The mere mention of Mamasapano is enough to turn up to the max the temper of veteran politician Juan Ponce Enrile whose first act after being released from detention due to the pork barrel controversy was the reopening of the Senate probe on the debacle that took the lives of 44 young policemen.
His frustration is shared by many after former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales stopped short of clearing former President Noynoy Aquino and his cohorts of responsibility in the carnage by filing “usurpation of authority” charges instead of being made directly responsible for the death of the Special Action Force (SAF) troopers in the botched Oplan Exodus through several counts of homicide.
While there is no proof yet that Noynoy issued a stand down order on police and military reinforcements allegedly to preserve a peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the former President was still answerable for panicking instead of applying leadership during the crucial moments to preserve the lives of soldiers besieged by Mindanao rebels who included MILF members.
At the very least, Aquino was responsible for the botched police operation when he and his former Philippine National Police (PNP) Chief Alan Purisima kept the details of the mission to themselves, Enrile said.
As the death toll mounted on the SAF, Enrile said Aquino was “shocked” and did not know the next step to take.
“He was so shocked, he did not know what to do,” Enrile said.
In the 27 January 2016 reopening of the Senate probe in the encounter, Enrile said Noynoy called the shots in Oplan Exodus and that he compartmentalized its execution between him and his buddy, Purisima.
Noynoy had made sacked SAF commander Director Getulio Napeñas the scapegoat in the fouled-up mission. Noynoy claimed Napeñas fed him wrong information during the period when the SAF operatives were slowly being slaughtered by the combined forces of the MILF, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and politicians’ private armies.
Enrile, who was a defense minister of former President Ferdinand Marcos, said Noynoy was foolish in dumping the blame on Napeñas since he was the one who delegated the complicated mission involving an international terrorist, Malaysian bomber Marwan, who is wanted by the United States.
Enrile also accused Noynoy and his allies of having used public funds “to silence those who needed to be silenced” or to keep the truth from coming out.
“He thought he is capable of accomplishing it but it turned out that he is incompetent,” Enrile said, referring to Aquino.
Noynoy was in Zamboanga City, where a US command post was located, on the day the mission was launched and so were all his security officials.
Noynoy and his Cabinet men followed the script that they knew of the police mission late in the day when most of the SAF commandos were already dead.
The exchange of text messages between security officials, Cabinet members and Noynoy, however, pointed to the anticipation of a successful turnout of Oplan Exodus when Marwan was neutralized that went awry later on as the SAF members were massacred.
An account of the incident during the Senate and PNP-Board of Inquiry hearings conducted on the incident stated that 35 of the 36 members of the 55th Special Action Company (SAC) died in the mission.
Prior to the ambush of the 55th SAC, nine members of the SAF assault force under the 84th Seaborne command were killed during the initial phase of the mission when Marwan was killed.
The 55th SAC, a blocking force, was deployed to cover the escape of their compatriots. The fierce battle involving the 55th SAC took almost the whole day that made all the claims about misencounter, miscoordination and Cabinet men including then Interior Secretary Mar Roxas being taken “out of the loop” implausible.
Enrile said Noynoy was monitoring the progress of Oplan Exodus the whole day of 25 January even while on board the plane going to Zamboanga City and that Noynoy did nothing to rescue the SAF commandos during the period that military and police support was possible.
A version of the incident that probers refused to touch was that Noynoy’s order for reinforcements to stand down was the result of an advice from then chief peace negotiator Teresita Deles who warned sending the military into the combat zone would result in a full-blown battle that would put the peace agreement with the MILF at risk.
Another was that the Americans were deeply involved in Oplan Exodus.
Four years after the incident, the thirst for truth remains.