MANILA, Philippines – The memories of a January 25 operation that ended in the death of at least 65 individuals, including 44 elite cops continued to hound the Philippine National Police (PNP) as cops based in the National Capital Region celebrated the PNP’s 24th founding anniversary at Camp Bagong Diwa on Monday, February 16.
Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II turned emotional towards the end of the Monday flag-raising program, his voice cracking as he asked policemen to sing the national anthem a second time as a tribute to the fallen Special Action Force (SAF) 44.
“I ask the commander to direct everyone to salute the same and I ask the audience to stand and rise. I think there is no more fitting way that we can honor our fallen than to rededicate ourselves to the flag for which they fought and died. So, I ask [for the] Bayang Magiliw [Lupang Hinirang] and please give the command for the salute,” said Roxas.
It was the NCR Office’s anniversary celebration of the PNP’s founding in 1991.
It was only 3 weeks ago when Roxas, alongside PNP Office-in-Charge Police Deputy Dir Gen Leonardo Espina faced cops and media in Camp Crame during a separate program to commemorate the PNP’s 24th founding anniversary.
Back then, the two officials had more questions than answers about the Mamasapano clash.
On January 25, at least 73 PNP Special Action Force (SAF) troopers entered Mamasapano town in Maguindanao to arrest bomb makers Zulkifli bin Hir, better known as “Marwan” and Abdul Basit Usman.
Marwan, a member of the Jemaah Islamiyah was killed at the start of the operation but two SAF companies encountered members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in the PNP’s bloodiest one-day operation to date.
Three civilians reportedly died during the operation while 18 MILF fighters were also slain.
“Their lives and memories [are] forever etched in our minds and hearts for the ultimate sacrifice that they gave for our people and out nation. Hindi matatawaran ang kalakihan ng kadakilaan, ang katapangan, ang sakripisyo na ipinagkaloob nila sa atin na kung saan ang banta ng terorismo sa ating bansa lalo na sa ka-Mindanaoan ay nabawasan dahil nakuha nila yung kanilang target na si Marwan,” said Roxas in his speech.
(Nothing will surpass their valor, strength and sacrifice to get rid of the threat of terrorism in the country, especially in Mindanao, when they got their target Marwan.)
It’s been almost a month of shock, grief and questions for families and government officials over the top-secret operation that was withheld from top PNP and government officials.
To this day, a complete picture of the January 25 bloodshed has yet to be formed, even as various groups continue their probes into the incident. The PNP, through its Board of Inquiry, is set to finish its investigation by the end of the month.
Both Espina and Roxas were kept in the dark until after SAF troopers had entered Mamasapano. In contrast, former PNP chief Director General Alan Purisima served as a “focal person” in the operation, despite his suspension over a corruption case.
President Benigno Aquino III’s involvement in the operation also remains unclear.
“Today, naghahalo ang lungkot at tuwa. Lungkot sa nangyari sa ating heroes sa Mamasapano. Tuwa naman sa accomplishment ng NCRPO na naipababa, na naikalahati ang bilang ng krimen dito sa NCR,” said Roxas, referring to the NCRPO’s Oplan Lambat-Sibat, an operation to cut down crime by collating and auditing data from police stations all over Metro Manila.
(It’s a mix of sadness and happiness. We’re sad over what happened to our heroes in Mamasapano. But we’re glad because of the accomplishments of the NCRPO in reducing crime in Metro Manila)
Awarded during the ceremony were station and district commanders under the NCRPO. According to Roxas, incidents of theft, robbery, carnapping and motorcycle-napping went down to an average of less than 500 a week from a high of over 1,000 early in 2014.
“All of you who wear a uniform every day pagsuot ninyo ng uniporme alam ninyo na maari kayong malagay sa peligro (once you wear the uniform, you know you’re already in harm’s way). We owe the men and women in uniform all the support, the resources, the effort so that when you do your part the rest of the government also does its part,” added the Interior chief, who also sits as chairman of the National Police Commission. – Rappler.com