MANILA — When asked during the press conference who gave the go signal for the Philippine National Police – Special Action Forces (PNP-SAF) mission on Saturday night that led to the death of over 40 policemen, President Benigno Simeon Aquino III said, “‘Can we proceed with the mission?’ I don’t think I was ever asked that question.”
President Aquino addressed the nation Wednesday evening regarding the misencounter between the rebel forces of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), Bangsamoro islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), and the PNP-SAF.
In an effort to arrest Marwan and Usman, the SAF Team operated in the dead of night to the known location of the two “high value targets,” at least 43 policemen were killed — brutally murdered, stripped of weapons, personal belongings, and some even clothing — in what is now being dubbed at the most serious act of violence against law enforcement in recent memory.
The President added that since the mission to locate and arrest most wanted man Zulkifli bin Hir also known as Marwan, one of the leaders of the Islamist group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), as well as suspected JI bomb expert Basit Usman, has been going on for years.
He also pointed out that there was enough “actionable intelligence” gathered, which ascertained the location of Marwan and Usman’s camp since May of last year.
When asked why Interior and Local Government Chief Mar Roxas and other high ranking officials were seemingly “left in the dark” about the operations, Aquino simply said that they will look further into details why they were not briefed on the said mission.
Aquino also said that no evidence has been gathered to establish who is truly responsible for the atrocities done to the SAF policemen. He said he cannot accuse both MILF and BIFF of wrongdoings right away, not without established facts.
In his message, Aquino confirmed that the bloodiest part of the encounter happened as the SAF was withdrawing from the terrorist camp.
“Unang inatake ang bahay ni Marwan; rumesponde naman sina Usman at nawala ang element of surprise na siyang magpapahirap na matupad ang kanilang misyon. Kaya naman, minabuti ng SAF na umatras at makipag-rendezvous sa mga kasamahan nilang nagbabantay ng kanilang daraanan papalabas sa lugar ng engkuwentro. Lumalabas pong sa withdrawal na ito nangyari ang pinakamadugong bahagi ng sagupaan,” said Aquino.
(Marwan’s house was attacked first, and Usman and his team responded. The element of surprise is fone, which made it more difficult for [the government forces] to execute their mission. So the SAF decided to retreat and rendezvous with the rest of their team who was waiting for them on their escape trail. It appears that it is during this withdrawal that the bloodiest part of the clash happened.)
He also cleared that back-up forces were nearly impossible, since the incident happened quickly.
“Sa madaling salita, dikit na sa oras ng engkuwentro ang abiso, at mahirap masabi kung nagkaroon ng sapat na panahon upang ihanda ang ayuda kung kakailanganin,” he explained.
(In other words, the encounter and the notice were so close, and it is difficult to say if there was really enough time to prepare the aid needed in the situation.)
He admits there were lapses in coordination between concerned parties.
“Kung may compliance pong nangyari sa atas kong siguruhing may sapat na koordinasyon, parang sinagad po itong very minimum compliance. Nagulat nga po akong malaman na ang pinuno ng Western Mindanao Command, o maski ng 6th Infantry Division, ay tila naabisuhan lamang matapos ang unang engkuwentro laban kina Marwan at Usman; palabas na ang puwersa ng SAF, at nagkakaroon na ng problema sa puntong ito.”
(If there were any compliance that happened after I gave the orders for proper coordination, it looks like they pushed the limits with very minimum compliance. I was surprised when I found out that the chief of Western Mindanao Command, or even the 6th Infantry division, was informed only after the first encounter against Marwan and Usman; the SAF forces were already retreating and it was at this point that they had a problem.)
Aquino also noted that he himself has questions, which is why the Board of Inquiry (BOI) was formed to further investigate the matter. He called for everyone to await the results of the investigation and to avoid spreading rumors.
“Iwasan na rin po sana ng lahat ang pagkakalat ng haka-haka ukol sa mga pangyayari. Ang sabi nga po sa bibliya: ‘The truth shall set us free.’ Mayroon na pong board of inquiry na itinalaga upang makalap ang buong katotohanan. Abangan na lamang po natin ang resulta nito.”
(Let us avoid spreading rumors about the incident. The Bible said, ‘The truth shall set us free.’ We have the board of inquiry to gather evidence. Let us wait for the results.)
The National Day of Mourning for the fallen members of the PNP-SAF is set on January 30, Friday.