On January 25, 2015, sixty-seven (67) Filipinos died in Mamasapano, Maguindanao as a result of an encounter triggered by operation Plan (Oplan) Exodus.
The goal of Oplan Exodus was to neutralize high value targets (HVTs) who were international terrorists—i.e., Zkulkifli Bin Hir/Zulkifli Abhir (Marwan); Ahamad Akmad atabl Usman (Usman); and Amin Baco (Jihad).
Forty-four (44) members of the Special Aciton Force (SAF)—considered as the elite unit of the Philippine National Police (PNP) against terrorism and internal security threats-lost their lives in Mamasapano, while sixteen (16) other SAF members sustained severe injuries.
The tragic incident in Mamasapano raised several questions. How could a group of elite forces be massacred? Who was responsible for their deaths? What caused the traffic encounter in Mamasapano? Who were the hostile forces encountered by the SAF troops?
The Board of Inquiry (BOI) was created by the Philippine National Police (PNP) primarily to investigate the facts regarding Oplan Exodus and to provide recommendations in order to address such possible lapses.
The methodology used by the BOI in preparing this report is described in Chapter 1.
The BOI notes that the information obtained from certain key personalities were limited. For instance the BI failed to secure a interview with the President Benigno Aquino III, suspended Chief PNP (CPNP) Alan Purisima, Chief-of-Staff AFP (CSAFP) General Gregorio Catapang, and Lieutenant General Rustico Guerrero. All concerned officers of the Armed Fores of the Philippines (AFP) refused to be interviewed by the BOI despite repeated requests.
The BOI did not have access to other crucial information such as contents of Short Messaging System (SMS) or text messages, and logs of calls and SMS. BOI’s requests for the submission of cellular phones for forensic examination were also denied by CSAFP Catapang, Guerrero, suspended CPNP Purisima and AFP officers. However, the sworn statement of suspended CPNP Purisima included a transcript of his SMS exchanges with the President on January 25, 2015.
Despite the foregoing limitations, the BOI succeeded in conducting several interviews, obtaining various types of evidence, processing and reviewing hundreds of documents, and conducting ocular inspection in Mamasapano to produce this Report.
Based on the records, Oplan Exodus was approved by the President and implemented by suspended CPNP Purisima and the Director of SAF (Napeñas) Getulio Napeñas, to the exclusion of the Officer-in-Charge of the Philippine National Police (OIC PNP) Leonardo Espina, who is the concurrent Deputy CPNP for Operations.
On December 16,2014, the OIC-PNP issued a Special Order No. 9851 which directed suspended CPNP Purisima and other suspended PNP officers, to “cease and desist from performing the duties and functions of their respective offices during the pendency of [their respective cases filed by the Ombudsman] until its termination.”
Napeñas and suspended CPNP Purisima ignored the established PNP Chain of Command by excluding OIC-PNP Espina in planning and execution of Oplan Exodus. Napeñas and suspended CPNP also failed to inform the Secretary of the Interior and Local Government (SILG) Mar Roxas about Oplan Exodus, and made no prior coordination with the AFP. Based on the records. SILG and OIC-PNO were informed of Oplan Exodus through a phone call by suspended CPNP Purisima at 05:50 a.m. on January 25, 2015. SILG learned about the operation when he got an SMS from Police Director Charles Calima Jr. at 07:43 a.m. on January 2, 2015.
The participation of the suspended CPNP in Oplan Exodus was carried out with the knowledge of the President. Records revealed instances when the suspended CPNP met with the President and Napeñas to discuss Oplan Exodus on January 25, 2015.
Records also show that suspended CPNP Purisima failed to deliver his assurances to coordinate with the AFP. At a crucial stage of the crisis, the suspended CPNP Purisima provided inaccurate information from an unofficial source, which further jeopardized the situation of the 55th SAC and 84th Seaborne in Mamasapano.
There are indications that Napeñas may not have considered differing opinions raised by his subordinate commanders. The mission planning appears to have been done by a group of officers and not by a planning team, with inputs heavily influenced by Napeñas. Subordinate commanders expressed that Napeñas had unrealistic planning assumptions such as the swift delivery of artillery fire and the immediate facilitation of ceasefire.
Napeñas chose to employ a “way-in/way-out, by foot and night-only” infiltration and exfiltration Concept of Operation (CONOPS) for Oplan Exodus. During an interview with BOI, Napeñas admitted that he expected casualty of around ten (10) SAF Commandos to accomplish the mission.
