Questions of Sen. Bongbong at the Final Senate Hearing on the Mamasapano Incident

[Web editor’s note: This transcript is a continuation of Sen. Bongbong’s manifestation at the Senate Hearing on the Mamasapano Incident. Click to listen to the audio or read the full transcript.]

Iqbal: Your honor, would I be permitted to say a few words about the issue?

Sen. Poe: Yes sir.

Iqbal: Well, your honor, I think the time from Jan. 25 up to the time that we submitted, or we returned 16 and ½ firearms is not one month but rather 21 days. Because January 25 and then we had a ceremony at Camp Siongco on Datu Odin Sinsuat on January 18, so 21 days.

Sen. Bongbong: I stand corrected, not one month, three weeks.

Iqbal: Yeah, three weeks po. I have to be very frank your honor. You know when the firearms were turned over to Awang Airport we did not have the time really to check on the firearms, together with my esteemed counterpart from government. We only saw the firearms when they were brought to Camp Siongco. But at any rate at Camp Siongco I understand there was some validation undertaken by military officials or PNP officials—I’m not so sure about who really made the validation. At that precise moment also your honor, I was to travel to Manila so that’s why the ceremony was quite cut short to give us time really to board the plane for Manila.

If that is true your honor, then it is very regrettable that such kind of a situation would happen. I understand the feelings of our friends from the PNP if the report is really true. But because we don’t have the time, we didn’t have the opportunity to really check that such kind of situation really happened. But at any rate I would vouch for the statement coming of our friends from the PNP that there were parts of the firearms changed for another part—I don’t know the technical term for that.

But for the MILF your honor, it’s not the material consideration that is really very important on our part, but the symbolism, the gesture of goodwill, that we want to show to everybody, to our friends from the PNP, that we did not like what happened in Mamasapano.

It was a regrettable incident, it was a tragic incident that resulted in the loss of 44 SAF commandos and 18 MILF fighters on that fateful January 25 incident po. So on our part, while we understand the material consideration, but on our part, it is the symbolism po, the gesture of goodwill, that we are willing to do anything that is possible for us to do.

Because you know we have spent a lot of political capital in convincing our fighters to give us back the firearms so that they would be returned to the PNP. So it took us really a hard time for us to convince our commanders and our fighters to return the firearms to the Philippine National Police. Because you know, we also spent lives, and then there were also distractions.

And then we also promised that the remaining one firearm will be turned over to the PNP as soon as we would have that firearm with us. And then we still continue—because there is still a probability that firearms are still in the hands of our fighters—and then the personal effects, if there is a way, and if there is still remaining firearms and personal effects, then we will also return that, that personal effects.

Sen. Bongbong: Chairman I agree with you that it is a symbolic gesture. The PNP will continue to function even if they do not get 44 rifles back. That is the symbolism.

That is also why the symbolism of good faith is destroyed by the fact that the firearms were tampered with first at pinalitan ng pyesa bago ibinalik. Ibig sabihin kinuha yung magandang pyesa, ginamit sa sarily, ipinalit ay bulok. That ruins the entire symbolic gesture of good faith. Yun ang aking sinasabi. Sayang naman. We have that good opportunity to regain some trust.

But anyway, nandyan na yan. And this is why I just bring it up so that we all understand that we are all pushing for the same thing: the continuation of the peace process. The BBL has been suspended, the peace process has been suspended, we need to return to that. And the only way to do that is to regain the trust of the people. And we have lost that trust. Those of us who are been working for the peace process have lost that trust. We need to regain it.

Payo ko lang, advice, is perhaps we should do better—on both sides. We have been investigating the AFP and the PNP. Now maybe the MILF, the gestures of goodwill need to be more forthright, clearer, because this kind of mixed response is not exactly helpful.

Yun lang ang aking sinasabi Chairman. Alang-alang ito na makabalik na tayo sa proseso ng kapayapaan para naman yung ating mga kapatid sa Muslim Mindanao ay hindi na nasasabak sa gyera.

Iqbal: Can I continue your honor?

Sen. Bongbong: Yes sir.

Iqbal: I’m not saying here that what the PNP-SAF has reported that there were instances of cannibalizing the firearms, I’m not saying that that is not correct or that is not accurate. But for the sake of really finding the truth I’m still pushing for an independent investigation so that all these things can be investigated and then the truth will really come out.

