ACTING police chief Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina admitted Wednesday that the Philippine National Police is in crisis following the deaths of 44 commandos in a top-secret mission that turned sour.
“If someone had just told me what the plan was exactly, I could have had the opportunity to review it,” said Espina, who was kept out of the loop of the operation that was reportedly run by suspended PNP chief Alan Purisima.
Espina lamented that he was not informed about the operation in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, last Jan. 25 and that he only knew about it after 44 SAF members were killed.
“Let’s admit it. This is a crisis for the PNP. I talked to my men last Monday and in order to set everything right, you have to level with them, you have to say the truth so that you’ll be able to define the problem properly,” Espina said.
But Armed Forces chief Gen. Gregorio Catapang and the sacked chief of the SAF Getulio Napenas gave conflicting accounts of the bloody encounter.
In a press conference, Catapang said troops could not respond in time to save the 44 police commandos that raided Zulkifli’s hideout.
“We did not know the exact place where the (police) forces had to be extricated…. they were not telling us their exact location so it was difficult,” Catapang told a news conference.
Catapang, disclosing a summary of a military report of the incident to be submitted to President Benigno Aquino III, said troops completed the rescue of the remnants of the force nearly 18 hours later.
Napenas, who directed the police unit that conducted the raid, disputed Catapang’s account and said the commandos’ detailed call for help was relayed promptly to the military.
“The board of inquiry will show that I had passed on the grid coordinates” of the trapped commandos, Napenas told a separate news conference.
Napenas, who was relieved from his post after the bungled raid, also said the top military and civilian officials were properly updated on the progress of the operation.
Senate President Franklin Drilon urged leaders of the AFP and PNP to stop giving media statements.
“Don’t start throwing accusations against each other. They should shut up. I’m asking them to shut up and speak only to the official bodies investigating this incident,” Drilon told reporters in an ambush interview.
Drilon said bickering between the military and the police would not help the tense situation.
Aquino and the military have been savagely criticized by the general public for failing to prevent the largest loss of military or police life in recent memory, with some calling for the President’s resignation.
Espina accused the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) of overkill. The SAF troopers already sprawled in the corn fields were again repeatedly shot at close range, he said. Many of the bodies removed had multiple gunshot wounds to the head.
But Espina asked his men to focus on their work.
“We can’t stop working. because this may be taken advantage of by lawless elements,” he said.
Espina, who is scheduled to submit a report on the incident to the House ad hoc committee on the Bangsamoro Basic Law headed by Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, assured his men that the 44 commandos would get justice.
Rodriguez had earlier demanded the agencies of government concerned, including the PNP, provide the committee a report of the Mamasapano incident so that legislators could decide as to whether or not it would still proceed with the BBL deliberations.
Several lawmakers on Wednesday pressed for recognition for the slain police commandos now referred to as the Fallen 44.
House independent bloc leader and Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, Pangasinan Rep. Leopoldo Bataoil, and Las Pinas City Rep. Mark Villar pushed for the highest posthumous honor to the 44 members of the SAF.
“Our fallen heroes deserve highest posthumous we can give to Congress. We support also calls to give them Medal of Valor for their heroism,” Romualdez said.
Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. also said 150 out of 290 House members have given their commitment to contribute a portion of their salary to the families of the Fallen 44.
In his first public account, Catapang said the military was not involved in the police planning of the operation, with local military commanders only asked to provide support in December without being given the timetable or specifics.
“When you go to war it takes time to prepare for this. This is not a party where you say, ‘Pal, let’s party tonight. Bring red wine’,” Catapang said.
The Senate committee on public order, chaired by Senator Grace Poe, is set to conduct a hearing on the incident on Monday and Tuesday.
Purisima has confirmed his attendance, as have the head of the government negotiating panel Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, the presidential adviser on the peace process Secretary Teresita Quintos Deles, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and Justice Secretary Leila de Lima.
Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa and MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal, have also been invited to the hearings but have not confirmed his attendance, Poe said. With Francisco Tuyay and Florante S. Solmerin