAF Dir. Napeñas on the how, when and where of the "Operation Exodus" or the Mamasapano Marwan/Usman arrest considering that this is a very sensitive operation that could result to a critical situation. If this is true, who or what really influenced Dir. Napeñas to give the go signal assuming that he or they have calculated the risk?
What took so long for the SAF arresting team to reach the area of Marwan assuming that the start of the insertion or operation is at 10 P.M.? Reports say that the SAF troopers reached the house of Marwan at 4:00 A.M. There was a time difference of six hours. If it is true that the SAF troopers rode non-motorized boats to ensure a stealth movement, they could have reached their target much earlier, accomplished their task and retreated the same way as they came in. Time is of the essence and it is better to move in the cover of darkness.
If it is true that the SAF troopers were able to kill Marwan and detached one of his fingers for DNA analysis. It should be their number one priority to send back some of its men to the highway where 300 SAF troopers are waiting as soon as possible in the cover of darkness. Were the remaining SAF troopers in the target area acted as decoy to provide cover to the retreating SAF troops safeguarding Marwan's finger? Why did the blocking force did not retreat as one of their comrades was able to escape alive. They could have avoided being sitting ducks to their enemies. Could there be a notion among the engaging SAF troopers that a reinforcement from the military will prevent further escalation of hostilities and they will be saved on time?
What took so long to contact the members or mediators for the cessation of hostilities if as early as 7:00 a.m. the AFP is already in the area?
Reports say that the AFP was already in the area as early as 7 A.M. and also with Dir. Napeñas. Why did the AFP did not ask for the exact coordinates of Marwan's house which is near where the fire-fight happened. The AFP said that they don't know the exact place of the fire-fight and that's why they could not provide reinforcement to the beleaguered SAF troops fighting in the area. The SAF troops have a sattelite phone, why did they fail to provide the AFP with their bearings?
If it is true that Dir. Napeñas decided and acted on his own and did not coordinate with Pres. Aquino, Gen. Catapang and Espina and DILG Mar Roxas for secrecy to ensure the security and success of the operation, then why send almost 400 SAF troopers in Mamasapano where they are highly visible and could easily alert their target? Commandos usually penetrate an area secretly and unnoticeable as much as possible.
Even if it is true that there was no coordination between the SAF and the AFP, there could have been an Intel information by the AFP because of the mass movement of SAF troopers a day before mobilization and the AFP could have inquired on this matter from Dir. Napeñas. Senior security officers would have known about this movement and could have decided whether to halt or give a go signal to the operation.
What was the knowledge of the senior security officers of the Philippine government/military on who will get the reward money after Marwan is killed?
On the part of the US Government:
Reports say that it was the US Government who provided the location of Marwan and Usman by flying surveilance drone. If this is true, why did the US military did not bomb or strafe the house where Marwan is sleeping considering that he (Marwan) is a well known international terrorist like Bin Laden?
Being a serious security matter, the US Government could have coordinated with Pres. Aquino and the generals of the military for consultation on how to arrest or kill Marwan and Usman?
Who are the rightful person(s)/entity that is legible to take the $5.0 M reward? Is it some members of the MILF or the whole of MILF or part will go to the Philippine military or the whole Philippine government?
Were there any American military personnel who joined in the Mamasapano Marwan raid? Were these American personnel possibly got wounded or killed in the gun battle but covertly carried out of the battlefield?
A lesson learned from the Mamasapano Incident is the significance of coordination in the line of command and other support government agencies like the AFP and the PAF to prevent the loss of many lives including civilians. Simply it is not logical and it is stupid to risk the lives of your men only to kill one international terrorist considering negative factors in the terrain, timing and social complexity of the operation. Unless there is something more compelling and top secret that drove the PNP to go ahead with the mission. Why push through with a land operation if a quick air attack aided by GPS on the target will produce better result with less cost? Maybe the question on how to verify if it is really Marwan who is killed in the air attack arises; but it is better to conduct verification when the MILF/BIFF is fully aware that the NBI/FBI/PNP will enter the area where Marwan was killed to gather samples for DNA analysis. If an untoward incident happens while the verification is taking place, then this will warrant the government forces to take action without being accused of breaking the cease fire agreement.
Regarding the BBL, the Aquino Administration has done its part to maintain peace and give chance for the passage of the BBL. It is clear that there are administrative lapses in the execution of "Operation Exodus" and it will not take long for those responsible for this blunder to be identified and penalized. The ball now is in the hands of the MILF. For the BBL to push through, the MILF should be able to show their sincerity and competence in complying with the requests of the Philippine Government regarding the Mamasapano Incident. The MILF should be able to: return the fire arms of the 44 fallen SAF troopers; identify, prosecute and bring to justice their soldiers who mercilessly killed the SAF troopers; help in the effort to arrest or kill Basit Usman; and, neutralize the insurgent activities of the BIFF and other insurgent groups operating in their area. These should be done by the MILF as a gesture of reciprocity and to ensure that previous mistakes in the past will not be repeated again before finally passing the BBL into a law.