Aquino pays surprise visit to SAF 44 families

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Flanked by top police officials and his Cabinet, President Benigno Aquino III on Wednesday, February 18, made a surprise visit to the Philippine National Police (PNP) headquarters in Camp Crame, where families of the 44 Special Action Force (SAF) commandos who died in Mamasapano were gathered.

Aquino arrived at the PNP’s Multipurpose Center a little before 6 pm with Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II, who is also chairman of the National Police Commission.

Hours before Aquino arrived, Cabinet officials – including Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, Health Secretary Janette Garin, Education Secretary Armin Luistro, and Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman – arrived at the camp one by one. A bus-load of Philippine Security Group personnel arrived in Camp Crame past 4 in the afternoon. 

Aquino's visit to Camp Crame was not in his original schedule for Wednesday. Officials in Crame were also taken by surprise by the President's visit. He spoke to the families until shortly before midnight.

The SAF families were in Crame to meet with officials from the PNP and other government departments to discuss compensation packages due to them following the death of their loved ones. Also at Camp Crame were private donors. 

Malacañang, through Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr, confirmed that Aquino was there to check on the status of compensation for the SAF 44 families. At Crame, he was seen holding documents which he would check when he hopped from one table to another.

Hours before their visit to Crame, the families of the SAF 44 met with Vice President Jejomar Binay, Makati Mayor Jejomar Erwin Binay and Senator Nancy Binay to each receive P100,000 in cash. Earlier, the Binay family visited the PNP General Hospital to give P100,000 in cash to each survivor of the deadly clash. 

This is the second time the President met with the family members of the slain SAF commandos. The first time was at Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig during necrological services for the 44, held days after the Mamasapano incident. 

This was a day after Aquino was heavily criticized for choosing to inaugurate a car manufacturing plant over welcoming the bodies of the slain troopers at Villamor Airbase in Pasay City.

During the wake at Camp Bagong Diwa, Aquino spent over 12 hours with the families, meeting with them one by one to find out their needs following the loss of the 44 elite cops, most of whom were bread winners of their families. 

The families of the SAF 44 have not made secret their disappointment in how Aquino has handled the incident

The Mamasapano encounter is the PNP's bloodiest one-day operations to date. At least 65 died during the clash, including the 44 SAF troopers.