MANILA, Philippines – Graduates of the Philippine National Police Academy (PNPA) and other groups walked from Cavite to Quezon City on Sunday, March 8, to mark 44 days since at least 65 individuals, including 44 elite cops, died during a police operation in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.
Runners, led by activist priest Robert Reyes, began the 44-kilometer “Sympathy Run” from Dasmariñas, Cavite, at around 1 am.
Similar “March for Justice for SAF 44” events are also being held nationwide.
The group from Cavite reached the Philippine National Police (PNP) headquarters Camp Crame at 7 am. There, they joined family members of the 44 slain police commandos. They proceeded to Quezon City, where they heard Mass.
On January 25, some 392 PNP Special Action Force (SAF) troopers entered Mamasapano town in Maguindanao to implement “Oplan Exodus,” a police operation to neutralize bomb makers Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, and Abdul Basit Usman.
Marwan was killed but Usman escaped. As 73 SAF troopers tried to exit the area, they encountered fighters from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), splinter group Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), and Private Armed Groups (PAGs).
At least 3 civilians and 18 MILF fighters were also killed in one of the bloodiest days in PNP history.
The Sunday walk for the SAF 44 was not without hitches.
In a text messages forwarded to reporters on Friday, March 6, a PNPA alumnus discouraged other graduates from joining the run, “having weighed the pros and cons” and “realizing its effects, and putting premium to the interest of the PNP.”
The message was from the PNPA Alumni Association’s Camp Crame chapter president Senior Superintendent Jerome Baxinela, who urged the police academy’s graduates to “desist from joining the said march” and to “uphold public interests over and above all other interests.”
Baxinela did not elaborate on what prompted him to send the message.
In an interview with Rappler, Reyes claimed it was due to pressure from police and government higher-ups to avoid the “Sympathy Run.” “There’s politics involved,” said the priest, who accused government of pressuring officials in Crame to boycott the walk.
Reyes pointed out that since many police officials in Camp Crame are mere officers in charge, they’re more cautious of their actions for fear they might be sacked.
PNP spokesman Chief Superintendent Generoso Cerbo, Jr. denied Reyes’ claims.
“There is no such pressure from the PNP. In fact, as I said yesterday, we respect sentiments such as the ones driving the Sympathy Run,” Cerbo told Rappler in a mix of English and Filipino.
“We have no problem with this kind of move as long as it is within the bound of law and PNP regulations, especially for the police who want to join the Smpathy Walk,” the PNP spokesman added in a text message.
Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte on Saturday, March 7, also said the Palace didn’t pressure PNPA alumni to stop their activity. “We recognize that these rallies are part of the democratic space that we share,” Valte said in a radio interview. (READ: Palace backs SAF 44 march, warns vs ‘opportunistic’ groups)
The PNPA Alumni Association had earlier set rules that banned “oversized banners,” “offensive, libelous, inflammatory or anti-government statements,” effigies, and the like from the Sunday event.
The Sunday activity was supposed to end at the Quezon City Memorial Circle but the city government revoked the group’s permit on Thursday, March 5. They will instead hear the Mass at Claret School in Quezon City.
The walk comes weeks after other groups in the past tried to stage protests against the Aquino administration in the wake of the Mamasapano tragedy.
President Benigno Aquino III has been under fire for his supposed involvement in the operation and for letting his friend, resigned PNP chief Director General Alan Purisima, play a role in the operation despite a suspension order.
Aquino has denied any wrongdoing in the operation. The Palace, in previous media briefings, insisted former SAF commander Police Director Getulio Napeñas failed to follow the President’s orders to coordinate with the PNP leadership and the military for the operation.
The PNP, meanwhile, is set to release the results of the Board of Inquiry’s probe into the incident on Monday, March 9. – Rappler.com
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