MANILA — The head of the elite Philippine National Police (PNP)-Special Action Force (SAF) was relieved from his post after Sunday’s fierce encounter between government troops and members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Maguindanao that left over 40 police commandos dead.
In a press conference in Camp Crame on Tuesday, PNP Officer-in-charge Leonardo Espina said PNP-SAF head Chief Superintendent Getulio Napenas will be replaced by his deputy, Chief Superintendent Noly Taliño, while the investigation on the Maguindanao incident is ongoing.
“He (Napenas) was given chance to help recover the body of his men from the battlefield but he has been recalled back to Manila pending the outcome of the investigation,” he said.
Local Government Secretary Manuel Roxas II said a special board of inquiry will be created and will focus on the investigation on the bloody “misencounter,” including the accountability and liability of the officials who took part in the operation and the members of the rebel group involved.
The board will be composed of police officials from the PNP Directorate for Human Resource and Doctrine Development, PNP Criminal Investigation and Detection Group and PNP Directorate for Integrated Police Operation of Western Mindanao.
“It did not reach us in the command group. That will be also tackled in the board of inquiry,” Espina said.
Roxas said he ordered the PNP Directorate for Comptrollership chief Rolando Purugganan to coordinate with the families of the slain cops and ensure that they will not go through a long process of getting their benefits on top of the financial assistance provided by the PNP, including the funeral arrangements for their loved ones.
He said the fallen cops are entitled for spot promotion and will be awarded with the highest possible medal, which is equal to the gold cross medal.
“Tuloy ang tiwala at kumpiyansa ng PNP sa peace process na bagaman napaka lungkot at matindi ang kapaitan ng pangyayari, ang mas malawak na peace process ay mahalaga at kabahagi ang PNP sa pagsulong ng kasalukuyang peace process,” Roxas said.
The incident happened amid the peace deal between the MILF and the government that aims to establish a more powerful and better-funded autonomous region for minority Muslims in Mindanao and end a decades-long rebellion.
The 392 SAF operatives were sent to Maguindanao in an attempt to serve warrant of arrest on Malaysian bombing suspect Zulkifli bin Hir, or Marwan, and Filipino bomb-maker Abdul Basit Usman.
A police operative remained missing while 11 others were wounded in the fighting in the remote village of Tukanalipao in Maguindanao province.
Magdalo party-list Representatives Ashley Acedillo and Gary Alejano urged the MILF central committee to order its men from the 105th Base Command who were involved in the fighting last Sunday to surrender the weapons they have captured from the fallen SAF troopers.
“If they are sincere enough with this peace process, they should return that as a gesture of sincerity to the peace process,” Alejano said.
An emotional Alejano, who participated in the all-out war campaign of the Estrada administration against the Moro rebels, urged President Benigno Aquino III to have a strong stand following the fateful incident.
The former military officer said that it is important to see the commander-in-chief standing behind the troops.
“I’m not only sad but really disgusted of what happened in Mamasapano, Maguindanao. I can recall how our troops died in Central Mindanao, fighting for the government against the MILF, now it seems that it is happening again,” said Alejano.
Acedillo, for his part, believed that the incident was not just an ordinary misencounter but also an “unjustified attack” by the rebel group.
He described the clash as an “overkill” as some of the troopers were mutilated.
Pangasinan Representative Leopoldo Bataoil and ACT-CIS party-list Representative Samuel Pagdilao, both retired police officials and former members of PNP-SAF, condemned the action taken by the MILF.
Pagdilao said that he will ask the House leadership to make a parallel investigation and determine what really happened.
Pagdilao, one of the founding members of SAF in the 1980s, said that he is supporting the suspension of hearing of ad hoc committee on the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) pending the result of the investigation.
Bataoil urged the government to declare a National Day of Mourning for the slain police commandos who died in the line of duty.