I’m referring to the firearms that are reported to have been cannibalized. If there is a possibility…because it puts the MILF in a bad light. Although, I’m not saying that the report is not true. But for the sake of authenticity, then there has to be an independent investigation so what really happened would be known by everybody.

On the issue your honor about the surrender of MILF combatants. This issue is multi-dimensional issue, it is a multi-layered issue, it is a very complex issue. To the government it can be viewed as it has legal dimension –and I would understand that.

But for the MILF and then perhaps from our counterpart from government, meaning the government—it has a political dimension.

Because we are engaged in a peace process with the government of the Philippines. And then in our engagement with the government of the Philippines in the peace process, there are agreements and documents signed. So that as far as the MILF, we would look at these documents because these documents are binding on both parties.

So in effect, what I am saying here is that there are mechanisms, there are agreements, that would really address such kinds of violations by both sides, if there are. I’m referring to the ceasefire agreement between the government and the MILF. I’m referring to the terms of reference of the adhoc (…..?). So that’s my point there.

And then maybe we can also look at the third dimension, the issue of violations of human rights. I saw the video and with all indications, the video is authentic. I saw a hand firing a hand gun to a wounded SAF commando. So I would presume—I’m not an expert on this, but I would presume that it is genuine. Meaning, the one that fired that hand gun to a wounded SAF is a criminal. The one that put the video is also a criminal. But there are two persons who were….who uploaded the video, they are also criminal. Because how did they uploaded that video? Maybe they said they have the good intention. But good intention does not always result in good consequences. This time, by uploading the video, then it has generated outrage, it has generated emotions all over this country. So I think if I have to make a request, those who uploaded should be called for in this august body.

Sen. Bongbong: Thank you Chairman. Since you brought up the video, what would be your response if we have information identifying the shooter in the video. Will you help our policemen and AFP, find that person and bring him to justice?

Iqbal: Well if it is in the nature of a war crime, we will submit.

Sen. Bongbong: Okay, anyway the legalities of it have been discussed, at least previously.

So again, we will get to the coordination process. So let me get to my question Mr. Chairman: I would like to focus once again on the coordinating process of the AHJAG and the CCCH so that when such an occurrence happens, na nagka-encounter, ay para matigil ang putukan.

The shooting started at around 4:30-5:00 o’clock in the morning of Sunday, 25 January and the ceasefire was at 4:00 o’clock. Although there was still sporadic fighting until the artillery was deployed.

So I will ask, since you were in the middle of all of this, Gen. Galvez, would you give us the narrative. Dahil the AFP report and the GPH Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities—the GP and MILF panels—magkakaiba ng kaunti sa timing. So Gen. Galvez, give us the narrative when you first heard of this incident and what happened afterwards?

Gen. Galvez: Mr. Chairman, your honors, this is the significant incident that happened, pertaining to our mechanisms. First, I was able to receive the information pertaining to the fire fight at 6:38. I was then in Iligan City sir, taking care of the independent decommissioning board. I’m with all my whole staff in the CCCH government panel.

Then afterwards, we organized—when we verified that there were really fighting, after 30 minutes of verification to the field units—we immediately organized the Joint Ceasefire Crisis Team, which is involving the IMT, the Joint Ceasefire Secretariat headed by Mr. Rashid Ladiasan—the chairman of the MILF CCCH, also with the Joint Ceasefire Monitoring Team.

And then at 9:00 o’clock, the Joint Ceasefire Crisis team, composed of this representative, immediately assembled at Cotabato City—because the headquarters of the IMT is in Cotabato.

Then they proceeded to Brgy. Culoy, Shariff Aguak to meet with the two base commanders of the 105th and the 118th, Ustadz Zakariah Goma for the 105th, and Wahid Tundok for the 118th base command.

Then at 11:30, our team—Crisis Team—were able to meet the BIAF commanders.

Then at 1:15 the different groups that have been organized—one group will take care of the opposing forces, while the other group will be taking care of the government forces. So at 1:15 they were able to go to the tactical command post of the government forces.

Then also at that time, I was able to report with Gen. Pangilinan to really assess the situation. Like Gen. Pangilinan, the information came to us in trickles so we did not know the real picture. So during that time, I conferred with the AHJAG and the Division Commander and we assessed the situation.

And then at around 3:00 pm we proceeded to the Tactical Command Post in Shariff Aguak. And during the time that we were travelling, I received a report from Major Sol that we have 26 killed already, verified by the Joint Ceasefire Monitoring Team. And I texted—I remember I texted—the Westmincom Commander at around 3:30 pm.

