COMMENT| Marwan Dead at Pyrrhic Cost

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews)– The question now is no longer “Is Marwan (alias of Jemaah Islamiyah bomb-terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir) dead?” His death has been confirmed by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation through DNA testing at the FBI Laboratory in Quantico, Virginia. (INQUIRER.net, February 5, 2015: DNA test on Marwan done in US—FBI)

He was reported killed in his hut in Pidsandawan, Mamasapano, Maguindanao by the Philippine National Police Special Action Force (SAF) commando at about 4 o’clock dawn last January 25. A portion of the corpse’s right index finger was sent to the FBI for DNA testing to confirm it was really Marwan the SAF had killed. The DNA matched with that of Marwan’s brother, Rahmat Abdhir, 51, held as prisoner 10743-111 at the Lompoc low security federal correctional institution in Santa Barbara, California, USA.

Unless Marwan surfaces somewhere to disprove the FBI finding, this is conclusive: Marwan is dead – and most significantly – at Pyrrhic cost. In his February 6, 2015 address to the nation, President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III said, “The operation against Marwan was successful” but “…we paid a heavy price.”

Referred to in the historical allusion of “pyrrhic” are the direct and collateral costs in getting one wanted person — including the stake in the final solution of the Mindanao, better known as Moro, problem.

Decoy Info Dead, Too

That rendered dead, too, info decoy reports from two sources to muddle the government report about Marwan’s fall – one from the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF-Misuari) and the other from the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

That from the MNLF through its spokesman lawyer Emmanuel Fontanilla said: “As far as the MNLF is concerned, Marwan is alive (The Philippine Star, February 2, 2015: Marwan alive, MNLF insists).” The report, though, was incoherent. At one point, “Marwan was in Lanao del Sur during the raid at his hut”; in two others, “an MNLF commander saw him at the BIFF camp” and “he was able to escape by pumpboat”.

That from BIFF (Inquirer Mindanao, February 2, 2015: BIFF: We don’t have Usman), from spokesman Abu Misri Mama, denied Marwan’s presence in Maguindanao and, cavalierly, his existence, saying: “Marwan is only a creation of the government and the [United States] to justify their intrusion into Moro areas.”

Both the MNLF and BIFF spokesmen said the photo showing Marwan dead was only manufactured – “photoshopped”. Will they challenge the FBI finding? Fontanilla had challenged the government to get a DNA report from an independent body to prove that Zulkifli was indeed the man slain during the raid.

Direct Pyrrhic Costs

Logistics: Even if true as reported (Inquirer Mindanao, February 5, 2015: US funded SAF operations to get Marwan—source), that the Mamasapano operation was “fully funded by the US”, the report did not mitigate the cost. Equipping and training 392 commandos since 2010 for the dirty job until deployment for the January 25 operations must have cost millions in dollars – in billions of pesos plus the post-operation costs.

Lives: A total of 66 lives, not including Marwan’s, were lost – 44 SAF, 18 MILF and four civilians. The SAF casualties were nine of the 42 members of the 84th SAF Company dispatched to Pidsandawan to get Marwan and 35 of the 36 members of the 55th deployed in Tukanalipao – the lone survivor PO3 Robert Lalang.

Just a Note: In media reports and official statements, only the 44 SAF commandos are considered casualties.  Is that correct and fair?

Collateral Pyrrhic Costs

Demoralization: Morale in the rank and file of the PNP sank low. Not only the death of the 44 commandos but the feeling that they had been abandoned and that the President, the commander-in-chief, was insincere in his condolence dealt the blow. This may pass away soon. But still it’s too high a price in exchange for an international bomb-terrorist with no guarantee the bombings would stop. His trained bomb makers – hundreds, at least – are still there to carry on the terrorism.

Breach in chain of command: No matter how the PNP Command and the Palace would explain that “professionalism” on the top is intact the breach in the chain of command had been admitted. The SAF commander, Police Director Getulio Napeñas, by-passed his immediate superior, OIC Director General Leonardo Espina; he briefed the President but not DILG Secretary Manuel Roxas III who has direct supervision over the PNP. He directly reported and took orders from suspended PNP Director General Alan Purisima.

This had led to the “lack of coordination” – the major cause of the Mamapasano pyrrhic operation. It’s hard to understand. And it’s hard to admit the indicators that, the series of “Oplans” to get Marwan being the US baby, the SAF was harnessed by the US military for the task starting 2010 with Purisima and Napeñas – hence, the “by-passing”. Two reports – “Inquirer Mindanao, February 5, 2015: US funded SAF operations to get Marwan — source” and “Philipine Daily Inquirer, February 5, 2015: Marwan is dead, DNA test done in Singapore” – are most revealing.

In the first report, the “source” must be one of the survivors of SAF 84th and 55th. Besides his vivid narration of the training in the US facility in Zamboanga City since 2010, he revealed this about the January 25 Mamasapano operation:

A total of 392 SAF commandos were sent to Maguindanao as early as January 22; 42 members of the 84th were assigned to get Marwan and 36 of the 55th to serve as blocking force. The remaining 314 were to serve as reinforcement.

