MANILA, Philippines – They are men used to the challenges of conflict, immune to the pressures of combat, familiar with the rigors of eliminating high-value targets.
On Friday, January 30, four officers from the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) had a special mission: to bid farewell to the 44 slain troopers of the PNP’s Special Action Force (SAF) at their main headquarters in Camp Bagong Diwa, Taguig. (Of the 44, two were buried in Islamic rites in Zamboanga City while one was scheduled to be brought to Catanduanes Friday morning.)
Members of the PNP’s elite force, the 44 died on January 25 in a clash with members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF). Government has tagged the carnage a “misencounter,” even as a probe into the incident is ongoing.
“Extraordinary warriors,” was how Police Supt Reynald Ariño, commanding officer of the SAF’s 5th special action battalion remembered the 44. Those who perished were members of the SAF’s 5th special action battalion and 84th seaborne battalion. (READ: National mourning for SAF 44)
“With unquestionable loyalty, dedication to duty, courage and respect for human rights and concern for each other as brothers,” he added during a eulogy for the 44 on Friday at Camp Bagong Diwa.
The Masasapano operation reportedly led to the death of alleged bomb maker Zulkifli Abdhir, better known as “Marwan.” (READ: Maguindanao bloodbath: Unanswered questions)
“Grief can be so hard but our special memories help us cope, especially their remarkable accomplishments… [they sacrificed] their lives for others to enjoy in their respective community without any harm from bombings perpetrated by another Marwan,” added Ariño. (READ: Zamboanga’s heroes are Maguindanao’s fallen, too)
Marwan’s reported neutralization came at a price. “They should have have sown the merits of their vocation, they should have lived old age with their families and yet they stuck to their posts so that others may relish the blessings of democracy,” said Police Superintendent Abraham Abayari, commanding officer of the SAF’s rapid deployment battalion.
“Sa kanilang murang edad, hindi nila iniintindi ang hirap dahil gusto lang nilang lumawig ang kanilang kaalaman at kakayahan ng unit ng SAF sa pagtugis sa mga terorista. Kung baga, ang tawag namin doon ay ‘no amount’ sa kanila ang paghihirap basta lang sila ay makapag-silbi sa bayan,” said Police Chief Insp Victor Lacwasan, commanding officer of the SAF’s force support battalion.
(They were young but they did not mind the hardships [of training] because they wanted to expand their knowledge and skills so they could go after terrorists. The hardships did not matter to them so long as they served the country.)
The slain were in their mid-20s to early 30s. Most graduated from the Philippine National Police Academy (PNPA) or from SAF training in the late 2000s.
Veterans of the 2013 Zamboanga siege and experienced operators of war-torn areas in Zamboanga, Basilan, Tawi-Tawi and Sulu, the 44 were among the SAF’s best and brightest. To Abayari, theirs is a legacy that would be “permanently etched in the book of heroes.”
Also present during the necrological service were several PNP SAF troopers who were wounded during the battle.
Before the service, policemen held a walk for unity and justice for the slain cops.
Of friends and comrades
Death, said Colonel Danilo Pamonag of the military’s light reaction battalion, is a “constant” that men and women in uniform are all too familiar with.
“[We] know the 3 constants of combat: victory, defeat and death. It is only a matter of who claims victory and who suffers defeat. Almost always, each side suffers death,” he said.
Pamonag said the SAF, including those who died on January 25, were their constant partners in the armed forces – from the Zamboanga siege in September 2013 to an April 2014 operation to eliminate Marwan.
“We have shared challenges, we have shared victories, and now we your brothers and your loved ones gathered here will be sharing the pain of your loss. We will not aim to forget just so we can escape the pain, rather we will live remembering and learning from the lives you have left, the courage you have shown and most especially the honor of your death,” said Pamonag.
Outside the multipurpose hall where the bodies lay, hundreds of men and women in uniform – from the PNP, the armed forces, the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology and even the Bureau of Fire Protection – gathered to pay tribute to the 44.
“To us, your brothers in arms, you will never be just a number, you will always be our comrades. We know your names, we know your faces, and we will never forget the times we fought side by side. We will never forget the times we shared jokes and light moments,” added Pamonag.
“Troopers never die, they just fade away,” said Abayari. – Rappler.com