Then at 4:00 pm we affect the total ceasefire. Despite that, there are also some sporadic firing on the areas of the 84th SAF. That’s the time we know that there are other groups that have been encountered by the DIFF(?) and not other groups.

And then also on 5:20 the crisis team goes back to the engagement site with two hand tractors and an ambulance to start the retrieval operation. And about the same time Major Sol received a phone call from me—I called Col. Sol that there is another group that are being fired upon by unknown protagonist.

And then I called up Rashid Ladiasan that there are still firing on the other side of the river. And he said to us that the MILF already withdrew from Tukanalipao and they already repositioned away from the encounter site. And he said that sir pwede nyo na i-engage sir kasi hindi na sa amin yan. So that’s the time that I already told the 6th Division Commander that sir, the MILF the has completely withdrawn from the area.

Sen. Bongbong: Thank you Gen. Galvez. Gen. Orense, since you are the GPH AHJAG, could you give your own narrative as to the events surrounding the Mamasapano incident, sir?

Gen. Orense: Yes sir. Actually, as what I have stated before, I was awakened by a call from an unknown source. But I answered it and it was Police Director Napenas sir. And he informed me that they were going to operate.

They were going to operate and he asked me if I could cooperate with my counterpart in the AHJAG, Atty. Dataya. And I told him sir bakit naman ora-orada? He was saying, he told me that medyo confidential kasi yung mission. So sabi ko sa kanya I will do my best effort.

He informed me also that it is in coordination, or with the Maguindanao PPO. So the first thing I did was I called up Col. Jocson, the Maguindanao police director, and asked him if he know about the operation. And he informed me that he did not know about it.

Then I called up Col. Feliciano, the commander of the 601 Brigade, and I asked him if he know about the operation. And he told me that he did not know about it. Anyway, since I believe that my commander was still sleeping at that time, resting still at that time, I took the cudgel and initiative to inform or to direct Col. Feliciano, to give assistance and support to Police Director Napenas at that time. So that’s what I did. And he said he would do the support operation for Police Director Napenas.

Later on it was Police Director Napenas who called up and informed me also that, at about five minutes after our first conversation, he told me that they were already withdrawing from the area. So what came to my mind was there would no longer be a cause for an alarm.

So again called up Col. Feliciano, I told him to provide assistance to Gen. Napenas.

Ah, before that sir, I called up Atty. Dataya but again, I was not able to reach him. Then I called up Col. Feliciano and I told him to provide assistance to the withdrawing SAF elements. In fact I remember I told him: Bahala ka na. Because I know for a while that he knows his area of operation more than me. So that was my call to Col. Feliciano. And after that, at around past 6 I think, I called up again Atty. Dataya and the phone just kept on ringing.

And about 7:31 Atty. Dataya called up and we had a conversation, and he told me the reason why he was not able to reply to my call. But he asked me, what happened? And I told him yeah, what happened to the area in Mamasapano? And I just asked him what we could do about it.

Actually sir before that, I remember Col. Galvez called me and informed me that something was actually happening in Mamasapano. It was only at that time that I was able to get a full grasp of what’s happening in Mamasapano. And incidentally, Atty. Dataya called me and that’s the time I asked him what we can do about it. And he said he would call Camp Darapanan and inform his principals about it.

Sen. Bongbong: Let me understand the process. The process is that the AHJAGS first will coordinate and then the CCCH will then—kumbaga kayo AHJAG ang strategy, yung CCCH ang tactics, na kayo talaga makikipag-usap. And that is the process.

So, where the two narratives agree, is that 11:45 the Joint Ceasefire Crisis Team met with the commander of 105th MILF, is that correct? Were you present in that meeting Gen. Galvez?

Gen. Galvez: Sir, I’m already in Cotabato from Iligan sir. I think 11: 30 sir, yes sir we already arrived at Kuloy.

Sen. Bongbong: So, from the first indication at about 6:30 when the government CCCH learned of this on-going encounter, it took you about 5 hours, the CCCH, to arrive at the camp of Commander Goma of the 105th of the MILF?

Gen. Galvez: Sir the problem is the CCCH, the main bulk of the CCCH, is then escorting the IDB.

Sen. Bongbong: Escorting?

Gen. Galvez: We are escorting the Independent Decommissioning Board at Iligan City. If we have the prior knowledge, we will immediately go to Cotabato City. The problem now is being the chairman, it is very vital that I’m supposed to be….

