The schism between police and military officials surfaced in all its rawness on Wednesday when the Special Action Force (SAF) accused the Philippine Army of holding back artillery fire, which could have saved the lives of police commandos during the Jan. 25 Mamasapano clash, to save the peace process between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
Chief Supt. Noli Talino, SAF deputy director, and Supt. Michael John Mangahis, the ground commanders for the SAF Mamasapano operation, accused Col. Gener del Rosario, commander of the Army’s 1st Mechanized Brigade, and his boss, Maj. General Edmundo Pangilinan, the 6th Infantry Division chief, of using the peace process as justification for not providing ground and artillery support to the 55th and 84th SAF companies that were pinned down by Moro rebels during the clash.
Speaking at an investigation of the Mamasapano clash at the House of Representatives, Mangahis, his voice cracking and full of anger, challenged Del Rosario: “Man up, sir. Man up, sir.”
In his testimony, Mangahis claimed that he heard Del Rosario mention “peace process” while he was talking on the phone with Pangilinan around 7 a.m. on Jan. 25.
“I know they know the area very well. I don’t believe they have no assets. The real problem is their people. But I can’t say who he was talking to about the peace process,” Mangahis said.
Del Rosario did not deny he mentioned the peace process, but claimed he was talking to several people on the phone that morning and it was up to Mangahis to identify the person to whom he spoke about the peace process.
Flawed mission planning
Forty-four SAF commandos were killed by Moro rebels in that clash in Mamasapano, Maguindanao province.
Seventeen guerrillas from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which has signed a peace agreement with the government, and three civilians were also killed during the daylong gun battle.
Del Rosario and Pangilinan have blamed the SAF’s flawed mission planning and lack of coordination as the main reason why artillery fire had been held back nearly 12 hours after Talino and Mangahis went to the mechanized brigade office in Shariff Aguak on that day.
It’s the peace process
Talino corroborated Mangahis’ testimony that the peace process was the reason for the Army’s reluctance to help the SAF.
“We requested artillery support, he (Del Rosario) was talking to General Pangilinan on the phone and asked if I could talk to him (Pangilinan declined). He (Del Rosario) told me later that his division commander (Pangilinan) refused because of the peace process and the presence of civilians in the area,” Talino said.
Talino disputed Del Rosario’s claim that he and Mangahis went to the 1st Mechanized Brigade’s Shariff Aguak office together. Talino said they went separately, with Mangahis going earlier.
ACT-CIS Rep. Samuel Pagdilao, a former chief police investigator, moved that the four be compelled to undergo polygraph tests to determine who was telling the truth.
The committee deferred action on Pagdilao’s motion.
Muntinlupa Rep. Rodolfo Biazon, a former AFP chief of staff, objected to making the police and the military officers undergo lie detector tests.