“By late afternoon of January 25, 2015,” the PNP Board of Inquiry concluded, “the lifeless bodies of forty-four SAF Commandos of the Main Effort were scattered in the cornfields, marshlands, parched soil, and riverbanks of Mamasapano, Maguindanao.” At least three civilians and seventeen MILF rebels also died that day.
“All these happened while most of the other 100 million Filipinos, here and abroad, heard Mass, dined with their loved ones, watched movies, strolled in the park, laboured for their pay check, and just that, enjoyed their carefree Sunday.”
December 2010 — The hunt for Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, begins in Parang town, Sulu province, according to the former Special Action Force (SAF) commander Getulio Napeñas. The SAF conducts an operation to arrest Marwan but he escapes as the police commandos approach the target area.
July 2012 — In another SAF operation, the police commandos reach the hideout of Marwan and other members of Jemaah Islamiyah in Lanao del Sur but the terrorists manage to escape.
Dec. 17, 2012 — An operation in coordination with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) does not push through due to lack of support and facilities. The Army’s East Mindanao Command cannot provide a helicopter requested by the SAF.
April 25, 2014 — “Oplan Wolverine” is conducted in Libutan village in Mamasapano town, Maguindanao province. SAF members are on their way when the mission is aborted because the Army’s 6th Infantry Division cannot commit the mechanized brigade to aid the SAF, as it needs to coordinate the operation with the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG), a mechanism set up by the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to deal with criminals and terrorism in areas with MILF presence.
May 30, 2014 — Another mission is aborted due to heavy MILF movement at the time.
June 10, 2014 — The Army, on its own, attempts to capture Marwan but fails.
Nov. 29, 2014 — “Oplan Terminator” is also aborted because the locally made boat to be used by the SAF on the river in Mamasapano breaks down.
Dec. 12, 2014 —The SAF revives the plan, this time using tactical boats but a clash forces the SAF to retreat.
January 2015 — “Oplan Exodus” to seize Marwan is launched.
Jan. 24, 2015
11 p.m. — According to the military, 392 SAF commandos are stopped at a checkpoint manned by soldiers from the 45th Infantry Battalion (45th IB). “We’re cops, we have a mission,” the commandos say when asked to identify themselves. Two SAF groups go into the marshland, the 84th SAF Company headed by Supt. Raymond Train and tasked to get Marwan and the 55th SAF Company headed by Insp. Ryan Pabalinas, serving as the blocking force. According to Napeñas, the 392 police commandos divided into groups take positions in Tukanalipao village, Mamasapano town, Maguindanao province. The plan is for a surgical operation of 30 minutes. Four nipa huts in the village are the targets of the assault.
Jan. 25, 2015
4:30 a.m. — 84th SAF commandos reach the hideout of Marwan and engage in a fire fight that kills the terrorist. The team sends the message Tactical Command: “Mike One, bingo.”
The exchange of gunfire brings Marwan’s security to action. The policemen come under fire from all directions as they pull out. One SAF officer extracts DNA from Marwan as the firing becomes intense.
5 a.m. — Napeñas sends a text message to Maj. Gen. Eduardo Pangilinan, commander of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, informing him of an ongoing police operation against Marwan. Napeñas does not ask for reinforcements.
5:30 a.m. — Napeñas informs Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina, the PNP officer in charge, about the Mamasapano operation through a text message.
6 a.m. — The SAF commandos call for reinforcements. The Department of National Defense, AFP, government peace panel and the leadership of the MILF are notified about the operation.
The first group of SAF commandos manages to get out of Tukanalipao while the second group, the 55th group, which provides cover for the first group, gets into a gun battle with Moro rebels.
According to the Army, the Alpha Company of the Army’s 45th IB hears gunfire about 4 kilometers away from the detachment. The 45th IB informs the brigade.
Between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. — Pangilinan, sensing the SAF is in trouble, makes several calls. He orders Brig. Gen. Noli Orense of the AFP AHJAG to call his counterpart in the MILF, Abdul Abad Dataya, and inform the MILF leadership about an encounter in Mamasapano and to order the rebels to withdraw. Dataya does not respond. Pangilinan assembles a reinforcement team and calls armor from the Mechanized Brigade to provide artillery support. Pangilinan orders the reinforcement team to look for the SAF’s location.
7:30 a.m. — Dataya finally returns Orense’s call. Dataya says he will inform the MILF leadership about Orense’s request.
7:45 a.m. — Chief Supt. Noli Taliño, Napeñas’ deputy commander, goes to the 1st Mechanized Brigade headquarters. Pangilinan tells Col. Gener del Rosario to coordinate with Taliño. Taliño gives the initial grid coordinates. But Del Rosario asks for the exact and latest grid coordinates of the two SAF companies as it is a running battle. Taliño cannot provide the information.
8:30 a.m. — The Army’s mechanized brigade arrives in the area.
8:45 a.m. — Army reinforcement team sees the remaining 300 plus SAF commandos who have not entered the marshland scattered in the street. “Just sitting,” according to the Army report. Army reinforcement team talks to two SAF commanders on the ground—Supt. Hendrix Mangaldan and a certain Supt. Mangahas—to ask for the grid coordinates of the Train and Pabalinas teams. Neither officer knows the coordinates. The Army reinforcements proceed into the marshland. The SAF commandos refuse to go with them. The 45th IB receives a call from a member of Train’s group, saying: “Hill, we’re on the hill in Barangay Tukanalipao. We are surrounded by the MILF. We have eight dead, three wounded and one missing. We cannot get out.” The Army soldiers figure out the commandos location and proceeds to extract them.