The 55th pleaded for reinforcement from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m.; the pleas were monitored by the Americans, but they did not do anything. The Americans, whose main interest was the tissue sample of Marwan, were focused on the 84th and used a drone to track down its exact location. This explained why only a few were killed from the 84th but the 55th lost all except one, PO3 Robert Lalang. He is the “Robert”, the lone survivor, reported by ABS-CBN News on January 29.

He expressed resentment. “We can’t take this anymore. I hope my colleagues would get the justice they deserve.” His reference to “my colleagues” elicits the question: Is PO3 Lalang the “source”?

The second report featured in the end part Senior Insp. Recaredo Marasigan, “a member of the team”, obviously, of the 84th. He said the 392 SAF officers and men all volunteered for the highly covert operation. An intelligence researcher and analyst, he received and prepared all the intelligence information from the field.

He revealed the intricate intelligence gathering: information about the combined MILF and BIFF forces — the names of every commander, where they were and the number of forces totaling 1,009 all in all; the river channels, the number of houses in the area — four where Marwan was hiding plus 12 others within the 500-meter-to-1-kilometer radius of the targeted hut; the people, the terrain — aerial shots showing three river channels in the targeted area. DPAs (deep penetration agents) and drones must have been used.

Only that much he would reveal: “It is not within my authority to talk about who gave the orders” while admitting “this … mission … was an order from the top” and stressing “what the public needs to know is that we were all volunteers.”

If the orders came from the top PNP Command and the President, why could he not reveal it? Why were they just “volunteers”? The SAF is a regular branch of the PNP organized under President Fidel V. Ramos for special missions composed of regular enlisted men and officers, not volunteers.

The two reports provide clues to the puzzle of breach in chain of command involving especially Napeñas and Purisima and may also explain why the agreement to coordinate with the MILF was ignored.

Crisis: In the aftermath of the pyrrhic January 25 “Oplan Wolverine”, the outrage and chaos will not go away despite the all-is-well assurances from the PNP Command and the Palace. These — What really happened? Who was responsible? The MILF or Moros have to prove their sincerity. – continue nagging. There’s a demand for the President to resign; there’s a rumor of a coup de etát in the offing. The President had to address the nation for the second time in eight days last February 6 to ease the crisis.

Enigmatic Pyrrhic Cost

The loss of lives, the logistics in billions of pesos, and the threatening crisis arising were the heavy price paid for the “triumph” in killing Marwan. The crisis – hopefully, it will dissipate and vanish soon – the President addressed forthright in his speech last Thursday, February 6.

The President announced the resignation of suspended PNP Director General Alan Purisima; unequivocally blamed the SAF chief, Police Director Getulio Napeña (now suspended), for the lives lost; expressed amends to raise the sagging morale in the PNP rank and file and to assuage the grief of the widows and relatives of the 44 slain commandos; and, sent a strong message to the MILF demanding justice due for the part their fighters had in the “over-kill” and cooperation in getting Abdulbasit Usman.

But how the Mamapasano “fever” will affect the final solution to the Mindanao or Moro problem is enigmatic. Two posers stand in the way — (1) how the MILF can convince the members of the Congress of their sincerity in negotiating peace with the government; and, (2) how the MILF can keep their power, when the Bangsamoro is eventually set up,  to persuade diverse groups to abandon their arms and terrorism. What the MILF will do to satisfy the first poser tends to undermine the conditions vital to the second.

Ever since 1900, the thinking has been: Muslim Mindanao must conform to Christian Luzon and the Visayas. This spawned the so-called Moro Problem. This thinking has been radicalized with the Moro demand for autonomy: Muslim autonomy must be what the Christian Luzon and the Visayas think of autonomy according to the Constitution. This is at the root of Moro extremism like the BIFF and the Abu Sayyaf.

Under the influence of the Mamasapano “fever”, the Congress may pass a Bangsamoro Basic Law – it might not at all – that will establish the Bangsamoro less autonomous than that promised to the Moros during the year-long or longer information campaign on the Bangsamoro Framework Agreement before the drafting of the BBL. Such Bangsamoro will harden Moro extremism and antagonize more the likes of BIIF and Abu Sayyaf. That will handcuff the MILF and the Bangsamoro government to forge unity and peace.

Obviously, as seen in the statements of some legislators and in the letter of the President to the MILF, the “show of sincerity” demanded of the MILF means taking a hard line against the BIFF – as an ally of the government. Should the MILF do this to the BIFF, as it has already done in Pikit, North Cotabato (Inquirer Mindanao, February 6, 2015: MILF vs BIFF fight erupts, Action seen as bid to save peace process), the extremists will turn MILF enemies, not estranged brothers willing to reconcile if the autonomy is right.

The establishment of the Bangsamoro that is truly autonomous – call it by any other term: substate, ministerial, asymmetrical – is the strongest gambit to lead Moro extremists back to a life of peace instead of defying the national police and the military even with the help of the American forces. Should the Mamasapano “fever” further close the already narrow minds of most members of the Congress and frustrate this gambit, the final solution to the century-old Moro Problem will be the most pyrrhic price of Marwan’s death

(Comment” is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz’ column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. The Titus Brandsma Media Awards honored Mr. Diaz with a “Lifetime Achievement Award” for his “commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate.” You can reach him at patponcediaz@yahoo.com.)

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