Sen. Bongbong: What I’m trying to do here is trying to find ways to shorten that time. The time from 6:30 to 4:00 in the afternoon is an alarmingly long time. And as we now know, by 1:00 all 44 that were killed were already dead. So it took you until 12:30 to talk.

Now, what was the agreement arrived at, at the meeting with the commander of the 105th, Ustadz Zakariah Goma who was the base commander of the 105th?

Gen. Galvez: Sir, to effect the ceasefire sir. Through going through the protagonists—in the middle of the protagonists—by having two joint ceasefire teams.

Sen. Bongbong: But by your own declaration you were only able to say that the ceasefire had actually began at 4:00 pm, why is that?

Gen. Galvez: Sir, when already the engagement and gun battle started, there is a need for physical presence on the ground. And you cannot just penetrate on the ground without coordination with the protagonists. And there is necessity really that the two teams should be visible on the ground. Because you cannot separate them.

Sen. Bongbong: But the JCCT was already in a dialogue with the commander at 11:45?

Gen. Galvez: Sir, the house of Zakariah Goma is still more or less 25 to 30 minutes going to the area.

Sen. Bongbong: That still brings you only until noon time. What happened from noon to 4:00 pm? Why was there continued fighting?

Gen. Galvez: Sir there is an attempt to enter immediately but the fighting is still ongoing, that’s why the….

Sen. Bongbong: That’s what I’m trying to get at. How do we shorten that period, from the time that you contact the commanders of the MILF, saying that these are government troops that are being fired upon, until the actual ceasefire? We want to shorten that process. Why did it take so long?

Maybe Chairman Iqbal, you can help us here. The commander of the 105th, Commander Goma, had already been informed by let us say, 11:30, that the troops in front of them were government troops, why did the fighting did not stop?

Iqbal: On my side, your honor, we have an internal arrangement. That although I am the Chair of the MILF peace panel and directly the CCCH will report to me, but on operational matters our arrangement is that the head of the CCCH will report directly to the highest military commander of the MILF.

So that in effect what happened was that it was only around 11 o’clock that I was informed about the fighting in Mamasapano, and we had a meeting during that time.

Sen. Bongbong: Understood. But that is exactly what happened. They went to the MILF highest commander at 11:30. To include travel time, by 12:00 o’clock he should have been able to tell his men to ceasefire?

Iqbal: No your honor, its about my information about the encounter, not the information of the CCCH to our highest military commander. That has been on-going already.

Sen. Bongbong: The question Chairman, is why did it take so long for the MILF side to stop shooting at our policemen from 11:30 until 4:00 o’clock? That’s a very long time, it’s four and a half hours.

Iqbal: I think CCCH of government and the MILF are in a better position to explain that. But you know, it was an encounter and the volume of firing is so large and so great that practically people cannot penetrate the battle zone.

Sen. Bongbong: But you see from the text messages that the PNP SAF was already beginning to withdraw; we have learned that at 1:00 o’clock some of the reinforcements that the Army sent were also being told to withdraw. How come we don’t have the corresponding orders from the MILF to withdraw?

Iqbal: I have no personal knowledge about that your honor.

Sen. Bongbong: That is one of the things that I’m looking at so we can improve the system in the BBL. Maybe Professor Ferrer or Sec. Ging Deles, maybe you can help us with this, how do we make it better?

Ferrer: Sir, there is no substitute for coordination on this matter.

Sen. Bongbong: But they had coordinated. They started coordinating at 6:00, never mind coordination before hand?

Ferrer: They had to meet and discuss the strategy. And they did that at 11:00 o’clock at the house of Zakariah Goma, one of the commander, together with the commander of the 118th who is Wahid Tundok. They had to agree on a strategy. They met in a different municipality, which is not Mamasapano—it was in a different municipality. And then they went back to undertake their own respective assignments.

Sen. Bongbong: You said they had to agree on a strategy, aren’t those set in place already. We’ve been referring to them as “mechanism”?

Ferrer: Yes your honor, but they had to agree as who will do what? For instance who will go to the MILF side to tell them at the same time that the message is being transmitted to the SAF side. Because it cannot happen that one will stop fighting and other will still continue fighting and everybody will think that there is no ceasefire again. Therefore, it had to be coordinated well on both sides.