Napeñas also admitted that key variables for the success of Oplan Exodus, such as the coordination with the Sixth Infantry Division (6ID), and with the Coordinating Committee o the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) and Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG) were not thoroughly considered in the mission planning. The established protocols and Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) of the AFP, CCCH and AHJAG in providing reinforcement and effecting ceasefire were not sufficiently discussed.
Napeñas proposed to the President the adoption of the time “Time-On-Target” (TOT) concept of coordination for Oplan Exodus. Application for the TOT concept restricted disclosure of information to a limited number of persons until the target is engaged. It appears that Napeñas’ primary consideration for adopting the TOT concept was operational security (OPSEC) to reduce the risk of having Oplan Exodus compromised.
The records show that when the President gave instructions to CPNP Purisima and Napeñas to coordinate with the AFP, Napeñas raised his concern that the AFP might be compromised due to intermarriages of some AFP personnel with the local people. He cited previous SAF operations against the same HVTs that were coordinated with the AFP. Suspended CPNP Purisima and Mendez shared the qualms of Napeñas.
When Napeñas proposed to the President the adoption of the TOT concept for Oplan Exodus, the President remained silent.
Police Superintendent Raymund Train of the 84 SAC (one of the survivor from the Mamasapano encounter) attested that, in case of heavy enemy fire, the first planned mitigating action for Oplan Exodus was indirect artillery fire support from the AFP. The second planned mitigating action was the commissioning of the peace process mechanisms to facilitate ceasefire.
However, Napeñas failed to consider the consequences of the TOT concept vis-a-vis the required mitigating actions. He appeared to have relied heavily on the verbal commitment of the suspended CPNP Purisima to arrange for the needed AFP support. Coordination with the 6ID and CCCH and AHJAG was planned to be made at TOT, that was, upon engagement of the target. There was no plan for close air support.
With respect to the peace process mechanisms as mitigating actions in Oplan Exodus, the required coordination to trigger such mechanisms (such as a ceasefire) were not followed.
Prior communication with Brigadier General Carlito Galvez could have informed Napeñas that, in past experiences, a ceasefire could only be achieved after at least six (6) hours of negotiation.
By the time the AFP was informed about Oplan Exodus, a hostile encounter between the SAF Commandos and various armed groups in Mamasapano had already ensued.
Considering that the CONOPS adopted the way-in/way-out-in/way- that the CONOPS adopted heavy support from other SAF Commandos to secure the withdrawal route of the Main Effort (Seaborne). The plan was for the 84th Seaborne to link-up with 55th SAC and progressively with 4SAB units along the withdrawal route.
The delay in movement of the Seaborne affected the movement of the 4SAB and other reserve forces. When the containment and reserve forces arrived at the Vehicle Drop-off Point (VDOP), the situation in the area of operation was already hostile. Heavy sound of gunfire were heard coming from the location of the 55th SAC. The troops immediately disembarked, organized themselves and rushed to their designed waypoints (WP). Midway between WP8 and WP9, the reinforcing troops came under heavy enemy fire. The exfiltration route became dominated by hostile forces. The Ground Comander at the Advance Command Post (ACP) was not able to maneuver the troops to break enemy lines and force their way to reinforce the 55th SAC Commandos near WP12. Ineffective communication system further exacerbated the situation.
During the site survey in Mamasapano on February 24, 2015, the BOI took note of the unfavorabe terrain faced by the reinforcing troops. The wide terrain between their location and that of the 55th SAC was literally flat without adequate cover and concealment. Tactical maneuvers, such as the “Bounding Overwatch” technique, would have been difficult and may result to more casualties. According to the platoon leaders, enemy fires were coming from all directions which prevented them from maneuvering and reinforcing 55th SAC.
In a joint interview with BOI, Mayor Ampatuan of Mamasapano and the Barangay Chairman and Officials of Tukanalipao in Mamasapno claimed that in the past, armed elements would readily withdraw from the encounter side whenever white phosphorus rounds were delivered by Field Artillery Batter of the 6ID PA.
In an interview with BOI, Napeñas claimed that the 6ID immediately provided artillery fire support when one of its infantry company was harassed by armed elements sometime in late November or early December 2014.
However, during the execution of Oplan Exodus, three (3) white phosphorous rounds were delivered late in the afternoon and not earlier in the morning when such rounds could have mattered most to the 84th Seaborne and the 55th SAC.
