The new Netflix movie Mamasapano is an account of the tragic deaths of 44 policemen who died while trying to catch Philippines’ most wanted terrorists, Marwan and Usman, in the area of the Philippines known as Mamasapano. The film basically attacks the Philippine government of the time and questions its intentions towards its police force. The men were supposed to return safely to their families, but the infamous peace project meant that a ceasefire couldn’t be imposed, and the men continued to die. The film becomes a bureaucratic thriller, where insiders have a lot more information than they show to the media, hiding behind their plausible deniability. The way the movie’s made, it’s confusing at times to keep track of the 55th and the 84th Special Action Company (SAC), who were the main units who were massacred by the rebels of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
Plot Synopsis: What Happens In The Film?
The plan was always to catch or kill Marwan and Usman, who had bounties of $5 million and $1 million, respectively, to be offered by the US government. Marwan was known to be the Osama bin Laden of the South-East Asia. The 84th SAC, headed by Allan Franco, thought they had done their job when they killed Marwan and drove Usman into hiding, but because there was a delay in the 55th reaching their location, they stayed in Mamasapano a little longer than they should have. As soon as dawn broke and the rebels got to know about the armed men, a conflict began, which resulted in the tragic deaths of 44 men. There were only two survivors. Mamasapano is the story of that fateful day the men died, the events leading up to the tragedy, and also about General Getulio Napenas’ testimony to the Bureau of Investigation (BOI), an independent unit headed by the honest Chief Benjamin Magalong. It is the story of one of the most terrible tragedies in the Philippines’ history, made more horrific if looked at from the angle that the lives could have been saved.
Why Did Napenas Not Inform The Army About Operation Oplan Exodus?
The MILF rebels were in constant strife with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), the military. Napenas was called in to give his account of how the tragedy occurred. The BOI wanted each and every detail as to how the men couldn’t save themselves. The main point of concern was why Napenas did not inform the AFP about Operation Exodus. Maybe, if they had the Army’s support, they would have had the firepower to keep the MILF rebels away. But Napenas had his own constraints in the matter. He had come into the picture as the leader of this operation only because his superior, General Alan Purisima, had been fired because he hadn’t been able to catch Marwan. The previous Oplan mission was a failure, and this was the tenth time they were going after the two terrorists. This time Purisima met the President of the Philippines, Benigno Aquino, and he felt extraordinary pressure to catch at least one of the terrorists. Purisima may have been suspended, but he was very much a presence in the police force, and Napenas was de facto working under him. According to Napenas, it was Purisima who explicitly gave him the names of Interior Minister Max Roxas and AFP Chief Leonardo Spina, which meant Napenas was not to divulge any information to these two.
The previous nine missions had been with the AFP’s cooperation, and it made matters worse. Marwan and Usman were thought to be receiving shelter from the MILF rebels. These rebels were totally against military presence in their area, and it was a reason not to involve the army. But the second, more controversial idea behind not involving anyone was that there was a leak in the army. Someone did not want Marwan or Usman to get caught. The idea seemed to work, as with the tenth attempt in Operation Oplan Exodus, the 84th SAC was able to get Marwan. There wasn’t a leak this time around, but without the army, the police unit was in deep trouble, as the rebels didn’t really care if they weren’t the military. If you were armed, you could be seen as the rebels’ enemy, and that is exactly what happened.
Why Did Napenas Make The Sensational Speculation?
As early as around 7 a.m. on January 25, the Army was given the information that police units had gone to apprehend Marwan and Usman. The proof was there. General Tolino of the Philippine National Police (PNP) had gone to meet Colonel Rosario with another officer and told him about the dire situation the 55th and 84th SAC were in and how they needed immediate support from the army. Magalong was forced to question Napenas, as he grew curious as well, about why, when Colonel Rosario had been given this information, the SAC units didn’t get the reinforcements they so desperately needed. Napenas was of the opinion that President Aquino was eyeing the success of the ‘Peace Project,’ and he didn’t want the army to massacre the rebels. Col. Rosario must have given the information to Col. Catapang in Zamboanga, where Aquino was on the day, and yet the reinforcements never came. Magalong saw what Napenas was trying to imply, and he asked him to speak freely about what he was claiming. Napenas hesitated but speculated that Aquino must have explicitly given the orders to Catapang to stand down and not get the army involved, even if it meant that the rebels massacred the policemen. This was quite the controversial claim, and it looked like Napenas was trying to malign the highest powers in the country, just so he didn’t have to accept that he ‘mishandled’ the Oplan Exodus.
Was President Aquino Arrested?
The 55th were the blocking unit to the 84th, who had trained with US Navy Seals and were the best police unit in the country. But now they were dropping like flies. There was a brief moment where a deal could have been made with MILF Base commanders Suma and Tundok. But they probably got irked by the allegation that they were sheltering terrorists such as Marwan in their region. The President’s Secretary for the Peace Project was there when the deal could have been made, but there was no active attempt from her side. She reacted quite viscerally when Aquino was accused of withholding military support, as that could mean a violation of the ceasefire pact with the rebels.
Suma and Tundok didn’t budge and gave silly reasons why their men couldn’t stop the firing for six hours, which meant that the men from the SAC units had little to no chance of surviving in the open. Nearby the 55th SAC’s position, there was a lake that could be a way out of the mess, but not all of them could retreat. Chris Lalan, one of the men in the 55th company, was ordered to hide in the lake and make sure he survived to tell the tale of what happened. He hid as ordered, but when he tried to escape, he encountered a priest, whom he mistakenly thought was a rebel. He chased him and went inside the mosque, killing three people. He was later told he could be charged for war crimes, but he wasn’t. The MILF rebels, however, were not in a mood to forgive the PNP, and the Peace Project was in trouble. At the end of it all, the bottom line is that the 44 men who lost their lives on January 25th, 2015, have still not got justice. Magalong was contacted by Interior Minister Max Roxas, whom Napenas was wary of as well, to see to it that the BOI didn’t take the investigations too seriously. The reward for this could have been a promotion to being the AFP Chief, as Leonardo Spina was retiring soon. But his conscience didn’t allow him to do so. He conducted a fair investigation, and that became the reason a criminal case was filed against President Aquino and all the other co-accused. Aquino passed away in 2021, but the case is still ongoing.