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Mamasapano Anniversary: Abundant in One Man's Sentiment | CMFR

Mamasapano Anniversary: Abundant in One Man’s Sentiment

Former PNP Special Action Force (SAF) director Getulio Napenas during the February 10, 2015 Senate hearing on the Mamasapano incident | Photo by Lito Ocampo


ON THE third commemoration of the Mamasapano clash in Camp Bagong Diwa last January 25, Getulio Napeñas talked to reporters, saying the previous administration had “disinvited” him to past events to observe the anniversary.  The former PNP Special Action Force (SAF) director and retired police officer also lamented that President Benigno Aquino III made him and his men look “incompetent.”

The widows and families of the SAF troopers who died in Mamasapano were also in the event, given prominence in most print and news reports. But the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s report on the event focused on Napeñas, quoting him extensively.  The same report also quoted Aquino’s brief retort, “He made himself incompetent because he performed incompetently.”(“Napenas to Aquino: Own up to debacle“)

Circumstances surrounding the bloody incident in 2015—which claimed the lives of 44 members of the elite police force, 18 fighters from Muslim rebel groups and five civilians—had long been established by formal investigations conducted separately by six government agencies, as well as the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and other independent monitoring groups. All concluded that Oplan Exodus, the SAF mission that set off to arrest high-value terrorists Zulkifli bin Hir aka Marwan and Basit Usman, failed because of the SAF unit’s unfamiliarity with the terrain and mistaken reliance on equipment and technology. Formal reports described the episode as a “botched operation” because of poor planning, execution and the lack of coordination, particularly with the military which, at the time, was holding a three-year ceasefire agreement with the MILF.

CMFR jeers the Inquirer for dedicating so much precious space to Napeñas without including this necessary context, lending credibility to his claim that he was made to look bad. More, Napeñas continued to say Aquino was not ready to accept responsibility. As quoted by the Inquirer: “I hope Aquino will face his responsibility and not do what he did after the clash, which was evade questions.”

While the Ombudsman dismissed the charges of reckless imprudence resulting in homicide in July 2017, Aquino, Napeñas and former PNP chief Alan Purisima remain charged with graft and usurpation of official function before the Sandiganbayan 3rd division, awaiting arraignment on February 15.

A separate article which appeared on Inquirer.net last January 25 was based purely on what Napeñas had to say. As the sole source of the story, the account served only to burnish his claims. “With (former SAF deputy chief Noli)Taliño’s appointment as new SAF chief, Napeñas said it was a “vindication” for him and for the rest of SAF officials whom Aquino blamed for the outcome of the operation, where more than 60 individuals were killed, including the 44 police commandos.” (“Ex-SAF chief: Aquino made Mamasapano commanders look ‘incompetent’“)

Neither of the two Inquirer reports referred to significant political shift that doomed the peace process with the MILF after the clash. The initial lack of information about how the clash happened led politicians opposed to Aquino to prevent further discussion of Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL). The deaths of soldiers were blamed on the MILF although it was the SAF troops that, fully armed and without warning, had intruded on their community. In session after session, the Senate held hearings to investigate with hostility the peace process itself, castigating the Aquino administration for promoting autonomy for Bangsamoro.

Officers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines who were involved in attempts to rescue the besieged troops criticized Napeñas when they testified in a Senate hearing on January 27, 2016, describing him as “detached from the reality of the SAF operation” and “unaware of the magnitude of the SAF casualties.” In this hearing, the AFP showed a photo of Napeñas in civilian attire at the 1st Mechanical Brigade headquarters taken in the afternoon of January 25, 2015, during which time SAF troopers had already died.

The damning testimony of the military was not given much attention in the coverage that reported Senate proceedings, as focus was given to Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, who had called for the special session because he had revelations to make, raising expectations. Media did not make much of Enrile’s promise to deliver new information. (“See: Mamasapano Revisited: The Press Got Played“)

CMFR’s Media Times 2015 tracked how the media ignored documents establishing the findings of the official probes, including the report of the PNP Board of Inquiry which was the first to be released.The findings and similar inquiries never got detailed reporting in the media. (“See: Mamasapano, Two Years On: Painting a Murky Picture“)

In dealing with Mamasapano, now part of history, the media can no longer ignore existing documents for facts and for context. Relying only on Napeñas to fix the media’s first draft of history is a disservice to the public and a betrayal of the free media’s obligation to truth.