SAF coordinated and requested for indirect artillery fire support from the 1st Mechanized Brigade as early as 07:30 a.m. The Brigade Commander of the 1st Mech Brigade, Colonel Gener Del Rosario sought clearance for artillery fire from the 6ID Commander, Major General Edmundo Pangilinan. Howver, of the three recommendations given by Col. Del Rosario, only the dispatches of infantry support and mechanized support were approved by the MGEN Pangilinan. The request for indirect artillery fire was put on hold since, according to Pangilinan, they still lacked details as mandated by their protocol.
Based on the records, MGEN Pangilinan took it upon himself to withhold artillery fire support in consideration of the peace process and artillery fire protocols. However, pursuant to AA, PA SOP No. 4, that decision could have been made by a Brigade Commander like Col. Del Rosario.
The primary objective of Oplan Exodus to get the HVTs was not fully completed. Two of its targets, Jihad and Usman, were able to escape and remain at-large.
Three hundred ninety-two (392) SAF Commandos were mobilized for Oplan Exodus. Forty-four SAF members lost their lives in carrying out this mission. In discovering the facts that lead to such deaths, this Report stresses the importance of command responsibility: “A commander is responsible for what his unit does or fails to do.”
- Chain of Command
The Chain of Command in the PNP was violated. The President, the suspended CPNP Purisima and the former Director SAF Napeñas kept the information to themselves and deliberately failed to inform the OIC PNP and the SILG. The Chain of Command should be observed in running mission operations.
For instance, the Manual for PNP Fundamental Doctrine,1 requires the Commander to discharge his responsibilities through a Chain of Command. Such Manual provides that it is only in urgent situations when intermediate commanders may be bypassed. in such instances, intermediate commanders should be notified of the context of the order as soon as possible by both the commander issuing the order and the commander receiving it.
With respect to Oplan Exodus, the Chain of Command in the PNP should have been: OIC, CPNP PDDG Espina (as senior commander) to Napeñas (as intermediate commander). PDG Purisima could not legally form part of the Chain of Command by reason of his suspension.
- Command Responsibility
The principle of Command Responsibility demands that a commander is responsible for all his unit does or fails to do. Command Responsibility cannot be delegated or passed-on to other officers. Under the Manual of PNP Fundamental Doctrine, Command Responsibility “can never be delegated otherwise it would constitute an abdication of his role as a commander. He alone answers for the success or failure of his command in all circumstances.”
Based on all records, Napeñas admitted that he has command responsibility with respect to Oplan Exodus.
The TOT coordination concept, which limits the disclosure of information to only a few personnel, is applicable only to ordinary police operations. This concept however does not conform to the established and acceptable operational concepts and protocols of the PNP. Even AFP commanders asserted that the TOT concept is alien to the Armed Forces and runs counter to their established SOPs. Without coordination, following the AFP definition, support to operating units such as artillery or close air support is not possible since these entails preparations.
- Operation Plan
Oplan Exodus was not approved by the OIC-PNP. Napeñas dominated the mission planning, disregarding inputs from his subordinate commanders on how the operation will be conducted. The concept of the way-in/way-out, by foot and night-only infiltration and exfiltration in an enemy controlled community with unrealistic assumptions was a high-risk type of operation.
Oplan Exodus can never be executed effectively because it was defective from the very beginning. Troop movement was mismanaged, troops failed to occupy their positions, there was a lack of effective communication among the operating troops, command and control was ineffective and foremost, there was no coordination with the AFP forces and peace mechanism entities (CCCH and AHJAG).
- Command and Control
Command and control is critical to a coordinated and collaborative response to the Mamasapano incident. In Oplan Exodus, the SAF’s TCP and ACP were plagued by failures of command and control from the very start especially in the aspect of communication. As Oplan Exodus unfolded, mobile communication devices was used as a primary mode of communication. However, these devices fell short of what were needed to relay real-time information and coordination of activities to and from the chain of command.
Radio Operators were assigned at the TCP one each for 84th Seaborne and 55th SAC. However, 55th SAC and 84th Seaborne lost contact during the crucial moments of executing Oplan Exodus. They had to rely on distinctive gunfire to approximate each other’s location. Radio net diagram was provided but failed when radio equipment bogged down.
Some of the ordinance for M203 were defective. Although there were sufficient rounds of ammunition for each operating troop, the overwhelming strength of the enemy caused the troops to run out of ammunition. The common Motorola handheld radios failed when submerged in water because these were not designed for military-type of operations. The battery life was short because of wear and tear.
- AFP Response
Artillery fire support was factored in as one of the mitigating actions of the SAF. However, such support was not delivered when needed. In consideration of the peace process, AFP did not deliver the artillery fire support under the consideration of the peace process, and on the absence of compliance with the required protocol. AFP demanded prior coordination to enable them to react and deliver the requested support. Nonetheless, the AFP sent infantry and mechanized units to reinforce the SAF. White phosphorus artillery rounds were fired late in the afternoon. However, by then, all of the 55th SAC lay dead except for one who was able to escape.
