In a recent interview with the Inquirer, Philippine President Benigno Simeon Aquino III alluded to an alternative “truth” to what really transpired during the Mamasapano clash that resulted in the deaths of 44 Special Action Force officers, four civilians and 17 rebel forces on the 25th of January 2015. The President is referring to a report from the investigation conducted by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front that suggest that it was the aides of bombing terrorist Zulkifli Abdhir a.k.a. Marwan who killed him and not the SAF troopers. It’s worth mentioning that rebel forces from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front were responsible for the massacre of the 44 helpless SAF troopers after the supposed raid of the terrorist’s hut.
Either BS Aquino spoke without thinking again or his intention was to muddle the issue surrounding the tragic event. Either way, it seems like the President wants to sell to the public what they call in the film industry as the “director’s cut” – a story with a different ending. The problem is, what BS Aquino is trying to imply won’t be good for the dead troopers and their loved ones. By introducing the idea that the SAFs had nothing to do with the death of one of FBI’s most wanted terrorist, he is downplaying the role of his own men in the mission to eliminate Marwan. He is also trying to make them look less heroic in the eyes of the public by suggesting that the mission wasn’t “accomplished” by them. One can be forgiven for thinking that BS Aquino is trying to kill the dead SAFs again.
It does look odd that BS Aquino brought up an issue that he seems to prefer to avoid discussing in public forums. We recall BS Aquino was missing in action for days after the tragedy prompting Netizens to trend the hashtag #NasaanAngPangulo on social networking site Twitter calling on him to do something. When the President finally made a statement after three days, he appeared flippant during the press conference with some astute observers noting that he was lacking in sympathy towards the deaths. He refused to answer simple questions directly. He didn’t want to confirm that he knew about the secret operation called Operation Exodus. We also recall that a lot of his allies were encouraging the public to move on when calls for accountability were still loud a few months later. But now he is saying that the reports submitted by the Philippine National Police may not be complete.
“Yung official ba na kinuwento ng [Special Action Force] ang talagang lahat na nangyari, kumpleto? Itong ‘alternative’ ba ang mas kumpleto or may idadagdag doon sa tinatawag na ‘narrative?’ Puwede bang parehong mali at merong pangatlong version? Hindi rin kami nagsasara ng kaisipan na baka itong alternative ay pampagulo lang sa usapan. So ang dulo niyan, paano natin malalaman ang katotohanan, kailangan natin ng testimonya at saka ebidensiya, at ‘yon ang nililikom,” he added.
The question is, why would BS Aquino even give weight to the report conducted by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front? They submitted their report a long time ago so why only mention it now? Is this his way of painting the rebel group under a better light? After all, he still hasn’t given up on pushing for the passing of the Bangsamoro Basic Law in Congress. He is looking more and more desperate in his attempts to push for it though. He’ll have no luck considering members of congress don’t want to show up for work lately.
Apparently, there is indeed another version of the ‘truth”. A recent report from the Los Angeles Times gave details of the event:
Before dawn on Jan. 25, a Philippine National Police commando team crept toward a thatched hut in the marshy jungles of Mindanao. They were hunting Marwan, an elusive bomb maker with a $5-million U.S. bounty on his head.
But they weren’t hunting alone.
Five or six U.S. counter-terrorism advisors assisted from a police command post nearby, tracking the assault team in live video from a U.S. surveillance aircraft circling overhead. “Their main role was to provide tactical, live intelligence,” said a Philippine officer who was present.
As the 13 commandos closed in, one stepped on a buried mine. The explosion wounded him and brought a burst of gunfire from the hut.
After a firefight, the American-trained team rushed in and radioed “Bingo, Mike One” to the command post. “Operation Exodus” appeared a success. The wispy-bearded target was dead.
To make certain, they sliced the right index finger off the corpse. DNA tests by the FBI later confirmed that it belonged to Marwan, nom de guerre for a Malaysian-born, U.S.-educated engineer linked to multiple terrorist attacks across Southeast Asia, including a 2002 bombing that killed 202 people in Bali, Indonesia.
The above account seems closer to the version of the PNP report. There was no mention of Marwan’s aides helping in the operation. One thing is for sure; the U.S. military had a big role in the operation. They trained the SAF troopers for months even providing equipment for the raid.
U.S. military advisors supervised training of the police unit at a seaside resort and in the jungles of Mindanao before the raid. They also provided night-vision goggles, maps and a hand-held retinal scanner to confirm Marwan’s identity.
On the night of the assault, some of the police officers fell behind in crossing rivers and trekking down dark jungle trails. Only a third of the assault team had reached Marwan’s hut when the shooting started about 4 a.m.
Eager to get out, the team skipped the retinal scanner and cut off a finger instead, sticking it in a Ziploc bag.
But hundreds of Islamic fighters from other villages soon joined the battle. They pinned down the assault team and 350 other police officers who had deployed in the jungle to guard their escape.
“One by one we were getting hit and it slowed us down to carry the wounded,” said a police officer who survived the battle. ” As the day went on, we felt helpless.”
U.S. advisors, relying on aerial video, helped some commandos “elude large enemy formations, thereby avoiding further casualties,” a police investigation found.
But the attackers spotted scores of police officers hiding in chest-high corn near Marwan’s hut and began raking the field with heavy machine gun and mortar fire. Most of the 44 dead were later found there.
After the 14-hour battle, a Black Hawk helicopter flown by Pentagon contractors landed and U.S. Army medics helped treat the wounded and collect the dead, U.S. officials said.
The above account confirmed what some of us already know – that the Philippine military did not play a role in saving the embattled SAF troopers. A Manila Times article reported that it was BS Aquino who ordered the Philippine military to “stand down” because sending the military would most likely be seen as a violation of the “peace agreement” with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
From the very beginning, BS Aquino has been more concerned about the Moro Islamic Liberation Front than the welfare of the SAF troopers. Now he is coming across as favoring the rebel group’s version of events over the PNP’s. Now that is tragic, indeed.
[Photo courtesy, @MisterBanatero on Twitter.]
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