Friday, February 13, 2015

45th casualty of SAF’s Oplan Exodus: The peace process

With almost all senators in attendance, the Senate committee on public order chaired by Sen. Grace Poe started last Monday its inquiry into the Jan. 25 incident in Mamasapano, Maguindanao where 44 troopers from the Special Action Force (SAF) of the Philippine National Police (PNP) were killed in action. The Senate public hearing comes after no less than President Aquino admitted having approved the setting into motion of this SAF mission to capture Marwan and Basit Usman. 
Given the national security implications of the subject matter, the senators thankfully took cognizance of the need to keep their questions within what the police and military authorities can discuss in public. As always, the Senate public hearing was televised for transparency of proceedings.
The senators though acknowledged they may opt to conduct the hearing in executive session and behind closed doors if matters impinge on national security. So at the outset, Sen. Poe made it clear that the senators will follow these parameters they set among themselves, including the five-minute rule for each of them in the question-and-answer with all the resource persons they invited.
Senate president Franklin Drilon set the tone of the public hearing with his opening statement on the need to conduct this Senate inquiry to find out what went wrong in this SAF operation.
“For us to turn against each other now would be nearly as tragic as the loss of 44 lives, and that is exactly what the enemies of peace would want to happen,” the Senate president said.
“The hundreds of Marwans and Usmans are still out there, and they would mock us from afar. If that were to happen, our heroes would have died in vain,” Drilon warned.
Naturally, the principal actors in this tragedy were the ones initially grilled on day one of the Senate inquiry: suspended PNP chief Alan Purisima and relieved SAF chief Director Getulio Napeñas.
In a bit of trivia, I noted none of the senators have bothered to ask Napeñas or Purisima why they named their mission to capture Marwan and Usman as Oplan Exodus. From the ten Oplans they cooked up – named after popular Hollywood characters from “Terminator” to “Wolverine” – they suddenly turned biblical to neutralize two most wanted terrorist bombers.
The nearest reason I could think of was based on Napeñas’ testimony at the Senate. He told the senators they decided to put off the execution of Oplan Exodus in deference to the visit of Pope Francis last Jan. 15 to 19. Under oath, Napeñas testified he was brought to a meeting with President Aquino by the suspended PNP chief at the Bahay Pangarap last Jan. 9 to finalize the operational details of Exodus.
Incidentally, Napeñas confirmed they had intelligence information – but repeatedly denied by government and military authorities – that Marwan planned to bomb the papal motorcade in Manila last month. Thank God no such attempt was made.
These details coming to light now clearly show where the much-vaunted “coordination” failed.
The coordination – from the police to military to the joint ceasefire committee all the way to the MILF – is being blamed why the SAF mission turned out this way.
As explicitly declared at the opening statement of Napeñas on the first day of the Senate inquiry – and reiterated at the resumption of the hearing yesterday – all the 392 SAF troopers were apprised and accepted the risks of their job whenever they carry out their mission. When they finally carried out Oplan Exodus, those risks included possible death in the hands of heavily armed enemies, whether they succeed or not in their mission.  
“Only that it happened with a high price: the lives of our 44 brave young men. Our heroes. Our Tagaligtas,” Napeñas rued as he paid tribute to the fallen SAF troopers. The supreme honors that any SAF men can get, he stressed, are to hear the words “Mission accomplished.” The relieved SAF chief dedicated his opening statement at the Senate as his salute to the gallantry of his 44 fallen SAF troopers.
But senators jumping from their seats with incendiary statements during the televised public hearing are not helping any to bring justice to the sacrifices of the 44 SAF men and their respective bereaved families. As reported to the senators by DILG Secretary Mar Roxas II, all that the widows and the rest of the families of the slain 44 wanted is justice based on truth.
They were hoping to get this justice from the Senate inquiry even as there is already the PNP’s Board of Inquiry doing its internal investigation and other government agencies conducting their own probes into the incident.
The House of Representatives is also set to start today its own “inquiry in aid of legislation” into the Mamasapano incident in relation to the lawmakers’ own version of the proposed BBL.
The House leadership now doubts if they can approve the BBL before 2016 based on earlier agreed timetable of the government and the MILF. As agreed upon, Congress is to approve the proposed BBL not later than June this year.
There would be a one-year transition, during which a Bangsamoro Transition Authority dominated by MILF members would rule the region before the election of new regional officials in 2016.
Obviously, this timetable will be difficult to comply with. This after public hearings on BBL in both the Senate and the House were suspended while the two chambers of the 16th Congress are conducting their respective legislative inquiries. The largely pro-administration House, however, assuaged the Palace they would resume public hearings on the BBL once the investigations into this tragic SAF mission are completed to guide them in their crafting of the proposed BBL.
Once the national passion and emotions finally simmer down, there will be a more pragmatic look at the urgency to push the peace process in Mindanao. Setting aside politics, the Senate president succinctly underscored this in the same opening statement before starting the inquiry into this otherwise successful SAF mission turned bloody. “We already lost 44 lives. Let not peace and justice be the 45th,” Drilon said.
On a higher plane, the Senate and House inquiries into this sad and unfortunate turn of events should return their focus on the need to pass the BBL – not with haste but with fine-toothed comb. Our country cannot afford to see the peace process in Mindanao to become the 45th casualty of SAF’s Oplan Exodus.

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