Local PNP units wer not fully utilized to reinforce the SAF. The reinforcement from the local and Regional PNP units were not seriously factored-in during the mission planning process.
- Peace Process
Officials of the CCCH and AHJAG, when tapped by AFP, did their best to reinstate the ceasefire between the SAF and MILF combatants. The participation of other armed groups such as the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), private armed groups (PAGs), and other armed civilians in the firefight delayed the ceasefire.
- United States (US) Involvement
The US was involved in the intelligence operations and medical evacuations. No US personnel/troops were involved in the actual combat operation. The US supported the operation by providing technical support to enhance monitoring of the troops on the ground.
They were also involved in the identification of Marwan through DNA analysis.
- Post-Mission Actions
The report submitted by the PNP Crime Laboratory shows that around four (4) SAF commandos with fatal gunshot wounds (GSWs) to the head and at the mid-portion of the trunk were deathblows delivered by shooting at close-range. In other words, not all the forty-four (44) fatalities died during the actual firefight, but were literally executed at close-range by the enemy.
A total of 16 SAF firearms and one (1) cellphone were returned by the MILF. It was observed that some parts of the returned firearms had been replaced.
Based on the foregoing, the following conclusions were drawn:
- The President gave the go-signal and allowed the execution of Oplan Exodus after the concept of operations (CONOPS) was presented to him by Director of Special Action Force (SAF) Director Getulio Napeñas.
The President allowed the participation of the suspended Chief Philippine National Police (CPNP) Police Director General Alan Purisima in the planning and execution of the Oplan Exodus despite the suspension order of the Ombudsman.
The President exercised his prerogative to deal directly with Napeñas instead of Officer-in-Charge of the PNP (OIC-PNP) Police Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina. While the President has the prerogative to deal directly with any of his subordinates, the act of dealing with Napeñas instead of OIC-PNP Espina bypassed the established PNP Chain of Command. Under the Manual for PNP Fundamental Doctrine,2 the Chain of Command runs upward and downward. Such Manual requires the commander to discharge his responsibilities through a Chain of Command.
The suspended CPNP Purisima violated the preventive suspension order issued by the Ombudsman when he participated in the planning and execution of Oplan Exodus. He also violated the Special Order No. 9851 dated December 16, 2014 issued by OIC-PNP Espina, directing him and other suspended PNP officers to “cease and desists from performing the duties and functions of their respective offices during the pendency of the case until its termination.”
In the same meeting where the President instructed Napeñas and suspended CPNP Purisima to coordinate with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP),3 PDG Purisima thereafter said to Napeñas: “Ako na ang bahala kay Catapang.” The PNP Ethical Doctrine Manual cites, “Word of Honor — PNP members’ word is their bond. They stand by and commit to it.” The statement of Purisima may be construed as an assurance of providing the coordination instructed by the President.
Suspended CPNP Purisima provided inaccurate information to the President about the actual situation on the ground when he sent text messaged to the President stating that SAF Commandos were pulling out,4 and that they were supported by mechanized and artillery support.5
Despite his knowledge of the suspension order issued by the Ombudsman, Napeñas followed the instructions of suspended CPNP Purisima not to inform OIC-PNP and the Secretary of the Interior and Local Government (SILG) Mar Roxas about Oplan Exodus. This violated the PNP Chain of Command.
Napeñas failed to effectively supervise, control and direct personnel which resulted in heavy casualties of the SAF Commandos. Under the Manual on Fundamental Doctrines, Command Responsibility means that a commander is responsible for effectively supervising, controlling and directing his personnel. Under that same doctrine, a commander is responsible for what his unit does or fails to do.
Napeñas followed his Time-on-Target (TOT) coordination concept despite the directive of the president to coordinate with the AFP prior to the operation.
The TOT coordination concept adopted by the SAF does not conform with the established and acceptable operational concepts and protocols of the PNP.
The protocols of the established peace process mechanisms, through the Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) and Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG), were not observed during the planning and execution of Oplan Exodus.
The mission planning of Oplan Exodus was defective due to: (1) poor analysis of the area of operation; (2) unrealistic assumptions; (3) poor intelligence estimate; (4) absence of abort criteria; (5) lack of flexibility in its CONOPS; (6) inappropriate application of TOT; and (7) absence of prior coordination with the AFP and AHJAG.
