MANILA, Philippines – Was it a case of Malacañang intervening or of police officers eager to recognize the service of comrades killed during a botched anti-terrorist operation?
The Philippine National Police (PNP) on Friday, August 7, dismissed a newspaper report that said two members of the Special Action Force (SAF) were supposed to receive honors during an awarding ceremony in Camp Crame Friday morning but didn’t because of supposed orders from the Palace.
In an August 7 report, the Philippine Daily Inquirer, citing anonymous sources, said two SAF officers – among those involved in the bloody January 25 operation in Mamasapano, Maguindanao – “were allegedly taken out of the roster of awardees at the last minute.”
The report said the late PO2 Romeo Cempron and Superintendent Raymund Train were supposed to be awarded the Medal of Valor and the PNP Distinguished Conduct Medal, respectively.
“But in the same week, there was a verbal instruction from the Presidential Management Staff to the PNP to remove the Mamasapano awardees from the program,” the newspaper reported.
On Friday, hours before the report came out, the PNP celebrated its 114th Police Service anniversary in Camp Crame. President Benigno Aquino III graced the program.
Just a proposal?
In a statement released also on Friday, the PNP said they “initially intended to honor the courage and sacrifice displayed by some of those involved in OPLAN EXODUS, which was the reason the Committee on Individual Awards chaired by the Directorate for Personnel and Records Management deliberated and processed some of those who participated in the operations.”
The decision to include SAF officers in the list of possible awardees, one source would later admit, was a stretch. The Medal of Valor, after all, is the highest award that can be conferred to a member of the police or military.
“It requires lengthy process and a THOROUGH evaluation for which reason the review could not be completed on time despite our best efforts. For these reasons, these awards were not included in the program today,” the PNP said.
To award the Medal of Valor to SAF officers – those who were slain or those who survived “Oplan Exodus” – is a long-time coming. But the process is tedious since witnesses are required to testify on the acts of the possible awardee.
The document which the Inquirer based its report on, explained one police official, could be considered a mere proposal.
Several officials listed in the document – those who have no links to “Oplan Exodus” – were likewise not given awards in the end, one official pointed out.
Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II, who has administrative oversight of the PNP, denied the report as well.
“Hindi totoo yan. Nabasa ko ang report ng PNP, prinoproseso ang mga papeles, nais nilang ihabol, ano? But really the awards are for last year, for 2014 acts of the PNP. They were trying to do their best na kahit January naganap itong Mamasapano…but hindi naihabol,” he told reporters in Laguna.
(That’s not true. I read the PNP’s report. The papers were being processed and they wanted to award it in time for Friday’s event but, really, the awards are for acts done in 2014. They were trying to do their best to include the SAF officers even if Mamasapano happened in January 2015, but they didn’t make it.)
SAF chief Director Moro Lazo, in a text message to Rappler, denied the report as well. “Hindi naihabol ng NHQ (National Headquarters),” said Lazo, who clarified that the SAF itself is not part of the deliberations for the awards.
Memories of Mamasapano
“SAF 44” is the collective term for the 44 SAF troopers who died on January 25 during “Oplan Exodus,” a botched police operation that targeted terrorists Zulkifli bin Hir and Abdul Basit Usman. It’s also the biggest crisis to hit Aquino and his administration.
The President was the subject of criticism for his supposed indifference toward the families of the slain troopers and for his role in the lead up to the operation.
The SAF 44 and “Oplan Exodus” have again made headlines recently, after Aquino failed to mention the controversial operation in his last State of the Nation Address (SONA). Opposition leader and 2016 presidential aspirant Vice President Jejomar Binay, meanwhile, featured the SAF 44 prominently in his “True SONA” a week later.
Roxas earlier critcized Binay for “politicizing” the SAF 44. His camp, meanwhile, countered by criticizing the Aquino administration’s alleged continued indifference toward the slain cops.
The PNP, meanwhile, said the “deliberation and vetting process by the committee” continues and that the police force would “render the honor due them at the most appropriate time.” – Rappler.com
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