"Mike1, Bingo!" members of the assault team belonging to the Philippine National Police-Special Action Force (PNP-SAF) excitedly informed their comrades awaiting developments of their operations to get Zulkifli Abdhir last January 25 in Mamasapano, Maguindanao. Marwan had been tagged as Osama Bin Laden of Southeast Asia for bombing incidents which were attributed to him by local authorities and the US.
Mamasapano is an area in Maguindanao (Maguindanao hogged headlines due to the infamous Maguindanao massacre occurred about 5 years ago) believed to be controlled by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the MILF-split group Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF). The sample finger of Marwan matched to the DNA of the most-wanted terrorist in Southeast Asia, as announced later by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
While it succeeded in getting or killing Marwan who accordingly put a fight before he was shot and killed in his place, the operations were a catastrophic when about 44 elite forces were killed when they were engaged by armed men allegedly belonging to the combined forces of MILF and BIFF. The elite group was trying to regroup to their comrades when they were fired upon from various directions. A commando who survived the clash told reporters that there many shots came from high location so that commandos were hit on the head and through their kevlar helmets. It was a very lopsided fire-fight. Interviewed MILF members who took part in the clash claimed that they were surprised of the attack knowing that a ceasefire between the Philippine Government and the MILF was in effect.
PNP officials said that the Operation Plan Wolverine was well-planned. But this is not true as there were serious blunders at the very start. PNP-SAF commandos were in a very disadvantage location when they became easy targets of their enemies. They were in the middle of a cornfield where covers could not be found. The area is also surrounded by a river with a muddy and sticky bank. This is the same river that the commandos traversed to get near the lairs of Marwan by crawling.
If proper coordination was planned, casualties could have been minimized. Reports claimed the Philippine Army failed to respond as they could not determine the exact battleground. More 300 PNP-SAF who were around also, reports claimed, refused to help the embattled commandos. A survivor told media he wondered why they did not reinforce.
The MILF has been at war for over 40 years. The recent development includes an agreement with the administration of Benigno Aquino III to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) which is hoped will be Mindanao's seed for a lasting peace. At the moment, we are not sure how the authorities would handle the situation. We don't doubt the sincerity of the MILF leadership's commitment to the peace accord being worked out, but the incident in Mamasapano raises questions which demand answers. For one, what Marwan was doing an area they control?
It is hard to look elsewhere and forget the fate of the fallen 44. But war is not always the answer towards building a long and lasting peace. The fallen 44 were a big loss for the people of this country. There were costly blunders in an mission which started planning in April 2014. The death of Marwan and his bounty of USD5million could not compensate the precious lives of our fallen heroes. We hope justice will be served.
disclaimer: photo was lifted from inquirer