The SAF 44: Our sons, our heroes

Bea Cupin

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The SAF 44: Our sons, our heroes
They were highly-trained, decorated young policemen. On January 29, they came home to a heroes' welcome – not as lively troops but as corpses

MANILA, Philippines – They were among the best of the Philippine National Police (PNP), an elite force trained for counter-terrorism, hostage-rescue, and even disaster response. 

They were heroes “who willingly put themselves in danger to address threats to our security; they who were wounded; they who gave their lives in the name of peace,” according to President Benigno Aquino III. 

On Thursday, January 29, 42 of the 44 PNP Special Action Force (SAF) commandos arrived in Manila to a heroes’ welcome. But instead of the lively troops they were, they returned as corpses, the slain in what the government is calling a “misencounter” with Moro rebels in Mamasapano town, Maguindanao, just days before.

They were veterans of the 2013 Zamboanga siege and skilled operators in the conflict-torn provinces of Zamboanga, Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi.

Many of them were decorated young policemen, according to the records of the PNP SAF.

But before that, they were sons, brothers, fiancés, husbands, fathers.


The 44 are set to receive full police honors, possibly a Medalya of Kagitingan, and post-humous promotions, according to PNP spokesman Chief Superintendent Generoso Cerbo Jr. 

As the country’s police force and the rest of the country grieve the 44 fallen, questions linger. Who sanctioned the ill-fated operation? Why did 44 of the country’s best-trained policemen fall to forces of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF)? –

All photos courtesy of the PNP SAF

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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.