Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Reports circulating that P-Noy was so stunned as all hell broke loose in Mamasapano around 9am., a totally unexpected scenario. As various probes appear and P-Noy’s allies circle the wagons, would the Filipino people really ever know the truth? FVR accuses P-Noy of breaking chain of command. What happened in Maguindanao reminds me of the saying, “For want of a nail, the shoe was lost; for want of the shoe, the horse was lost…”

In my blog of last Monday, Feb. 2, I recounted the account of the lone survivor among the 44 slain SAF commandoes, as narrated over TV and later cited in Fr. Rannie Aquino’s Manila Standard Today column, about the dying moments of some of his fellow troopers. Some begged for messages to be sent to their families whom they'd never see again; one trooper even asked this survivor to open his cellphone photo album, so that before he closed his eyes in death he could gaze on his family again. Another paper recounted how a commando recited the rosary with his mother by cellphone as he lay dying.  

In Zamboanga City President Aquino and a few officials, including DILG Secretary Mar Roxas and Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, were following the progress of the Mamasapano assault. There are reports floating that by 9 am. of Jan. 25, P-Noy was said to have been truly stunned to realize that all hell had broken loose there and his elite commandoes were dying like flies. As one eyewitness put it, “napaupo si Presidente at mukhang litong-lito, hindi makapagsalita.”


P-Noy had every reason to be stunned, for apparently he and his suspended PNP Chief Alan Purisima never expected the worst outcome. In fact he was in Zamboanga City since Jan. 24 presumably to victoriously receive the body of terrorist Marwan and turn it over to the Kano, and as reports now indicate from the Palace, he could be eligible for the Nobel Peace Prize for brokering the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (backed up by a grateful President Obama?).

At this moment various security officials are speaking out to debunk claims that there was no coordination between the PNP and the AFP;  but if what transpired between these two commands the other Sunday can be described as a "close coordination," then Heaven help us! We really are in trouble.


Suspended PNP Chief  Alan Purisima
To this day no one can understand how come PNP suspended Chief Purisima, who was monitoring the assault by remote control from his White House in Camp Crame, had ordered SAF Chief Getulio Napenas not to disclose the Mamasapano operation to PNP OIC Leonardo Espina (who had replaced Purisima) and Secretary Roxas until it was well underway. Napenas obviously obeyed Purisima who enjoyed at that moment the President’s full trust and confidence, but that was a very costly obedience on Napenas’ part---he became the escape goat and was ultimately sacked from his post.

PNP OIC Leonardo Espina
It’s facetious for various allies of P-Noy to appear to be looking for the truth, for the plain fact is that Purisima could not have ordered that Mamasapano assault without a direct order from his Commander-in-Chief. P-Noy should resign, at the very least, under command responsibility. 


AFP Chief Gregorio Catapang insists that he was told by P-Noy as early as November last year about the planned operation to get Marwan and for him to "coordinate" with the PNP on this project. But the problem was that there was no follow-through (for all we know, this order was given out by P-Noy in the Palace hallway in his very informal style, totally unprocessed). The next time that topic was brought up was already during the aftermath of the SAF assault when everyone and his mother (literally) was trying to get the AFP to rescue the trapped commandoes.

On record was PNP OIC Leonardo Espina calling up his PMA classmate, Western Mindanao Command (WestminCom) Chief Gen. Rusty Guerrero in the desperate moments of the raging battle, to ask help for the SAF trapped in Mamasapano. Gen. Guerrero was quoted as replying, “Parang di ko yata alam yan, a.”  If there was a unit that should have been informed of the planned assault, it should have been the WestminCom as it is the closest command to Maguindanao. Guerrero’s consolation was that Espina didn’t know about it either until all hell broke loose.

At that desperate moment of the fighting between the BIFF/MILF and SAF commandoes, there were testimonies that individual SAF fighters were texting their families to also get help for them. Imagine the terrible burden on those poor troopers who ultimately paid the supreme price with their lives: to want to talk to their families for the last time and still beg them in their remote areas to get help for them in Mamasapano!  What inhumanity was this?


The AFP command now admits that it did receive desperate calls for immediate succor, but at that point---and this is true of all field units---most of their soldiers were already dispersed elsewhere and it was tough to gather them fast. Besides, said the AFP, it wasn’t even apprised of exact locations so that if they used their cannons or bombers, it could have landed on friendly forces instead.  Gen. Catapang belatedly admitted that “Coordination could have made the difference.”

Now so many probes are being conducted by various agencies of government and the Filipino people appear to be in for more confusion and warped stories. Who knows if we would ever arrive at the truth when it seems that protecting the higher authorities is the order of the day.


Former President Fidel Ramos, whose efforts led to the founding of the elite PNP strike force in 1983 and was its first patron, hit the nail upon the head when he opined, with a lot of effort to control his anger, that the Mamasapano operation was so big that it should have involved both the PNP Chief and AFP Chief of Staff in close coordination, and that at one point they are joined together at the top by their Commander-in-Chief.

But the trouble was, said Ramos, P-Noy restricted the decision only to three other people aside from himself and in so doing, he broke the chain of command, which is so sacrosanct in the security services. As FVR explained it, citing a dictionary definition, the chain of command is the order of hierarchy by which an organization wields and delegates authority and power from the top to the management, and down to every employee and every level of organization. By design, he stressed, THE CHAIN OF COMMAND’S INSTRUCTIONS FLOW DOWNWARD AND ACCOUNTABILITY FLOWS UPWARD.


Why the chain of command was severed in the tragic Mamasapano operation---so that only four people in the world fully knew the extent of it---is best appreciated in the realm of speculation. Was it professional jealousy (between Purisima and Espina)? To be a greater hero to the Kano? To bag that coveted Prize in a more dramatic way? Because that exclusive circle, despite public avowals, really cannot trust the MILF?

One thing is sure, to quote PNP OIC Espina, who was out of the loop himself, along with his immediate boss, DILG Secretary Mar Roxas, “whoever planned and executed that SAF operation of Jan. 25 clearly underestimated the strength of the enemy.”

I am reminded of all that had happened in recent days by an ancient saying in Britain, revived in more contemporary times by Philadelphia wiseman Benjamin Franklin,: “For want of a nail the shoe was lost; for want of the shoe the horse was lost, and for want of the horse the rider was lost. For want of the rider the battle was lost. For want of a battle, the kingdom was lost.” 


  1. Very incisive and well-written, not only as a seasoned journalist but as one who understands the inner workings of both the police and military organizations. As a concerned civilian, I am just deeply saddened at the tragic loss from among our finest and bravest young police officers who paid with their lives as a result of this SNAFU.

  2. We are all deeply saddened by the tragic loss of such fine and brave young police officers. Our prayer is that from this tragedy some good would emerge for our country and our people, who have been terribly battered by natural and man-made calamities. Let's pray harder, Alejandre. Thanks for your sympathetic note.

  3. here's the confusing part:
    "In Zamboanga City President Aquino and a few officials, including DILG Secretary Mar Roxas and Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, were following the progress of the Mamasapano assault."

    so how could this be right?:
    One thing is sure, to quote PNP OIC Espina, who was out of the loop himself, along with his immediate boss, DILG Secretary Mar Roxas, “whoever planned and executed that SAF operation of Jan. 25 clearly underestimated the strength of the enemy.”

    that's why i never believed Roxas was ever out of the loop. he's always in the loop as he is BS Aquino's most trusted puppy dog. that will never change.

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