True mark of valor: SAF’s Gednat Tabdi, Romeo Cempron

Bea Cupin
True mark of valor: SAF’s Gednat Tabdi, Romeo Cempron
Coins were tossed and as fate would have it, Tabdi got the assignment he badly wanted: Mindanao. He was killed in heavy gunfire in Mamasapano.

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – On Monday, January 25, two troopers from the Special Action Force (SAF) were awarded the Medal of Valor, the highest award in the police force, for their heroism during an ill-fated police operation exactly one year ago.

Chief Inspector Gednat Tabdi of the SAF’s 84th Special Action Company (SAC) or Seaborne and Police Officer 2 (PO2) Romeo Cempron of the 55th SAC were given the award posthumously in Camp Crame, during the Philippine National Police (PNP)’s tribute for its fallen comrades.

Tabdi and Cempron were among the 400 or so SAF troopers that entered Mamasapano town in Maguindanao in the wee hours of the morning on January 25, 2015. Their mission: neutralize terrorists wanted by both the Philippines and the United States.

PO2 Romeo Cempron of the 55th SAC. Photo courtesy of the PNP SAF

While the Seaborne were able to kill Malaysian bomb maker Zulkifli bin Hir (alias Marwan), clashes triggered by the operation pinned down the two companies in barangays Pidsandawan and Tukanalipao.

Forty-four of the SAF were slain after hours of gunfire. At least 17 of Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF)’s fighters died, alongside at least 3 civilians. It’s the bloodiest one-day operation in PNP history.

Cempron, according to the testimony of the 55th SAC’s sole survivor, acted as a human shield in the latter’s attempt to escape. The 35 other troopers of the 55th SAC all died during the clashes.

The late SAF trooper’s wife, Doctor Christine Cempron, described him as a “friend of all.”

He was supposed to ask for a re-assignment to Cebu province so he could start a family with his wife. Cempron, 33, had been in the police force for 5 years when he died.

SAF volunteers

Tabdi, meanwhile, was a junior officer who graduated from the Philippine National Police Academy (PNPA) in 2009. The police captain, posthumously promoted to major, was also the one who severed the finger of Marwan inside hit hut. (READ: Mission accomplished: Marwan dead)

One of the team leaders of the Seaborne, Tabdi led the company’s efforts to reinforce the trapped 55th SAC, even if they were overwhelmed by gunfire themselves.

It was past 2 pm, more than 12 hours after the Seaborne’s jump off, when other officers realized that Tabdi had been shot in the head.

Chief Inspector Gednat Tabdi of the Seaborne. Photo courtesy of the PNP SAF

“Ged” to his friends from the PNPA, Tabdi was someone who “would never turn back on you if you needed him,” according to Senior Inspector Gary Manabat, Tabdi’s company mate in the police academy.

Tabdi’s decision to join the SAF and eventually, the elite Seaborne, were partly due to circumstance, recalled Manabat.

He wanted to be assigned in the same place as Manabat, whom Tabdi jokingly referred to as his “kuya.”

It was odd because the slots for the elite force are usually gone after the class’ top cadets pick their assignments. But for the class of 2009, at least 27 were up for grabs.

The two seized the chance, eventually ending up in the same battalion, the Rapid Deployment Battalion which the Seaborne belongs to.

During lunchtime at the SAF headquarters in Bicutan, Manabat was told to pack up and fly to Mindanao because the Seaborne needed a new officer in its ranks. But Tabdi, wanting the Mindanao deployment for himself, asked Manabat if he could take the slot instead.

“I told him: don’t force this assignment because you might get jinxed,” said Manabat, referring to a belief in SAF that asking for a specific assignment would lead to trouble.

Coins were tossed and as fate would have it, Tabdi took the slot for the elite Seaborne. 

Tabdi, 27, is survived by a wife and one child, who was not yet born when the junior police officer died in Mamasapano. – Rappler.com

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Bea Cupin

Bea is a senior multimedia reporter who covers national politics. She's been a journalist since 2011 and has written about Congress, the national police, and the Liberal Party for Rappler.