Palace backs SAF 44 march, warns vs ‘opportunistic’ groups

Natashya Gutierrez
Palace backs SAF 44 march, warns vs ‘opportunistic’ groups
Malacañang supports the 'March for Justice for SAF 44' planned by the police, but calls for public vigilance against groups with a different agenda

MANILA, Philippines – Malacañang on Thursday, March 5, welcomed public tributes to the 44 elite cops who were killed in the Mamasapano clash, but warned against “opportunistic” groups seeking to exploit public outrage over the incident to advance their personal interests.

Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr made the statement in a news briefing, when asked about the plan of some Philippine National Police Academy (PNPA) alumni to stage a “March for Justice” for the 44 Special Action Force (SAF) troopers who were killed in the January 25 clash.

Coloma said Malacañang is “one in paying tribute to the memory” of the SAF 44 through the Sunday march spearheaded by the PNPA Alumni Association Incorporated. He noted the group’s statement that “there is no political color” in their March 8 event, focused on attaining justice for the fallen cops.

“While we support the move to honor the heroism of the PNP-SAF 44, it is also important that we be vigilant and observe the groups that wish to exploit the public bereavement [over the incident] and seize the chance to advance their dubious goal,” he said in Filipino.

He cited as an example the ouster calls against President Benigno Aquino II, along with coup rumors and other destabilization efforts which suddenly sprouted amidst criticism against Aquino over the Mamasapano incident.

“These opportunistic people used the celebration of the 29th anniversary of the EDSA People Power Revolution as an occasion to urge the people to once again to stage people power against the government,” he said.

Coloma did not mention any group but was apparently referring to the National Transformation Council, which is demanding the resignation of Aquino and other government leaders who it wants replaced by a civilian-military junta.

Coloma reiterated the statement of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima that  conspiracies to commit rebellion and sedition, in pursuit of Aquino’s ouster, are against the law.

“The government is again calling for justice and sobriety. While continuing to defend the freedom of speech, the Armed Forces and the National Police will not allow illegal actions that defy the Constitution,” he said.

On January 25, some 392 Special Action Force (SAF) commandos entered Mamasapano town, a known bailiwick of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), to arrest top terrorists Zulkifli bin Hir, or Marwan and Abdul Basit Usman

The operation resulted in a bloody clash between SAF troopers and rebel forces that claimed at least 65 lives, including 44 SAF troopers. 

Since the operation, the public has expressed disappointment in Aquino for his handling of the incident. Further dissatisfaction stems from confusion over Aquino’s role in the operation.

Continued support

Also on Thursday, Coloma gave assurances that the government continues to assist families left by the fallen SAF troopers.

Part of the assistance, he said, is a memorandum circular released by the National Police Commission (NAPOLCOM) to increase scholarships to P10,000 for children in kindergarten, P18,000 for elementary students, P24,000 pesos for high school students, and P30,000 per semester for college dependents.

Coloma said NAPOLCOM gave scholarships to a total of 36 children.

Coloma also said the government continues to help families to find permanent sources of livelihood and to secure adequate housing. Other relatives are being assisted by the Technical Education Skills Development Authority (TESDA) to secure jobs, while the Department of Trade and Industry is helping others start their own businesses.

“The help extended by the government to the families are in fulfillment of the aspirations of the PNP-SAF 44 heroes for a stable livelihood,” he said.

Push for peace

The Mamasapano incident occurred less than a year after the group signed a landmark peace deal with the Philippine government, and as lawmakers deliberate on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) which seeks to create an autonomous region initially headed by the MILF – a bill that has lost some support after the incident. 

The government however continues to push for the passage of the BBL among contrarian voices, and appeals to lawmakers not to dilute the law – giving assurances it is constitutional.

It also vowed to pursue other breakaway groups like the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and the Justice for Islamic Movement (JIM).

“Our principle is all these are armed groups and whatever the movements of these groups, armed or not, should follow the law. So we will not allow illegal acts by armed groups,” he said.

He added: “That is part of the challenge of the peace process, so solidarity or unity is important among all relevant stakeholders. All stakeholders must help each other out with this.”

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