On 24 January 2015, three hundred ninety-two US-trained commandos of the Philippine National Police (PNP) Special Action Force (SAF) meandered into barangay Tukanalipao, Mamasapano for a high-risk law enforcement operation (LEO) dubbed as Operation Plan (Oplan) Exodus. The principal objective was to neutralize Malaysian bomber and bomb expert and suspected Jemaah Islamiya (JI) leader Zulkifli bin Hir, also known as Marwan, who reportedly carried a USD 5 million reward money for his capture, dead or alive; Ahmad Akmad Usman y Batabol alias Abdul Basit Usman, a Filipino bomb expert with links to the terrorist groups Abu Sayyaf and JI; and Amin Baco alias Jihad, a Malaysian JI member and expert improvised explosive device (IED) bomb-maker.
Mamasapano, a fifth-class town of 29,000, is in the stranglehold of the Ampatuan warlords. Tukanalipao, a village of 3,000, has more guns than people. It has plenty of mangroves, coconut trees, citrus trees, cassava root crops, and tributaries of the Rio Grande, the second largest river system in the Philippines, after the Cagayan River of Luzon. Its local residents are armed to the teeth. Kids, as young as ten, spend time practicing to fire guns.
The place is a territory of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and its spinoff, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) which has deployed 1,000 separatist fighters in the area.
By late afternoon of 25 January, the lifeless bodies of 44 SAF Commandos of the Main Effort (ME) were scattered in different places in Mamasapano. At that time, 30 others continued to fight for their lives while under heavy enemy fire. 297 more, who comprised of the bulk of Support Effort (SE) rushed to save their fellow SAF Commandos. The remaining 21, most of whom were senior SAF officers, monitored the situation, re-planned, issued directives, and called for support.
After the incident, the SAF produced a DNA sample supposedly belonging to Marwan, and digital pictures intended for documentation.
The search for Marwan resulted into more than 50 deaths, a dozen wounded and several others missing and believed already dead. It was said to be the largest toll in the history of the Philippine Constabulary-PNP and in the history of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
SAF members were shot in the head, decapitated, undressed of their uniforms, and denied of their firearms. They were even shot a few more times to ensure they were dead. They were clearly outnumbered, outgunned, and unable to coordinate with their commanders. Almost 12 hours of hit and run gun battle ensued where 18 MILF fighters and 2 civilians were also killed.
President Benigno Simeon Aquino III created the Board of Inquiry to investigate on the clash. It is headed by Directorate for Integrated Police Operations (DIPO) head Chief Superintendent Edgardo Ingking and includes Criminal Investigation and Detection Group chief Police Director Benjamin Magalong and Directorate for Research and Development head Chief Superintendent Catalino Rodriguez Jr.
On 28 January 2015, Aquino said on his televised national address that PNP Director General Alan Purisima was involved in the planning of the operation to arrest Marwan though he was suspended on his post due to graft charge.
The president, who was noticeably absent at Villamor Air Base on January 29, where the bodies of 42 cops killed in the clash arrived to a heroes' welcome, received flak online. He opted to follow his original schedule, the inauguration of a Mitsubishi plant in Sta. Rosa, Laguna. Malacañang defended that the President was scheduled to attend the necrological services of the fallen cops on January 30.
The remains of the Fallen 44 were brought out of Camp Bagong Diwa before dawn on 1 February 2015. On February 5, arrival honors were rendered to them. Aquino declared January 30 a day of national mourning.
Anakpawis Rep. Fernando Hicap said that Aquino should be held responsible for the deaths as his actions led to the tragic end of the men who entered MILF territory in a clandestine operation to arrest two international terrorists. Marwan was reportedly killed in the operation but Basit Usman, commander of the BIFF, escaped.
More than 10 days after the operation of SAF in Mamasapano, Purisima resigned from his post as PNP chief. President Aquino has accepted Purisima's resignation, Cabinet sources said.
Relieved SAF commander Getulio Napeñas confirmed that he received orders from Purisima to push through with the operation without giving advance warning to PNP OIC Leonardo Espina.
Senate President Franklin Drilon said that Purisima's resignation will help lift the burden off Aquino as he has been heavily criticized for the bloody operation. He added that this will help raise the morale of the national police force who are still greiving for their comrades. Vice President Jejomar Binay said that Purisima must still face investigation despite his resignation. However, Purisima's lawyer, Kristoffer James Purisima, said that Purisima has not tendered any resignation.
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) report, DNA tests confirmed Marwan's death. The DNA sample provided by the PH government is related to the DNA of his brother, Rahmat Abhdir, who is detained in the US for conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists, flase statements and providing material to Marwan.
List of the Names of the Fallen PNP-SAF 44 Heroes (#TheFallen44)
- Sr. Insp. Ryan Ballesteros Pabalinas
- Sr. Insp. John Garry Alcantara Erana
- Sr. Insp. Max Jim Ramirez Tria
- Sr. Insp. Cyrus Paleyan Anniban
- Sr. Insp. Gednat G. Tabdi
- Insp. Joey Sacristan Gamutan
- Insp. Rennie Tayrus
- SPO1 Lover L. Inocencio
- PO3 Rodrigo F. Acob jr.
- PO3 Virgel S. Villanueva
- PO3 Andres Viernes Duque Jr.
- PO3 Victoriano Nacion Acain
- PO3 Noel Onangey Golocan
- PO3 Junrey Narvas Kibete
- PO3 Jed-in Abubakar Asjali
- PO3 Robert Dommolog Aliaga
- PO3 John Lloyd Rebammonte Sumbilla
- PO2 Amman Misuari Esmulla
- PO2 Peterson I. Carap
- PO2 Roger C. Cordero
- PO2 Nicky DC Naciono Jr.
