Espina turns emotional over SAF 44 'overkill'

MANILA, Philippines – Police Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina could barely fight back tears before a House panel on Wednesday, February 11, as he continued to question the “overkill” of 44 policemen during a botched extraction operation in Mamasapano town, Maguindanao.

Ako, hindi ako makatulog kagabi noong nalaman ko ang medico-legal report. [Senior Inspectors] Tayrus [and] Pabalinas did not suffer any lethal shots. Tinamaan lang sila sa paa,” said Espina, Officer-in-Charge of the 150,000-strong Philippine National Police (PNP).

(I didn't sleep last night when I learned about the medico-legal report. [Senior Inspectors] Tayrus [and] Pabalinas did not suffer any lethal shots. They just got shot on the foot.)

Espina made the same call when he faced the Senate on Monday, February 9. But then, Espina had yet to receive the full medico-legal reports of the slain 44 PNP Special Action Force troopers.

Paanong namatay yan? 'Yung isa binaril sa ulo, buhay na buhay pa 'yung tao. 'Yung isa hinubaran 'nyo ng bullet proof niya (So how did they die? One of them was shot in the head when he was still very much alive. You took off the bullet proof vest of the other one),” said Espina, addressing the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Espina, who is on his third straight day of facing legislative inquiries into the bloody Mamasapano encounter, again countered the MILF’s claim that what they had done was an act of “self-defense” since the rebel fighters knew they were SAF members .

Kahit anong violation pa 'yan. Kahit sinabi nating walang coordination, kahit sinabi nating sinong unang nagpaputok. Kausap 'yan sa peace talks. Bakit ninyo ginawa 'yun?” added Espina.

(It doesn’t matter what sort of protocol violation happened. Even if we say there was no coordination, even if we say who fired the first shot. We're engaged in peace talks. Why would you do that?)

Close to 400 SAF troopers were deployed to Mamasapano on January 25 to execute “Oplan Exodus,” a plan that targeted Jemaah Islamiyah member Zulkifli bin Hir, better known as “Marwan," and Abdul Basit Usman.

Elite police troopers were able to kill Marwan but the two companies in the thick of the area were trapped by fighters of the MILF and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

Thirty-five of the 36 members of the SAF’s 55th Special Action Company and 9 from the US-trained 84th Seaborne Company never got out of Mamasapano alive.

Peace with justice

The police general emphasized that the PNP is “all for peace” but demanded answers for the 44 slain.

“When we face each other in heaven, I can tell them what happened. My men, I tell you, buhay na buhay 'yan. Hindi 'nyo man lang pinauwi para makasama ang kanilang mga anak. Dapat fair play lang po lahat. That’s what I want, that’s what I request: fairness and justice for my men,” said Espina, who was applauded by those present at the hearing.

(When we face each other in heaven, I can tell them what happened. My men, I tell you, were still very much alive. You didn't even let them go home to be with their children. It should be fair play for all. That's what I want, that's what I request: fairness and justice for my men.)

Police Director Getulio Napeñas, relieved commander of the PNP SAF, was also later seen in tears. Napeñas approached Espina and the two officers shared a quick hug.

Espina was kept out of the loop in the high-level police operation which was commanded by Napeñas. In contrast, resigned PNP chief Director General Alan Purisima was in the loop, despite serving a suspension order. – Rappler.com