MANILA, Philippines (Updated) – Did resigned Philippine National Police (PNP) chief mislead President Benigno Aquino III when he told him on January 25 that the military has already deployed its assets to assist the beleaguered Special Action Force (SAF) in Mamasapano, Maguindanao?
At the resumption of the Senate probe into the clash, Senator Antonio Trillanes IV said the President may have been satisfied with Purisima's reports via text messages that the commandos already had artillery support morning of January 25. (READ: SAF asked the military for fire support)
Several senators including Senate committee on public order chairman Grace Poe shared the same sentiment.
The text messages were first divulged in an executive session. Poe said the committee decided to release them, noting that it will be good for Aquino.
“If I base it on the text of General Purisima… there was artillery and mechanized support,” Escudero said on the text message of Purisima to Aquino.
At 8:17 am on January 25, Purisima sent the President a message that the SAF troopers were already “supported’” by military troops, tanks, and artillery. (READ: Text messages show Aquino knew details)
The text message read to the President read: "They are presently in contact with reinforcing elements from BIFF. The containment forces are the ones in contact right now. They are supported by mechanized and artillery support. Sir”
But the military's own timeline of what happened reveals that it was only at 8:20 am when the 1st Mechanized Brigade, which has the tanks, and the troops of the 45th Infantry Battalion, were starting to leave their camp in nearby Shariff Aguak.
By then, the SAF commandos and Moro rebels had been in a firefight for more than 3 hours.
No artillery support
Purisima said his understanding was that artillery support was already provided during those hours, based on his text exchange with Western Mindanao Command (Wesmincom) chief Lieutenant General Rustico Guerrero, whom he directly contacted that morning. The generals are classmates at the the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) Class of 1981.
Guerrero clarified that he was only telling Purisima that the assets of the military on the ground were already “made available” but that further actions would be the call of the tactical commander on the ground, 6th Infantry Division commander Major General Edmundo Pangilian. At that point, Pangilinan was coordinating with Director Getulio Napeñas, the SAF commander who was later relieved of his post.
Escudero scrutinized Guerrero’s text message, saying the phrase “made available,” may have been the cause of confusion.
“That understanding proved very costly,” said Escudero.
Guerrero said he sent a follow-up text message to Purisima to tell him that the 6th ID could not fire artillery because there was no forward observer that can confirm that the targets are correct. (READ: Roxas asks AFP why they came late)
Purisima however did not anymore update the President. He explained that the “presumption” was that the President would be briefed by the generals because they were together in Zamboanga that day.
Based on Purisima's testimony, it was clear that the President and his senior commanders already knew what was happening in Mamasapano when they landed in Zamboanga City around 10 am on January 25.
Yet last week, they said they could not remember when they told President, or if the President knew anything about it. (READ: Security execs: Incompetent or protecting Aquino?)
Guerrero recalled on Monday that at 11 am, he met with the President in Zamboanga, in a "small room" where he was asked “what’s happening in my area.” Guerrero said he told the President that he already directed the 6th ID to provide support.
Asked if he sensed any urgency from the President, Guerrero said: “Hindi ko po masabi. The report I received is very vague at that time. Ang alam ko lang may encounter. Wala kaming picture ano ang extent. I don’t even know how many SAF are involved.” (I can't tell. We did not have the complete picture at the time.)
Only 20 rebels?
There have been other confusing reports that Purisima relayed to the President. The President asked why 160 SAF troopers were retreating when there were only 20 hostile forces.
At 7:48 am, Purisima reported to Aquino that the SAF commandos decided to pull out after 15-20 armed elements engaged them in a firefight. They were not able to get its secondary target, Filipino bombmaker Basit Usman.
The President knew that a total of 160 SAF commandos were deployed and could not understand why they would be overwhelmed by 20 hostile forces. (READ: Text messages show Aquino knew details)
In text messags between 8:17 am and 8:45 am, Purisima tried to explain the situation of the main effort, the 84th SAF company that was tasked to get Marwan – and the 55th SAF company that was supposed to assist them in extracting from the site. The original 20 hostile forces were also immediately reinforced by other armed groups in the area. (READ: Inside Mamasapano: When the bullets ran out)
"Basit should not get away," the President ordered at 10:16 am.
At 11:38 am, Purisima told him "we wil hit them again."
The next text message, based on revelations in the Senate, was at 6:20 pm when Purisima reported heavy casualties.
Guerrero was also called by another PMA classmate earlier at the break of dawn, OIC PNP chief Leonardo Espina, who asked him to help the SAF commandos. Guerrero lamented to Espina that the PNP did not coordinate again.
“Kung nasabihan kami earlier, I could have deployed air assets a day before. No coordination was made with us,” said Guerrero.
The Mamasapano clash threatens to ruin the peace process between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. It has also sparked public criticism of the President and calls for his resignation. – Rappler.com