And in this case the only way to communicate it to the fighters of the MILF was to go there physically to call on them because the text messages were not working, the cell phone communication was not very good.

Sen. Bongbong: But Gen. Galvez already at 10:34 sent a text to Ladiasan, saying we already gave advice to the PNP to ceasefire, they had already got that.

Ferrer: Yes sir, that is advice—you have to implement it on the ground. And Ladiasan could not enter the place until about 1:30 when they attempted. But when the shooting still continued they had to withdraw because this team, your honor, were not armed. They came there without arms, they entered the area and they tried to separate the forces.

Sen. Bongbong: We have not established some kind of communication—a hot line even—that we can always communicate to the commanders that there is this crisis that has to be resolved?

Ferrer: If there was a clear line of command at that time sir, then maybe the communication would have been established on both sides. But at that time the lines of command was not clear on the side of the MILF because this was not a planned operation on their part. This was a spontaneous action on the part of the people there who were confronted with that kind of a situation. There was no communication between their commander and the people on the ground. Which meant that the commander had to actually go there to tell them to stop firing….

Sen. Bongbong: The commander did not have coordination with the people who are actually doing the fighting?

Ferrer: No sir, because they did not know that there was going to be a fight?

Sen. Bongbong: But once the fighting started, hindi nya…?

Ferrer: They had to go there….

Sen. Bongbong: Hindi na nya makausap yung tao nya?

Ferrer: Hindi na po. Kasi pati yung communication lines—maybe if you go to the area you would find that the signal is not very good in that area.

Sen. Bongbong: Fair enough. Maybe those are the things that we can improve on. Gen. Galvez, in the form of a critique, how would you suggest that we shorten that time—from the time that this crisis begins until a ceasefire is declared? Papano natin pagandahin at maging—wag namang 11 hours? Kahit naman isang oras man lang—minutes rather than hours sana?

Gen. Galvez: Sir, I believe you are right that we have some sort of a communication line or a hot line. But I would also like to emphasize that sir by experience, its really very hard to separate two opposing forces when they started.

I have an experience recently on February 15, wherein the Basilan based commander, 104th Brigade, conducted same strike operation against the ASG. He informed me at 10:00 o’clock in the evening and 5:30 they strike.

With that prior knowledge on 10:00 o’clock in the evening it gave me necessary time to prepare, who will contact who, what and when. In this case we are in a …..

Sen. Bongbong: How did that work? Please explain to us how that communication, that coordination that you said, how did that work?

Gen. Galvez: Sir, last February 15, I was informed by the 104th Brigade Commander Col. Bautista about the test mission of the SR will be striking an important terrain under the ASG that will cut off Makalang, and also will cut off the Kurelem.

He informed 10:30 and he said, Bok we will operate tomorrow morning at 5:30 so please inform the higher headquarters and the higher echelon of the ano…It’s only… not within 24 hours. And then at 5:30 the operation started, I immediately called Ladiasan. Then I immediately called the Western Front commander of the MILF.

De Lima: Your honor, I’m sorry. May I interject? Can we just remind the general here to be not too specific in his response because these are operations and I think these are still on-going operations, so security matters, your honor.

Sen. Bongbong: Gen. Galvez, upon the advice, please limit yourself to the processes of coordination between the AHJAG’s and the CCCH.

Gen. Galvez: Sir, I believe the important thing here is at the multiple level—for example in my case as chairman, and also I will operate at the level of the chairman, the western front commander, and then the 104th Brigade Commander will go to 114th BC, and then also the AHJAG counterpart with the MILF and the GPH. During the time, the distance between the MILF and the AFP is only 100 meters. But the coordination was made that a radio was put on the MILF camp, using our radio, in the two camps of the MILF. So to cut is short, in this kind of operation, prior knowledge is very important so that the CCCH and the AHJAG will have at least enough preparation on the coordination matters with the MILF. The secrecy of the operation was still maintained but the coordination was made very very succinctly and very very swiftly.

Sen. Bongbong: Well, when things go perfectly as planned, then it all works out. But how many plans go perfectly as planned? So that’s why this is what we have to prepare for. I will probably conduct an entire hearing just on this process. So Sec. Ging Deles, please if you can prepare—and then Gen. Galvez, Gen. Orense—if you can prepare some of the suggestions that you might have that we can put into the BBL—ilagay na natin sa batas para maging matibay ang coordination process ng hindi na ulit mangyari ito.

Thank you Madam Chairman.

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