The following factors affected the execution of CONOPS: (1) mismanaged movement plan from staging area to Vehicle-Drop-Off Point (VDOP); (2) failure to occupy the designated way points; (3) ineffective communication system among the operating troops; (4) unfamiliarity with the terrain in the are of operation; (5) non-adherence to the operational/tactical Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs); (6) lack of situational awareness among commanders; and (6) breakdown in the command and control.
Artillery support from 6th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army (6ID-PA) was not delivered when needed most because Major General Edmundo Pangilinan, Division Commander of 6ID, considered the on-going peace process and protocols in the use of artillery.
The lack of situational awareness, limited cover and concealment, ineffective communication, and sustained enemy fire prevented the 1st Special Action Battalion (1SAB) and 4SAB containment forces from reinforcing the beleaguered 55th Special Action Company (SAC) troops.
CCCH and AHKJAG undertook all efforts to reinstate the ceasefire. “Pintakasi” and the loose command and control of the MILF leaders over their field forces contributed to the difficulty in reinstating ceasefire.
Some of the radios of the SAF Commandos were unreliable because these were not designed for military-type tactical operations. The batteries had poor power-retention capability due to wear-and-tear. Furthermore, SAF radios were not compatible with AFP radios for interoperability.
There was a breakdown of command and control at all levels due to ineffective and unreliable communication among and between the operating units.
There are indications that 55th SAC was not able to secure its perimeter, conduct reconnaissance, occupy vantage positions and establish observation posts.
Several rounds of ammunition of M203 grenade launchers were defective.
The United States involvement was limited to intelligence sharing and medical evacuation. Only SAF Commandos were involved in the actual combat operation of Oplan Exodus.
Autopsy reports indicate that four (4) SAF Commandos were shot at close-range while they were still alive. Records also indicate that possibility that some SAF Commandos were stripped-off their protective vests prior to being shot at close-range.
Based on this Report’s findings and conclusions, the Board of Inquiry (BOI) recommends the following:
- Where the facts of this Report indicate possible violations of existing laws and regulations, appropriate government agencies should pursue the investigation of the Mamasapano incident to determind the criminal and/or administrative liabilities of relevant government officials, the MILF and other individuals.
The AFP and PNP, in coordination with OPAPP, should immediately review, clarify and strengthen the Join AFP/PNP Operational Guideline for Ad Hoc Joint Action Group especially in the area of coordination during Law Enforcement operations (LEO) against HVTs.
The AFP and PNP should jointly review related provisions of their respective written manuals and protocols to synchronize, reconcile and institutionalize inter-operability not only between these two agencies but also with other relevant government agencies. The National Crisis Management Core Manual (NCMC manual) could be one of the essential references.
Crisis management simulation exercises (similar to fire and earthquake drills) should be regularly conducted among key players including local government units particularly in conflict prone areas.
The PNP should review its Police Operational procedures to cover operations similar to Oplan Exodus and to clarify coordination issues.
The PNP should craft its own Mission planning Manual and institutionalize its application in PNP law enforcement operations.
The capabilities of SAF and other PNP Maneuver Units for Move, Shoot, Protect, Communicate and Close Air Support (CAS) should be enhanced.
The PNP should review its supply management system to ensure operational readiness of munitions and ordinance.
Cross-training between the PNP and the AFP pertaining to management and execution of military-type tactical operations should be institutionalized.
The PNP should immediately grant 1 rank promotion to all surviving members of the 84th Seaborne and PO2 Lalan for their heroism and gallantry in action, posthumous promotion to the fallen 44 SAF commandos, and should give appropriate recognition to all other participating elements.
 PNPM-D-01213 DHRDD Octber 2013 Revised Edition
 PNPM-D-01213 DHRDD Octber 2013 Revised Edition
 Based on the affidavit of Napeñas, on January 09, 2015, the President stated in the presenc eof suspended CPNP and AD, IG Mendez that “Yung coordination with AFP ha, wag kalimutan.”
 PDG Purisima to President Aquino (7:36 AM, January 25, 2015): “Sir accordingly, when the nearest target from the line of approach is M1 and when they hot the primary target, the other house where basit usman was located with other elements reacted and fired at the troopers. There were about 15 to twenty armed elements. It was about 430 am and it was deicded that they pull out after gathering pictures and other evidences. They were not able to reach the secondary targets sir.”
 PDG Purisima to President Aquino (no specific time, Januray 25, 2015): “they are presently in contact with reinforcing elements from biff. The containment forces are the ones in contact right now. They are supported by mechanized and artillery support. Sir.”