#SAF44: Officials monitored battle via SMS

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Editor's Note: Following is a revised timeline of the Mamasapano encounter between commandos of the Special Action Force (SAF) and troops from the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. This is based on SMS communications, obtained by 9News (now CNN Philippines), between President Benigno Aquino III and key police and military officials involved in the incident.

(CNN Philippines) — The SAF troops arrived in Mamasapano at 2:30 a.m. on January 25 – armed with an arrest warrant for what were called high-value targets.

Director Getulio Napeñas, SAF chief, told Director General Alan Purisima, suspended PNP chief, and Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina, the acting PNP chief, about the operation.

The operation went well.

Supt. Hendrix Mangaldan, 4th SAF Battalion commander was updating Napeñas on the troops' movement.

They accomplished part of the mission, but messages from Napeñas' phone did not make it clear when the commandos killed Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan.

The closest to telling his time of death was the congratulatory text sent by Espina to Napeñas at 5:48 a.m.

Napeñas told Espina about the operation about an hour earlier, at around the same time he also informed Purisima.

Napeñas told his superiors that provincial and regional police groups in Maguindanao supported the SAF team.

At 5:09 a.m., Napeñas informed Maj. Gen. Edmundo Pangilinan, chief of the 6th Infantry Division, that "coordination was also done with the commanding officers of the "1Mech" and "45IB," likely referring to the 1st Mechanized Brigade and the 45th Infantry Battalion.

More than half an hour later, at 5:43 a.m., Mangaldan texted Napeñas: "Padami na tao, sir, request loud speaker operation."

Information was sketchy, but the next text gave a hint.

At 5:45 a.m., Purisima told President Aquino that Marwan had been killed, that a SAF trooper was wounded, and that the bomb expert's body had been left behind.

He said the troops were on their way out.

At 5:56 a.m., Brig. Gen. Manolito Orense, chair of the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group, asked Napeñas to coordinate with Col. Mel Feliciano of the 601st Brigade for support in case they should happen to face MILF fighters.

More than an hour later, Mangaldan sent a message to Napenas about information he received that MILF troops were mobilizing. That was 7:12 a.m.

He asked for confirmation on reports that the MILF's 118th and 105th base commands were moving.

Napeñas later on said MILF commanders were heading to the encounter site.

Espina asked if reinforcements were sent. It was 7:26 a.m..

Napenas gave an update. Marwan had been neutralized but added: "There was heavy firefight and SAF troops suffered casualties."

The PNP also asked for military support.

Five minutes later, Napeñas told Espina the AFP had mobilized its forces.

At 7:53 a.m., Napeñas sought for reinforcement from a fellow SAF officer.

He texted Chief Supt. Noli Taliño, then SAF deputy commander, that the commandos were in combat and were asking for artillery support.

By this time, Aquino was asking Purisima about why the 160-strong SAF units were finding it hard stand up against what he believed were only 15 to 20 rebels.

Napeñas continued to ask for back-up.

At 7:55 a.m., he asked Purisima, Espina, and Taliño for artillery support.

At 7:58, Taliño replied: "Nega daw muna artillery at baka may mga civies [civilians] at mga bata."

Taliño said six armored vehicles were committed, as well as an infantry force of about 50.

Purisima was also texting Napeñas around the same time.

Purisima asked if there was a response from the Western Mindanao Command, which he said he contacted.

At 8:02 a.m., he even forwarded a message he sent to "Rusty," likely referring to Lt. Gen. Rustico Guerrero, the chief of the Western Mindanao Command.

At 8:17 a.m., Purisima assured the president that the troops were backed up by tank and artillery support.

But Napeñas was still asking for help at 8:39 a.m.

He sent messages asking for "indirect fire" from Pangilinan of the 6th Infantry Division and Guerrero of WestMinCom.

He assured them that there were no civilians in the area.

At 9:14 a.m., Napeñas texted Espina still asking for indirect fire assistance, saying SAF troops were pinned down because of the open terrain.

Eleven minutes later, Espina replied saying he forwarded his concern to Guerrero – the same person contacted by Napeñas and Purisima.

Purisima and Espina were apparently also coordinating with Pangilinan for support.

Both police officials relayed to Napeñas a message from Pangilinan, saying troops from Sharrif Aguak were moved as early 8:20 in the morning but said fire support will need an FO or field officer on the ground.

Pangilinan's message to Espina said the military's armored vehicles can't move through the marshes and swamps.

President Aquino, at this time, still appeared clueless on the fate of the SAF troops.

At 10:16 a.m., the president's text to Purisima was a directive to ensure that Basit Usman is captured.

Purisima would, in the next hour, tell the president that their main mission was to withdraw.

At 10:23 a.m., Napenas started receiving messages from Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II.

Espina forwarded the messages, which included Roxas's inquiry about wny Marwan's body was left behind.

At 10:35 a.m., Napeñas told Espina that enemies outnumbered the SAF commandos and that they were facing mixed armed groups.

At 12:24 p.m., SAF ground commander Mangaldan was still asking for reinforcements.

One of the messages from Purisima at past noon confirmed that the SAF troops were in a firefight with the MILF's 105th Base Command.

At 1:04 p.m., Napeñas told Espina through SMS that the MILF did not stop firing.

He gave him their coordinates.

"Baka maubos tao natin sa lugar na ito," he told Espina while reiterated the request for indirect fire support.

At 1:39, p.m. Mangaldan informed Napeñas that members of the Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities had arrived.

At 2:03 p.m., Napenas sent a message to Senior Supt. Fernando Mendez, chief of the PNP Intelligence Group: "Na-trap mga tao natin, mahirap situation now."

There was no help depite the distress calls.

At 3:58 p.m., Chief Supt. Charles Calima, chief of the PNP Directorate for Intelligence, texted Napeñas.

He sent an unconfirmed message saying that 22 commandos were killed in action and that their belongings were taken.

The same message said the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters beheaded two SAF officers and that the commandos may have run out of firepower.

At 6:30 p.m. Napeñas told Roxas lawless elements engaged SAF troops on their exit.

He said later on that at least 36 commandos were trapped.

Text exchanges over the next two hours were about rescuing those in the battlefield.

By this time, more than half a day had passed since the operation started.

It wasn't until 10:47 p.m. that a message from Napeñas' phone indicated that rescue was near.

Napeñas sent a text to Espina, Purisima, and several other police officials involved in the operation, saying "the troops were already located and that "hopefully they will be rescued soon."

But with only one SAF officer surviving what seemed an endless encounter, the rescue didn't come.

At around 2:30 a.m. of the next day, Mangaldan told Napeñas they were on their way to the encounter site.

At 5:45 a.m., he sent a text saying the dead were accounted for and that there were no other troops missing in action.

At 6:20 p.m., Purisima informed the president that the SAF troops were overrun and suffered casualties.