- PO2 Glenn Berecio Badua
- PO2 Chum Goc-ong Agabon
- PO2 Richelle Salangan Baluga
- PO2 Noel Nebrida Balaca
- PO2 Joel Bimidang Dulnuan
- PO2 Godofredo Basak Cabanlet
- PO2 Frankiln Cadap Danao
- PO2 Walner Faustino Danao
- PO2 Jerry Dailay Kayob
- PO2 Noble Sungay Kiangan
- PO2 Ephraim G. Mejia
- PO2 Omar Agacer Nacionales
- PO2 Rodel Eva Ramacula
- PO2 Romeo Valles Senin II
- PO1 Russel Bawaan Bilog
- PO1 Angel C. Kodiamat
- PO1 Windell Llano Candano
- PO1 Loreto Guyab Capinding
- PO1 Gringo Charag Cayang-o
- PO1 Romeo Cumanoy Cempron
- PO1 Mark Lory Orloque Clemencio
- PO1 Joseph Gumatay Sagonoy
- PO1 Oliebeth Ligutan Viernes
PNP Board of Inquiry (BOI) on the Mamasapano incident
Police Director Benjamin Magalong, head of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group, chaired the BOI. According to the report, the chain of command of the PNP was violated when the President, Purisima, and Napeñas deliberately failed to inform PNP OIC Espina of the mission. The President gave the go signal and allowed the execution of Oplan: Exodus after the concept of operations was presented to him by Napeñas. The former allowed Purisima to participate in the planning and execution of the operation despite the latter's suspension. The President exercised his prerogative to deal directly with Napeñas instead of Espina thus bypassing the established PNP Chain of Command.
Magalong said that the President's order of instructing Purisima to coordinate the Mamasapano mission with Espina was not followed. The President admitted that he expected full cooperation between the SAF and military forces in the mission, not knowing the Napeñas did not follow his order.
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 issued by Espina, directing him and other suspended PNP officers to “cease and desist from performing the duties and functions of their respective offices during the pendency of the case until its termination.”
Napeñas failed to effectively supervise personnel which resulted in heavy casualties of the SAF Commandos. He 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 concept adopted by the SAF does not conform to the established and acceptable operational concepts and protocols of the PNP.
The report also pointed out the reasons why the mission planning of Oplan Exodus was defective:
- Poor analysis of the area
- Unrealistic assumptions
- Poor intelligence estimate
- Absence of abort criteria
- Lack of flexibility in its CONOPS
- Inappropriate application of TOT
- Absence of prior coordination with the AFP and AHJAG
Also, artillery support from the 6th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army was not delivered because Major Gneral Edmundo Pangilinan, Divison Commander of 6ID, considered the on-going peace process and protocols in the use of artillery.
Chairman of Senate Committee on Local Government Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. stated that hearings on the security and armed forces provisions of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) were halted. Senator Alan Peter Cayetano claimed that his coalition withdrew its support for the BBL which endangered the ongoing peace process. The House of Representatives also suspended its hearings on BBL but it remained supportive of the measure.
Napeñas was relieved of his post and was replaced by deputy SAF director Chief Superintendent Noli Taliño. A board of inquiry was created to investigate the police encounter in Maguindanao.
Aquino delivered a televised address on 28 January 2015 and said that the MILF should identify those who were involved in the killing of SAF members, return the slain SAF members’ guns and personal belongings, and allow the government to continue their operation against terrorists. He declared January 30 as a “National Day of Mourning” and pressed the Congress to immediately approve the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law.
Aquino admitted that there was a lack of coordination among the government forces and the MILF. While Purisima personally knew the operations, both Roxas and Espina were not notified of it beforehand. It wasn’t explained further why they were unaware of the operations. 
A video of the killing of allegedly one of the SAF members was uploaded on ‘’YouTube’’ but has since been taken down. However, a copy of the video was sold in DVD format in the streets of Manila. Also, the video was uploaded in social media site Facebook.
In 2015, in an effort to mend relations with the villagers where the clash occured, the construction of a steel bridge and an 880 meters access road began in Takunalipao.  Named as “The Bridge of Peace,” it aimed to connect the village to the main highway to facilitate the movement of people and agricultural products.Cite error: Closing
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Another target of the operation, Abdul Basit Usman, was killed by the MILF after being found in the base command's camp.
On 25 January 2016, a year after the incident, Aquino conferred the Medalya ng Kagitingan (PNP Medal of Valor) awards to Sr. Insp. Gednat Tabdi and PO2 Romeo Cempron, while the Medalya ng Kabayanihan (PNP Distinguished Conduct Medal) was given to 42 other slain SAF troopers.
Labeling of the incident
There was a debate on what to call the Mamasapano incident, whether it was a “misencounter” or a “massacre.” While the Senate labeled it as a massacre and an overkill due to the manner the SAF personnel were killed, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) insisted that it was a misencounter. CHR chair Loretta Rosales insisted that the incident was a “misencounter” as the SAF troops were armed and not helpless. She added that the MILF and SAF never intended to fight each other.
MILF chief peace negotiator Mohaquer Iqbal added that the clash was never intended by the MILF and government forces.
Senator Chiz Escudero asserted that the Senate’s report describing the incident as a massacre was supported by evidences, testimonies, and documents. Senator Vicente Sotto III suggested the CHR to make their own report on the incident.
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