9 a.m. — Pangilinan receives a call from Lt. Gen. Rustico Guerrero, commander of the AFP Western Mindanao Command about the request for reinforcements from Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina, PNP officer in charge.
10:30 a.m. — Second encounter, this time between Pabalinas’ group, the SAF blocking force positioned in a cornfield, and MILF guerrillas who have surrounded them. Pabalinas’ team is wiped out.
Between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. — Army reinforcement team in the marshland receives sniper fire. Army engages the guerrillas.
12 noon — The SAF commandos are still alive though many of them are wounded and they are running out of ammunition, Napeñas says quoting PO2 Christopher Robert Lalan, a member of the second SAF group and the only one who survived the gun battle.
1 p.m. — Napeñas loses contact with the troops who are pinned in a cornfield.
2:30 p.m. — Joint Army and SAF forces set up a tactical command post to coordinate communications as there is no contact with SAF units in the marshland.
3 p.m. — Army artillery support tries to enter the marshland but fails due to narrow passages. Army’s V150 tank is hit.
5:30 p.m. — Under heavy fire from MILF guerrillas, Army reinforcement team deploys white phosphorous to give soldiers cover, a preparation for “call for fire procedure.” Seeing the white phosphorous in the air, artillery support team calculates their grid coordinates and fires several rounds on the other position of the fire fight. MILF guerrillas retreat.
6 p.m. — MILF leadership confirms MILF fighters withdrawal. Army reinforcements proceed to look for SAF survivors and dead.
7 p.m. — Soldiers retrieve the bodies of the SAF casualties. They radio the battalion to inform the 300 SAF commandos that everything is clear. SAF finally moves and helps the Army in retrieval operations.
8 p.m. — Soldiers locate Train and remaining members of his team and extract them safely.
Jan. 26, 2015
2 p.m. — Lalan, the SAF survivor from Train’s team, is located by soldiers and taken to Army 45th IB headquarters to rejoin other SAF commandos. An angry Lalan kicks one of his comrades, demanding to know why reinforcements never came to support the two SAF groups that went in for the operation as planned.
Jan. 27, 2015 — Napeñas is sacked and recalled to Manila as a board of inquiry from the PNP is convened to investigate the botched SAF operation. He is replaced by his deputy, Taliño.
Jan. 28, 2015 — President Aquino addresses the nation, declaring a national day of mourning on Jan. 30 for the 44 police commandos killed in the Mamasapano operation.
Feb. 4, 2015 — US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) confirms that Marwan is dead. In a statement sent to the Inquirer, David Bowdich, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles office, says tests showed the DNA sample sent by the Philippine government belonged to Marwan. “Although the results of the DNA examinations do not provide absolute identification, the results do support that the biological sample provided by Philippine authorities came from Marwan,” Bowdich says. He says there is a need for further tests and analysis by laboratory examiners “in an effort to fully identify the subject of DNA provided to the FBI.”
Feb. 9, 2015 — The Senate committee on public order, chaired by Sen. Grace Poe, along with the Senate committees on peace and finance, begins an inquiry into the Mamasapano operation. The inquiry ends after five hearings on Feb. 24, 2015.
March 12, 2015 — The PNP Board of Inquiry (BOI) submits their report confirming six “American nationals” were at the command center of SAF in Shariff Aguak town, Maguindanao province, hours before members of the elite police counterterrorism unit swooped down on the lair of Marwan. But US presence was limited to intelligence sharing and medical evacuation, their report says. The report also states that Mr. Aquino broke the PNP chain of command when he authorized suspended PNP chief Alan Purisima, a personal friend, to take part in the SAF operation though he was suspended and being investigated for corruption.
March 17, 2015 — Poe presents her committee’s draft report on the Mamasapano clash. The Senate report states that President Aquino had given assent to and had failed to prevent Purisima’s unlawful exercise of official functions” of the SAF operation called “Oplan Exodus.” For this, the report finds Mr. Aquino “ultimately responsible for the outcome of the Mamasapano mission and must “bear responsibility” for the carnage.
March 24, 2015 — The MILF’s Special Investigation Commission releases their 37-page report stating that without prior coordination as required under ceasefire guidelines, a gun battle was “inevitable” and that the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF) were “justified” in firing back. The MILF also insists that it had not coddled the terror suspects, and attributed to a “glaring failure of intelligence” of two of its base commands for not detecting the presence of Marwan and his Filipino associate, Basit Usman, in areas near their communities.
April 16, 2015 — The Department of Justice (DOJ) and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) submits their joint report on the Mamasapano operation, recommending the filing of criminal charges against 90 Moro rebels for the deaths of 35 police commandos during the clash.
Sept. 22, 2015 – The DOJ files direct assault, murder and theft charges against 90 members of MILF, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and other private individuals accused of killing 35 out of 44 police commandos in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.
Oct. 8, 2015 – The DOJ investigators release the second and final part of their report on the Mamasapano clash, ruling out direct United States involvement in the Jan. 25 fight.
Nov, 27, 2015 – The DOJ begins its preliminary investigation of the encounter in Mamasapano with at least four of the 90 respondents denying involvement in the clash that killed 44 police commandos. The 90 respondents, which government investigators said were members of the MILF, face complex charges of direct assault with murder and theft of government property.