SAF 44 back in the camp they call home

Bea Cupin
SAF 44 back in the camp they call home
Family members, fellow police personnel, and the public have waited inside Camp Bagong Diwa and along the streets leading to it to welcome back home the SAF commandos slain in Maguindanao

MANILA, Philippines – It was a day-long wait for the fallen troopers of the Philippine National Police Special Action Force (PNP-SAF) at Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City on Thursday, January 29.

Family members, fellow police personnel, and the public waited inside the police camp and along the streets leading to Bagong Diwa to welcome back home 42 of 44 slain SAF commandos, those who died during a bloody “misencounter” with Muslim rebels in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.

Four days after 392 SAF troopers executed an operation targeting high-level terrorists, 42 of the slain arrived at the Villamor Air Base in Manila, where they were received by top government officials and their families.

Marwan was supposedly killed but it came at a hefty price – the death of 44 young men from the SAF during a botched extraction operation.

At around 9:12 pm, or almost 12 hours after the 3 C130 cargo planes carrying the bodies landed in Villamor, the first casket arrived at Bagong Diwa.

The 42 first had to be brought to different funeral parlors in Metro Manila following their arrival.

Serving as honor guards and camp route security were cadets from the Philippine National Police Academy and the PNP SAF. The officers who died in the clash were alumni of the academy.

The slain 42 will temporarily stay at the Bagong Diwa multipurpose hall, located a few meters away from the PNP SAF headquarters in the same camp.

Two other SAF commandos have been buried in Zamboanga, following Islamic rites.

Top police officials, including National Capital Region Chief Police Director Carmelo Valmoria, received the slain 42 in Bagong Diwa.

It had been an emotion day for the usually stoic police general – the young men in caskets were once under his command. All of the 44 were veterans of the 2013 Zamboanga siege, with Valmoria as their commander.

Malungkot (sad),” was how Valmoria described his former troops’ arrival. He spoke highly of the young men, members of the 84th seaborne battalion and the 5th special action battalion.

The SAF is the PNP’s elite force, specially trained to execute surgical operations with ease. It’s also why the death of 44 is sending shockwaves throughout the 150,000-strong police force.

On Friday, January 30, necrological services will be held for the slain commandos. They will also be conferred posthumous awards, including promotions for all those who died.

Expected to speak during the service on Friday are the commanding officers during the January 25 operation, acting PNP SAF commander CSupt Noel Taliño, Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II, and President Benigno Aquino, III.

Families and loved ones can then bring their slain loved ones to their homes and provinces. The PNP earlier vowed it would pay for all the expenses for those who died, including benefits for their relatives.

It’s a long journey home for all 44, as questions regarding the tragic January 25 “misencounter” linger.

Both the PNP and the MILF have launched separate probes into the incident. For the sake of the 44 young lives stolen, the public can only hope that the truth will eventually be ferreted out. – 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.