1. What is PNP-SAF?
The Special Action Force is the National Mobile Unit of the Philippine National Police. While they are formed along the lines of the British Army (SAS), members are recruited and selected through different procedures. The SAF has received trainings from FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team, Critical Incident Response Group, Recherche Assistance Intervention Dissuasion, and Yamam.
On January 25 in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, at least 44 PNP-SAF members were confirmed dead following a clash with suspected members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) when they tried to serve an arrest warrant on Malaysian bomb maker Zulkifli Bin Hir, also known as “Marwan.
2. Who is Marwan?
Zulkifli Bin Hir, also known as “Marwan,” is a Malaysian national and one of the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists. He is a “high value target” with 5 million US dollars on his head. He is identified for creating bombs for various terrorist groups and the suspected leader of the Kumpulan Mujahidin Malaysia, part of the central command of the Jemaah Islamiya. He is believed to be under the protection of the BIFF.
Marwan is thought to have been possibly killed during the PNP-SAF Mamasapano operation that led to a bloody militant clash between the police and the rebels. The government has yet to confirm his death.
Marwan Area of Operation:
3. What is BIFF and MILF?
The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) is a Muslim militant organization based in Mindanao. They are a smaller player in the overall Moro insurgency in the Philippines and are mostly active in central Mindanao.
Meanwhile, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front is a Moro group located in the southern Philippines. The group has a presence in the Bangsamoro region of Mindanao, the Sulu Archipelago, Basilan, and other neighboring islands.
Both are well-trained and capable of Jungle Warfare and are armed with high caliber firearms such as M16, M14, M203, RPG, 50 Caliber, Sniper Rifle, AK47 and Mortars. They also use night vision goggles, grenades and have bullet proof fighting equipment.
Many reports revealed that they do training recruits and offer military schooling in foreign countries to their members.
4. Who gives the orders to the PNP-SAF operation?
Several reports revealed that President Benigno Aquino III assigned the fatal covert operation to suspended National Police Chief Alan Purisima, without the knowledge of acting PNP Chief Leonardo Espina and Interior Secretary Mar Roxas.
A police general, who was part of the planning and actual operation, said that “the President was aware of the Marwan covert operations. Purisima reported directly to him. In fact, the President went to Zamboanga prior to the troops’ jump-off to Mamasapano so he would be in the vicinity when (Marwan and Usman), both bomb experts linked to the Jemaah Islamiya terror cell, are captured.”
“The President was there as he expected the turnover of Marwan to the Philippine government. He would be present during the presentation of Marwan. The President expected a successful operation,” the police general further added.
Meanwhile, Communications Secretary Herminio ‘Sonny’ Coloma admitted that the Palace knew of the operations and said the SAF forces were out to arrest Marwan.
“They (SAF) conducted a law enforcement operation in Mamasapano, Maguindanao to arrest a high-value suspected terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir also known as Marwan who was allegedly a member of the Markaziyah, Jemaah Islamiyah’s central command. The PNP-SAF performed this mission with courage and professionalism,” Coloma told Manila Standard Today.
5. What are the weapons used by PNP-SAF during the operation?
SAF operatives reportedly used high-caliber guns including sniper riffles, machine guns, M-16 and M-14 riffles, M203 Grenade Launchers and Mortars.
6. Who are the slain PNP-SAF members during the Mamasapano clash?
44 were killed out of 392 SAF operatives who were sent to serve an arrest warrant on Marwan in Mamasapano.
7. Did lack of coordination between PNP-SAF and military caused the tragic incident?
According to MILF chief peace negotiator Mohaquer Iqbal the bloody clash erupted due to “the lack of coordination between the police and the proper governing bodies,” the ANC reported.
Iqbal further said the police personnel should have first coordinated with the Ceasefire Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) and the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG) before conducting their operation in the MILF-controlled area.
For his part, Aquino admitted that “there was lack of coordination between PNP-SAF and the military in Maguindanao.”
Aquino said he was shocked when informed that Rustico Guerrero, chief Lieutenant General of Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom), and Edmundo Pangilinan, chief Major General of 6th Infantry Division– who are in charge of military units on the ground –were only informed of the operation after the SAF units attacked the area.
There are several military detachments and hundreds of soldiers deployed in Mamasapano, however lack of prior coordination and information prevented them to prepare contingency plans.
Meanwhile, Former President Fidel V. Ramos cited several reasons why the tragedy happened including:
- poor strategic direction from the Commander-in-Chief
- inadequate command guidance from the higher commander
- inadequate confidence-building measures among the civilian-military-police stakeholders
- poor lack of coordination
- faulty written standard operating procedures and rules of engagement
- slipshod monitoring of the existing “ceasefire
- lack of teamwork between maneuver and fire support elements
- poor unit troop leadership, poor tactical intelligence
- and lack of sincerity to pursue peace on the part of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front
8. Were the SAF commandos prepared to do the operation?
Only the higher ups can answer if the SAF members were prepared to do the operation. However, it is worth noting that SAF operatives are the PNP’s best trained. They have undergone intensive training and have the newest equipment including Ultimax assault weapons and night vision goggles.
9. Will the Mamasapano massacre derail the implementation of the Bangsamoro Basic Law?
In his speech, Aquino made it clear that he does not want the Mamasapano encounter to derail the implementation of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).
Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. also said that the government’s position on the peace process remains and that they are still pushing for the peace process with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
However, two senators, Alan Peter Cayetano and Joseph Victor Ejercito, withdrew their authorship of the proposed BBL following the Mamasapano bloodbath.
On the same note, Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. suspended “indefinitely” the hearings on the passage of the proposed law under his committee scheduled in Mindanao.
“What I can say is this is really a big glitch in the peace process. This is not a joke and this is not a small thing. We can’t just continue as if nothing happened,” Marcos said.
It remains to be seen if the tragedy will derail the passage of BBL.
10. Finally, will the 44 fallen brave men get the justice they deserve? Will we ever know the truth behind the operation?
We certainly don’t know. But one can only hope that their sacrifices will not just go down the drain and be forgotten. Besides, they are our brave heroes who fought and died.