DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/27 January) — The Special Action Force (SAF) of the Philippine Naitonal Police (PNP) did not coordinate with the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the peace process mechanisms when they launched “Oplan Exodus” on January 25, 2015, but it did with the United States government and its Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), former SAF Director Getulio Napenas told the Senate Committee probing the Mamasapano Tragedy on Wednesday.
Napenas said the US assisted with intelligence support on real time, training, equipment, humanitarian and medical evacuation “and also investigation.”
When Senator Juan Ponce Enrile asked Napenas what he meant by investigation, Napenas replied it had something to do with the severed finger of Malaysian Zulkfli bin Hir aka Marwan, the main target of the operation which was handed over to the US Federal Bureau of Investigation for confirmation if its DNA matched with Marwan’s brother who is in detention in the US.
“Oplan Exodus” was launched purportedly to arrest Marwan, who was on the list of the US government’s most wanted terrorists. Marwan had been reported killed in 2012 in what media reports described as a “US-backed airstrike” in Jolo, Sulu.
The United States’ National Counterterrorism Center in its website described Marwan, 49, as an engineer trained in the United States, and believed head of the Kumpulun Mujahidin Malaysia, allegedly a terror group, and a member of the Jemaah Islamiyah’s central command.
Marwan was killed in that dawn operation on January 25, 2015 but 66 others were also killed – 44 from the SAF, 17 from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces, and five civilians.
Asked who conducted the training for the operations, Napenas said members of the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P) and some “civilian components,” prompting Enrile to ask if they were from the CIA.
Napenas said “to my knowledge, they should be working in that outfit,” later adding that “the word CIA (was) never mentioned in our dealings.”
Evacuation of dead and wounded
Napenas’ testimony at the reopened investigation on the Mamasapano tragedy came exactly one year after Kurt Hoyer, Press Attache and spokesperson of the US Embassy in Manila, denied US participation in the operation.
Hoyer on January 27 last year said US service members serving in the JSOTF-P merely “responded to assist in evacuation of dead and wounded after the firefight in Maguindanao.”
Enrile asked if the Visiting Forces Agrement (VFA) was the basis for this cooperation “or some other agreement with the US” but Napenas replied, “honestly, I don’t know, Your Honor.”
Enrile said the VFA “to my recollection deals only with military cooperation between the Republic of the Philippines and the United States and does not cover police operations which is nothing more than enforcement of criminal laws in the Philippines handled by the police organization of the country and these criminal laws are territorial except for some exceptions.”
“Why did they allow police matter to include US participation? Am not saying I am correct but this has to be looked at,” Enrile said.
Reacting to Napenas’ testimony, Bayan Muna Rep. Karlos Isagani Zarate told MindaNews that the “active direction, not just involvement, of the US in that war on terror operation is the big elephant in the room that the Aquino administration is desperately covering up.”
“The cover up includes the involvement of contract personnel — euphemism for mercenaries like the notorious Blackwater of Iraq — for easy deniability when things went wrong,” Zarate said.
He said President Aquino “treated like dispensable floormat the sovereignty provision of our Constitution for as long as he can please his US master, even at the expense of 66 Filipino lives and the fragile peace process in Mindanao.”
On the first anniversary of the Mamasapano Tragedy last Monday, Bai Ali Indayla, Gabriela Women’s Party spokesperson for Mindanao said the victims of “this botched US-hatched operations.. have yet to see justice.”
“Now a year has passed and clearly it is Aquino’s cover-up of the role of his trusted officials and that of the US government that is keeping victims away from the truth and justice,” she said.
Senator Ralph Recto wanted to know if the finger severed from Marwan was like a lotto ticket that would be presented “to redeem a prize.”
Napenas said the finger was needed to confirm if the person killed was indeed Marwan.
Marwan carried a 5 million US dollar bounty (220 million pesos at the January 2015 exchange rate of 44 pesos to one US dollar) for anyone who could provide information leading to his arrest.
Napenas said a 7 million peso reward was also offered by the Philippine government.
Senator Francis Escudero asked if the Americans knew about the operation, Napenas said yes, that the JSOTF-P headed by Col. Eric Brown knew.
Enrile asked Napenas what the US government’s interest was over Marwan. Napenas replied, “giving justice for people who died in Bali. More than 200 perished including Americans.”
The Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC) in its March 5, 2015 report, “Killing Marwan in Mindanao,” said Marwan was over-rated.
“Marwan by all accounts was not a leader in Mindanao and had no special bomb-making skills; those he had were in sharp-shooting. A tendency to panic in crisis situations made him unwanted in battle. He was never a member of the once-feared terrorist organisation Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), though he had been radicalised by its Malaysia-based members and occasionally worked with them. He was a senior member of the Kumpulan Mujahidin Malaysia, never its leader. Despite many reports suggesting he was involved in the 2002 Bali bombings, he had no role whatsoever, and in any case was already in the Philippines when they took place. He was often more a burden than an asset to those who helped hide him,” the IPAC report said. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)