Oplan Exodus: Napeñas gave Army late alert

MANILA, Philippines – The alert to the Army about Oplan Exodus, the Special Action Force (SAF) operation that targeted top terrorists on January 25, came later than previously claimed.

In a briefing at the headquarters of the Army 6th Infantry Division (ID) the day after the bloody clash in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, SAF chief Police Director Getulio Napeñas said he tried coordinating with adjacent forces as early as between 3 or 4 in the morning of January 25. Further probing, however, showed the alert came much later, making it difficult for the Army to mobilize and send reinforcement to assist the SAF. (READ: TIMELINE: Mamasapano clash)

During the briefing, Napeñas told Local Governments Secretary Mar Roxas he sent a text message to Major General Edmundo Pangilinan, commander of the 6th ID of the Philippine Army, informing him they were conducting a special operation against high-value targets in his area. He was referring to bomb-makers Zulkifli bin Hir, better known as Marwan, and Abdul Basit Usman.

A video on GMA News also showed the Local Governments Secretary visibly trying to conceal his irritation about being kept in the dark about the operation. (Parts of the transcript of the exchange based on the GMA video is published below.)

The video corroborated what has been said in the Senate hearings about Oplan Exodus: that although he was suspended at the time of the operation due to graft charges, Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Alan Purisima was still very much in the loop and was himself updating the President.

Only 3 people knew about the highly confidential operation against terrorists targeted by the Special Action Force (SAF) on January 25: the President, Purisima, and the SAF commander himself.

“I am the SILG (Secretary of the Interior and Local Government), I have not heard of these previous attempts, or this last attempt (at coordination). This involves 400 men. So, who did you coordinate with?” Roxas rhetorically asked Napeñas.

Napeñas reasoned that “considering the sensitivity” of the intelligence packet they had and given the failed operations of the past, Opan Exodus had to be kept secret.

He recommended that the Army be informed "time on target."

Napeñas said, “In our task evaluation – in our task checklist, the coordination with 6th ID should be time on target, or when the groups are in the area.” 

In addition to Roxas, Pangilinan, and Napeñas, among those present in the January 26 briefing were Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Gregorio Catapang, PNP OIC Leonardo Espina and Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Governor Mujiv Hataman.

Here are excerpts of the briefing based on the GMA video and transcript:

Defense Secretary Gazmin: Before you jumped off, did you ever coordinate with the adjacent forces?

Napeñas: Not during jump off, sir. But when we reached this point, we did coordinate with the 6th ID (Infantry Division, Philippine Army). We tried to call him. Tried calling him.

Interior Secretary Roxas: What time? What time was that? You tried calling him?

Napeñas: Yes, sir. I called him, actually, sir. And sent him a text message. In the morning.

Roxas: What time was that? ....

Napeñas: ... That should be in between 3:00 to 4:00 in the morning, sir. That could be checked through the text message of General [Edmundo] Pangilinan if he saved that text message, sir.

Gazmin: What was the text of your message?

Napeñas: The text of the message was... I was informing him we are doing a special operation against high-value targets in his area.

Gazmin:  Three o'clock? Sabi mo? (You said?) Four? 

Napeñas: Yes, sir. Three to four. Something like that.

Gazmin: It says here, five. Your text message was received at 5:00 in the morning. 5:06 a.m.

N: Yes, sir. I'm sorry. I didn't really know the exact time when I sent the text message, sir, but I sent…

Gazmin: You were already... You had already started the operation?

Napeñas: Yes, sir.

Roxas: In fact, at 0500h, nandun na sila sa operation. (They were already there for the operation.)

Gazmin: That's not coordination. You call that coordination?

Napeñas: If I may say something, sir? The operations that we've been doing against… the subject. We started this one as early as 2013, sir. In... Sometime in March, February... or something like that in 2013, we did all the preparations for this operation in coordination with 6th ID, including JSOC (Joint Special Operations Command), sir. But then… we even had an executive session that it will be the PNP Special Action Force who will be carrying out the operation rather than the JSOC.

But then, while our troops were moving away, we were not given the mechanized brigade support, so we had to cancel the operation. We did another two attempts in coordination with the 6th ID, but then we did not get through. That's why considering the sensitivity of this packet, this time, in our task evaluation – in our task checklist, the coordination with 6th ID should be time on target, or when the groups are in the area.

Roxas: From the time of 2013 March, plus those other two attempts, did you report to whoever it was? Up the chain? To coordinate? In other words, if you felt that SAF was not receiving the support... I don't recall ever being called to a meeting with Sec Volts (Gazmin) or the President to talk about lack of support or…

Napeñas: Yes, sir. The first attempt, some time in February or March – but the record is there, sir. I gave a report to the Chief, PNP (P/Dir. Gen. Alan Purisima) and I believe, sir, it reached the higher echelon about the non-support of the mechanized brigade during that first attempt, sir, in 2013.

Roxas: What about the... presumably, assuming that that happened, there was never a briefing that was called to bring the various uniformed services together on this matte, so what about the other two attempts? 

Napeñas: It was also reported to the Chief, PNP is not something... not just the Chief, PNP... to the higher authorities.

Roxas: Did you talk to anybody higher than the Chief, PNP?

Napeñas: No, sir. No, sir.

Roxas: So, you only talked to the Chief, PNP.

Napeñas: Yes, sir.

Roxas: At the time. Who was?

Napeñas: General Purisima. 

Roxas: So in all these 3 attempts, your only conversation is with...

Napeñas: General Purisima.

Roxas: Now, for this last attempt, who did you coordinate with?

Napeñas: We were…

Roxas: I am the SILG, I have not heard of these previous attempts, or this last attempt. This involves 400 men. So, who did you coordinate with?

Napeñas: General Purisima, sir...

Roxas:  Who was already...

Napeñas: On leave, sir. Myself... S/Supt. Jojo Mendez, sir, and we briefed the president.

Roxas: And the guidance was?

Napeñas: The guidance was to study the initial oplan...

Roxas: Was the guidance to keep this from the Armed Forces? Was there a guidance to keep this from the heirarchy of the PNP? Was there a guidance to keep this to yourselves?

Napeñas: My recommendation when I was briefing the president, sir, was we will inform the AFP time on target, sir....

Roxas: So the IG... the intelligence was good because the target – assuming that, that's the target, the target was where the intelligence said that they would be. So it's only the execution now. Correct?

Napeñas: Yes, sir. The execution went smoothly from this point up to the neutralization of the target. It's in the extraction, sir, that we were met by a lot of enemies coming from this area. And even coming from other municipalities.

Roxas: With whom did you file your concept of operations, your, ah, all the other documents? Your tactical deployment and so on and so forth. With whom did you file that? 

Napeñas: It's in our computer, sir.

Roxas: Ha?

Napeñas: It's in our computer, sir. With one of the officers.

Roxas: That's it for now.

Gazmin: From hereon, we will have an executive session...