The final report of the Philippine National Police (PNP) Board of Inquiry (BOI) organised to investigate the 25th January 2015 massacre of 44 Special Action Force (SAF) police officers is now available and can be downloaded from the official PNP website here. The massacre transpired in the midst of the execution of “Oplan” Exodus which aimed to “neutralize high value targets (HVTs)” consisting of international terrorists wanted by the United States’ Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
A notable caveat in the report is that investigators “failed to secure an interview” with key figures in the chain of command, notably Philippine President Benigno Simeon ‘BS’ Aquino III, suspended Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Alan Purisima, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff Gregorio Catapang. The report also stated that “All concerned officers of the AFP refused to be interviewed by the BOI despite repeated requests.” The report also highlighted that the AFP and Purisima refused to subject cellular phones used during the operation for making calls and sending and receiving text messages to forensic examination by the BOI.
The report clearly states that Oplan Exodus was
(1) Approved by President BS Aquino;
(2) Implemented by then suspended PNP chief Alan Purisima and SAF Director Getulio Napenas; and,
(3) Excluded PNP Officer-in-Charge Leonardo Espina.
Evidence showed that President BS Aquino knew full well that the suspended Purisima was participating in the operation. The report, however, noted that back on the 16th December 2014, Espina had issued Special Order No. 9851 directing Purisima to “cease and desist” from involving themselves in any PNP operations. This clearly proves that Purisima had no business being involved in Oplan Exodus — something that, according to the report, Napenas also ignored. Napenas and Purisima were also both identified as being responsible for failing to (a) inform Department of Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas about Oplan Exodus and (b) implement prior coordination with the AFP.
Napenas had “heavily influenced” input into the planning of Oplan Exodus which was said to have been undertaken by “a group of officers and not by a planning team” and that his planning assumptions were regarded as “unrealistic” by some of his subordinate commanders. The main aspects of the plan and the thinking that went into it that may have contributed to the high risk of confusion and failed coordination include:
(1) A distrust of the AFP’s ability secure vital operational information from leakage owing to “intermarriages of some AFP personnel with the local people.”
(2) The “Time on Target” (TOT) approach to coordinating Oplan Exodus recommended by Napenas to the president wherein elements of the team were kept on a need-to-know basis up until the target was engaged to minimise unnnecessarily advanced dissemination of information that could compromising the operation.
(3) An over-reliance on immediate artillery fire support from the AFP and the ability to invoke “peace process mechanisms to facilitate ceasefire” in the event that the SAF teams are exposed to “heavy enemy fire”.
It seems that the combination of the TOT approach and a shaky Plan B consisting of AFP artillery and the “peace process” was what proved fatal to Oplan Exodus. Prior experience reveals that it could take “at least six hours of negotiation” to achieve a ceasefire — which means that in the midst of a firefight where even minutes could spell the difference between life and death for scores of personnel, relying on ceasefire arrangements as a Plan B was shaky at best. Indeed, the report revealed that by the time the AFP was informed that Oplan Exodus was in operation, “a hostile encounter between SAF Commandos and various armed groups in Mamasapano had already ensued.”
Judging from the accounts described in the report, there was a lot about the planning surrounding Oplan Exodus that could have been done better and a lot of unsound assumptions made. The rest of the report described the on-the-ground circumstances (unfavourable terrain, etc.) that exacerbated the execution of the shaky plan. Key among the operational snafus cited was an “ineffective communication system.”
One of the key conclusions in the BOI report was the existence of a violation of the PNP chain of command which is a fundamental doctrine of the PNP that stipulates that such “runs upward and downward”. This contradicts an early assertion made by Department of Justice Secretary Leila De Lima that the chain-of-command concept does not apply to the PNP.
Ultimately, it was the involvement of Purisima that constituted one of the more serious violations of policy and procedure — something that President BS Aquino was clearly responsible for. Purisima was also cited as having provided “inaccurate information” to the president as Oplan Exodus played out on the ground. Napenas was tagged as being culpable for continuing to follow orders from Purisima despite knowing full well that he was under suspension by order of the Ombudsman. Command responsibility — also a doctrine that applies fully to the PNP — is at play making the three key officers on top of Oplan Exodus, President BS Aquino, Purisima, and Napenas, ultimately accountable for its tragic outcome.
Read the full report here.[Photo courtesy Yahoo! News.]
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