Duterte claims U.S. role in Mamasapano tragedy

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – President Rodrigo Duterte blasted his predecessor, former president Benigno Aquino III, for covering up details about the Mamasapano clash, including US involvement in the ill-fated operation.

"It was an American adventure with the cooperation of some and apparently with your blessing...You fed [SAF troopers] to the lion's den," said Duterte on Tuesday, January 24, in front of family members of fallen Special Action Force (SAF) troopers.

He was speaking a day before the 2nd anniversary of the Mamasapano clash, which left more than 60 Filipinos dead, including 44 SAF troopers.

"Why was it under wraps and why did you hide that actually it was an operation of the CIA [Central Intelligence Agency]? Far from the highway, the chopper was there and you had to delude the nation after Marwan's finger was cut?" said an angry Duterte in a mix of English and Filipino.

Senate investigations had previously revealed the presence of US soldiers during the operation but most Philippine officials kept mum about US involvement.

There were even reports that Aquino had instructed former interior secretary Manuel Roxas II to keep secret the extent of US participation in the operation.

Duterte also claimed it was peace negotiator Teresita Deles who asked Aquino to call off military support for the SAF to ensure no government violation of its agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), with whom the government was pursuing peace talks.

"Ikaw 'yung peace negotiator and para sa akin ikaw 'yung nagpigil kay PNoy [at nagsabi] na huwag kasi war will break out, by then you would have violated – kaya pinigilan ninyo 'yung air assets," said Duterte.

(You were the peace negotiator and for me you were the one who stopped PNoy [and told him] not to send military support because war will break out, by then you would have violated – that's why you blocked air assets.)

Duterte then admitted that he had personal knowledge of the deadly operation because he was present at the command conference with Aquino and Roxas in Zamboanga City, right after the massacre.

Duterte said he was in the area to campaign when Aquino called for him. He heard Aquino ask a military general for advice on what to do about the situation, which he said irritated him.

"Patay na tapos nagtanong ka pa sa isang general ano ang dapat gawin? (They were dead and you asked a general what should be done?) I was really sorry to say and you can criticize me for this, I was really pissed off...Patay na lahat, mabaho na nga eh, tapos sabihin mo, ano ang dapat gawin? (They were all dead, smelly, and then after you ask, what should be done?)" said Duterte.

He ended his tirade about the Mamasapano tragedy by asking PNP chief Director-General Ronald Dela Rosa to see if the 44 slain SAF troopers should be awarded medals of valor and to create a commission to reinvestigate the operation. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.

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