Drones flew over Mamasapano village in run-up to Jan. 25  

SITIO AMILIL, Barangay Tukanalipao, Mamasapano, Maguindanao (MindaNews/ 12 Feb) — A full week before the January 25 operations to get Malaysian bomb expert Zulkifli bin hir aka Marwan, residents here claim they could hear drones flying over their village and neighboring areas “magdamag” (overnight), usually starting from afternoon.

While in a huddle near the main road Sunday afternoon, residents shared how the altitude of the drones — also referred to as “unmanned aerial vehicle,” “spy plane,” “eye in the sky” – was getting lower and lower by the day.

“Di nga makatulog ang mga bata” (the children could not sleep), barangay treasurer Omryan Amilil said.

Abdulkadir Kambal, a volunteer teacher at the Hadji Salik Kalaing National High School said “di man makita pero marinig mo talaga magdamag” (you cannot see but you’ll really hear overnight).

At least 67 persons were killed on January 25 – 44 from the Special Action Force of the Philippine National Police (PNP-SAF), 18 from the MILF and five civilians.

Kambal, who was among those who helped retrieve 35 bodies of the SAF from where they were slain in the cornfields near a wooden bridge here, said they heard reports about an American soldier killed and wounded but said that report may have come from Pidsandawan, where the country’s elite cops – the US-trained 84th Special Action Company (SAC) based in Zamboanga — was deployed to take out Marwan.

Kambal estimates Pidsandawan to be at least two kilometers away.

The SAF operatives here belonged to the 55th Special Action Company also based in Zamboanga. Only one out of the 36 men sent in survived.

Reports about US involvement in the operations to take out Marwan, for which the US government had offered a US$ 5 million (Php 2020) reward for information leading to his arrest and Abdulbasit Usman, a Filipino bomb expert who carries a US$1 million bounty, have been persistent but the United States Embassy in Manila has repeatedly denied this.

Assisted in evac

A day after the Mamasapano tragedy, American forces in civilian clothes were seen assisting in the evacuation of the wounded from the PNP provincial office in Shariff Aguak, some 13 kilometers away from here, to the Army’s 6th Infantry Division camp in Datu Odin Sinsuat, Maguindanao.

“At the request of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, US service members serving in JSOTF-P (Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines) responded to assist in evacuation of dead and wounded after the firefight in Maguindanao,” US Embassy Press Attache and spokesperson Kurt Hoyer said on January 27 on the US’ involvement in Mamasapano.

“For details of the operation and its purpose, please check with PNP (Philippine National Police),” he said.

Hoyer told MindaNews on January 27 that the request for assistance was made by the AFP. AFP officials were informed about the Mamasapano operations only about 5 a.m. when the Marwan had reportedly been taken and firefight had begun.

Sacked SAF chief, Chief Supt. Getulio Napenas told the Senate Hearing Tuesday, Feb. 10 that on his own initiative, he asked the US forces in Zamboanga for assistance in medical evacuation.

“I took the initiative na humingi ng tulong doon sa US forces based doon sa Zamboanga to provide us with medical evacuation using their helicopter. Because we were then expecting in the afternoon, mag-gagabi na, na mai-wiwithdraw yung mga sugatan na nandodoon sa area. This is in connection with the ongoing continued exercises that we have with the US forces in the fight against terrorism and they have their own protocol for medical evacuation sa mga nai-involve na kapulisan in the operations against terrorism,” Napenas said.

Before January ended, when more reports were published about alleged US casualties and assistance in intelligence and the use of drones, MindaNews again asked Hoyer for comment and he replied there were no US casualties, no help in intelligence, no drones.

“Let me be clear. Our involvement was as I stated. At the request of the AFP, US service members serving in JSOTF-P responded to assist in the evacuation of casualties after the firefight in Maguindanao,” Hoyer said.

In the Senate hearing on February 9 and 10, Napenas said the US had no participation in the planning or implementation but on the medical evacuation.

Marwan’s finger

But Napenas on February 9 said Marwan’s index finger, which was reportedly cut off for DNA matching with his brother in a US prison jail, was turned over to operatives of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in General Santos City.

Asked by Senator Loren Legarda on February 10 why the finger was given to the FBI and not the National Bureau of Investigation, Napenas said he would reply in an executive session.

MindaNews asked Hoyer if the Mamasapano operations were an FBI operation.

Hoyer replied on Wednesday that the FBI “has the equipment and experience to do the type of DNA analysis needed.”

He said evidentiary analysis at the FBI Laboratory “is one of many services we provide to support our law enforcement partners around the world.”

Told that Napenas said the finger was turned over to the FBI in General Santos City, Hoyer said, “I would refer you to Napenas for clarification of his comments.”

At the House of Representatives’ inquiry on Mamasapano Wednesday, Napenas declined to answer queries on Marwan’s finger, saying he would do so in an executive hearing.

Hoyer did not reply on the drones heard in Tukanalipao and Napenas’ declaration that he “took the initiative” to seek the assistance of the US troops In Zamboanga.

Hoyer on Jan. 27 said the request for assistance for the medical evacuation was made by the AFP. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)