As special Action Force commandos of the Philippine National Police exchanged fire with Moro rebels in a marshy village in Maguindanao province, the military did not provide artillery support, SAF commanders said on Monday.
But the military top brass justified its decision, asserting that an attack on the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) would have escalated into a war to the detriment of the peace process.
"Had the artillery support arrived hours earlier, the number of casualties would have been less," Director Getulio Napeñas, relieved SAF commander, told the Senate committees on public order, peace and finance.
Hours into the fighting in Mamasapano town on Jan. 25, the then SAF deputy commander, Chief Supt. Noli Taliño, went to the 1st Mechanized Brigade in Shariff Aguak, also in Maguindanao, to request reinforcements.
Request for artillery
Taliño broached the idea of artillery support with Col. Gener del Rosario but Maj. Gen. Edmundo Pangilinan, commander of the 6th Infantry Division, rejected this.
"I want to give you that but the division commander doesn't want to because of the peace process," Taliño, the now acting SAF chief, quoted Del Rosario as saying.
Del Rosario, however, organised six armored vehicles to link up with the SAF advance command post, Taliño said.
The Senate opened its inquiry into the debacle where 44 SAF commandos were killed when they ran into MILF rebels and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters after taking down Jemaah Islamiyah terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias "Marwan."
The SAF commanders did not inform the military, PNP officer in charge Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina and Interior Secretary Mar Roxas until after the mission had been launched.