RESIGNED police chief Alan Purisima had told President Benigno Aquino III that armored units and artillery were already reinforcing the beleaguered police commandos in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, on Jan. 25, when no such help was on the way yet, text messages between the two officials show.
The text messages, read aloud before the Senate hearing on the Mamasapano operation in which 44 Special Action Force (SAF) commandos were killed, also showed that the President continued to give orders to Purisima, even though he was already suspended by the Ombudsman on corruption charges. Purisima, in turn, continued to give orders to SAF Director Getulio Napeñas, who was the ground commander of the covert operation.
These were among the key revelations after Senator Grace Poe, who chaired the hearing, asked Purisima to read aloud the exchange of text message between him and the President on Jan. 25.
Purisima also finally admitted he was the one who informed the President that Operation Exodus was already executed, sending him a text message about it at 5:45 a.m. on Jan. 25. He was then in San Leonardo, Nuevea Ecija.
In the same text to the President, Purisima informed Aquino that international terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, the prime target of the operation, had been killed.
But the President was able to respond to Purisima’s text message almost two hours later at 7:36 a.m.
In the hearing on Feb. 12, military and police officials could not say who informed the President of the Mamasapano clash when it was happening.
Purisima refused to answer at the time, saying he wanted to get the President’s approval before answering the question.
The President and Purisima have been blamed for the botched police operation, and various sectors have demanded that they be held liable for the death of the 44 SAF commandos.
Napeñas said he and Purisima, and PNP Intelligence Group commander Sr. Supt. Fernando Mendez briefed the President on Operation Exodus in Bahay Pangarap, Aquino’s official residence, on Jan. 9.
In his testimony Monday, Purisima said he started texting the President 5:45 a.m. of Jan. 25, informing him about the operation.
Responding to Purisima’s text two hours later, the President wanted to know why Marwan’s body was left behind, and why Filipino bomb maker Abdul Basit Usman, the secondary target, had not been caught or killed.
The transcript from the Jan. 25 exchange of text messages provided by Purisima is as follows:
PURISIMA: “Sir good morning. For info SAF elements implemented oplan against high value targets. As of now sir results indicate that Marwan was killed and one Saf trooper wounded. The body of Marwan was left behind but pictures were taken. The troopers are now withdrawal phase and progress report to follow.”
AQUINO: “Why was it left behind? The other two targets?”
PURISIMA: “Sir accordingly, when the nearest target from the line of approach is M1 and when they hit the primary target, the other house where Basit Usman was located with other elements reacted and fired at the troopers. There were about 15 to twenty armed elements. It was about 430am and it was decided that they pull out after gathering pictures and other evidences. They were not able to reach the secondary targets sir.”
AQUINO: “If I remember correctly, 160 SAF troopers were directly involved in this operation plus provision for other PNP and AFP units to assist. The terrain is flat and clear as opposed to upland forested or jungle terrain. Why could they not contain and/or overwhelm the 15-20 member opposing force? Are they still in contact with the two other targets? If not and the opposing force has escaped, are we now back to square one?”
PURISIMA: “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.”
PURISIMA: “The local target Basit and his group were the first group that were engaged by main effort group.”
AQUINO: “Review your earlier and latest texts. They differ as to which was engaged first.”
PURISIMA: “I mean sir the first target was M1 where they were able to neutralize first. The group of Basit retaliated which was about 100 meters away.”
AQUINO (10:16am): “Basit should not get away.”
PURISIMA (11:38am): “Already advised sir but as of the moment the main effort is withdrawing and according to dir IG we still have our contact with the …and will hit them again sir.”
PURISIMA (6:20pm): “Sir latest report from operating elements in Maguindanao states that the security elements who were engage by BIFF/MILF Elements suffered heavy casualties. They were reportedly overrun. CCH (committee on the cessation of hostilities) and international monitoring team are in the area retrieving casualties. The main effort is still in the process of rendezvous with other SAF and AFP elements.”
Purisima said he texted the President based on the information he received from Armed Forces Western Mindanao Command chief Lt. Gen. Rustico Guerrero.
Under questioning by Senate President Franklin Drilon, Purisima said the President had always reminded him to coordinate the police operation.
Asked if he followed this directive, Purisima said no.
“That’s not my job because at that time, I was already suspended and the instruction was directed to the ground commander to coordinate with the AFP on the ground.”
Purisima admitted there was no coordination in the operation because they informed their counterparts in the AFP only when Marwan was already hit by the police commandos.
But under questioning, Napeñas said it was Purisima who gave him to go-signal to launch the Mamasapano operation, contrary to his previous statements that he acted on his own.
An exchange of text messages between Napeñas and Purisima also showed that the date of the operation had been moved to Jan. 25 because police personnel were needed for the papal visit earlier in the month.
In his text message to Purisima on Jan. 23 suggesting the later date, Napeñas had written “for your consideration and approval.”
Purisima then replied: “Ok na go, for the secondary schedule.”
Drilon asked Napeñas: “In other words, Purisima gave the approval that you go on the secondary date?”
Napeñas said yes.
The sacked SAF commander also admitted he did not inform Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II or PNP OIC Leonardo Espina about the operation in line with Purisima’s order.
Drilon said it was clear that despite his suspension, Purisima was still giving orders to Napeñas.
He also did not follow the President’s directive to coordinate the operation with the military, Drilon added.
Drilon said the Ombudsman should study the possibility of charging Purisima with usurpation of public functions he was already suspended at the time.
“It was very clear that he gave the go-signal, which he was not supposed to be doing,” Drilon said.
Roxas, who was kept out of the loop about Operation Exodus, said the President got conflicting reports about the Mamasapano incident.
He remembered sending a text message to Espina asking for more information, but he too had been kept in the dark about the operation.
On Monday, Poe acceded to a request from Armed Forces chief Gen. Pio Catapang Jr. for an executive session so his ground commanders could speak freely on the Mamasapano incident.
Those who gave testimony in the executive session were Catapang, Guerrero, Supt. Gener del Rosario, chief of the Army Mechanized Brigade and Maj. General Edmundo Pangilinan, chief of the 6th Infantry Brigade.
In the Palace, presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said President Aquino was led to believe that the Mamasapano operations were going as planned, contrary to what was happening on the ground.
In a briefing Monday, Lacierda said the President was informed that there were only about 150 members of the police’s SAF in Mamasampano but in reality there were more than 300.
”He was not informed that there were casualties early on,” he said.
Lacierda also said that the Chief Executive had an impression that artillery support was ready but was not.
”We want to know what happened on the ground,” he said, adding that the President has nothing to do with the tactical operations since that was the responsibility of the tactical commander, which was Napenas.
Lacierda said the President told the Napeñas to coordinate with Espina, but he noted that this order was not followed. – With PNA