by Marjohara Tucay
The grueling congressional hearings both in the Senate and the House of Representatives has left the public more dazed and confused rather than enlightened on the truth about the Mamasapano operation. Several sharp questions have been asked, yet the respondents refused to divulge essential information, especially when legislators address the elephant in the room – the extent of President Benigno Aquino III and the United States government’s involvement in the botched operation.
In several instances, former Philippine National Police Special Action Force (PNP-SAF) Chief Getulio Napeñas and former PNP Chief Alan Purisima called for an “executive session,” especially when Washington’s involvement is put into question.
While the whole of government still insists that the US has nothing to do with “Operation Exodus” and several other operations before it that targeted suspected terrorist Zulkifli Bin Hir alias “Marwan” and Abdul Basit Usman, several US embassy cables leaked by anti-secrecy organization Wikileaks back in 2010 provide hints on the scope of Washington’s hand in the said operations.
Here are seven Wikileaks cables that provide deeper context on possible US meddling in the nation’s internal affairs, and reveal how the US government planned to “embed” secret agents and operate covertly within the ranks of Philippine forces, and even provide millions of dollars for counterterrorism operations in the Philippines:
- Cable 05MANILA286
This cable which dates back to 2005 details the exploratory talks between the US Pacific Command (PACOM) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on the possibility of “developing a range of enhanced US-GRP counterterrorism scenarios.”
The cable details how the US carefully crafted plans to ensure that US counterterrorism operations in the country will be covered by existing agreements between the US and the Philippines, particularly the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA). It showed that under current bilateral agreements, US forces may indeed be “prohibited from engaging in combat” yet they are free to engage in a range of “combat-related activities,” including “providing intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance support to the AFP.”
This particular cable shows us that the US has indeed explored its options and “pushed the envelope” to ensure that it can extend its “Global War on Terror” on Philippine soil. It also points to the fact that US forces may have provided the “actionable information” that served as basis for the operations against Marwan.
- Cable 05MANILA1614
Washington also contemplated on “revamping the PNP” to make it a useful player in the Global War on Terror. In this the US embassy asked the Federal government for funding to cover a “comprehensive “Management Assessment of the Philippine Police,” which involved providing “embedded US government analysts at a single GRP counterpart agency.”
“A key missing link so far has been a serious revamp of one of the key players – the Philippine National Police – that needs the same kind of institutional rethink and reform that we are now achieving with the Philippine Defense Reform,” the cable read, adding that funding is needed to develop a “fusion model” that would embed US government analysts within several government agencies, including the PNP and the Philippine Anti-Terrorism Task Force.
This information confirms that there is indeed an existing mechanism that allows the US to interact and play key roles in anti-terrorism operations led by the PNP and even Malacañang.
- Cable 05MANILA2590
This cable, released in June 2005, reported that US military assistance to the AFP and the PNP has been “making a difference” and has resulted in several successful operations against the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) and Jemaah Islamiyah (JI).
“US counterterrorism assistance, ranging from operations/intelligence fusion support for the AFP to RMAS’ (Regional Movement Alert System) involvement with the Philippine National Police (PNP), has helped the Philippines register some counterterrorism successes in 2004 and 2005. While we have tremendous access here, continued, sustained engagement is needed if we want to ensure that the GRP turns the corner on terrorism,” the summary of the said cable read.
“US-trained light infantry battalions have also demonstrated improved combat mettle,” it added. The cable also affirmed the value of integrating RMAS support, an APEC anti-terrorism effort, in the PNP, which reportedly resulted to the crackdown in Abu Sayyaf and JI networks.
This cable confirms what has long been suspected – that counterterrorism efforts, especially in Mindanao, are directed and spearheaded by the US.
- Cable 06MANILA4378
Apart from providing technical and tactical support during counterterrorism campaigns, the US also has a program of embedding Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) personnel in the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P), a US military unit representing the PACOM to help the local forces battle terror activities.
“The trial initiative to embed two FBI agents with Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines is nearing the end of its first 90-days. The concept works. We ask the Department to convey our appreciation to the FBI for its support and to urge that the program be continued,” the secret cable stated.
The JSOTF-P, which was set up in 2002 with its main base stationed inside the Western Mindanao Command in Camp Navarro in Zamboanga, is also reportedly involved in the Mamasapano clash.
It should be pointed out that the FBI is the department that offered reward money for Marwan and Usman. The presence of embedded FBI agents in the JSOTF-P is relevant as it may help explain where ‘actionable information’ on Marwan has been coming.
- Cable 06MANILA4388
While the operations against Marwan have reportedly begun in 2010, which means that cables that might have reported on the actual operations are not included in the cables leaked by Wikileaks, there are also cables which particularly mention Marwan.
This cable reveals that the US embassy first requested that Zulkifli Bin Hir alias Marwan be included in the “Rewards for Justice List” back in 2006.
“A senior figure in the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) terrorist organization, Zulkifli has been implicated in plotting attacks on the USS Blue Ridge, and was centrally involved in hiding ammonium nitrate for planned JI attacks against U.S. facilities in Singapore. He has been directly linked to al-Qaida operative Hambali and is an intimate associate of JI operative Dulmatin,” former US Ambassador Kristie Kenney said in the secret cable.
“The announcement of a new high-value reward, and subsequent publicity, will attack the web of social, religious, and cultural ties upon which Zulkifli has relied for his safety and freedom. The Rewards for Justice program has already helped restrict the movement of the JI terrorists Dulmatin and Umar Patek, and could have a significant impact on Zulkifli’s freedom of action and ability to conduct JI activities in central Mindanao,” Kenney explained.
- Cable 09MANILA1440
This cable is a “scene-setter” for the visit of CIA Director Leon Panetta to the Philippines back in 2009.
In the said briefing paper, former US Ambassador Kenney reported: “The United States and the Philippines have scored important successes on the security cooperation and counterterrorism fronts; in the last three years, these efforts have resulted in the death or capture of a dozen key high-value terrorist leaders and over 250 other terrorism suspects. Despite persistent shortfalls in logistical assets, Philippine security forces, acting with USG technical assistance, have killed or captured numerous Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) and Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) leaders, and disrupted ties with rogue Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) elements.”
This particular document shows that by 2009, joint counterterrorism efforts by the US and the Philippines is already standard protocol. It is thus not surprising if the Mamasapano operation is also a joint effort between Washington and Manila.
- Cable 09MANILA2271
This particular cable shows detailed US government financing of counterterrorism operations in the Philippines. It also hints on the possibility that the US government funded the Mamasapano operation and other operations that targeted Marwan, given the fact that Washington allots millions of federal funds for covert operations in Mindanao annually.
In the said cable, the US embassy in Manila endorsed for approval $34.1 million budget from the US government for counterterrorism operations in 2010. Details include $8 million for the procurement of “precision-guided munitions” and other “airborne weaponry.” It also includes funding for “force reconnaissance” and “equipment for naval special operation units.”
This cable clearly shows that the US government is financing all counterterrorism efforts, especially against JI, in Mindanao and confirms that there are drones, precision-guided munitions and other hi-tech equipment in Mindanao, equipment which were supposedly used in the Mamasapano operation.
These cables reveal Washington’s longstanding intervention in the affairs of the Philippine government, especially in peace and internal security. It also substantiates reports that the US is liable for the botched operation and responsible for the deaths in Mamasapano.