Defense chief rejects wholesale valor award to 42 SAF

AFTER EXODUS. Policemen man the highway leading to Barangay Tukanalipao, Mamasapano, Maguindanao on January 25, 2015. Rappler file photo

AFTER EXODUS. Policemen man the highway leading to Barangay Tukanalipao, Mamasapano, Maguindanao on January 25, 2015.

Rappler file photo

MANILA, Philippines – Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana joined calls to oppose President Rodrigo Duterte's decision to grant wholesale the rare Medal of Valor (MOV) to 42 police Special Action Force (SAF) troopers who died in Mamasapano in 2015.

Lorenzana said a few of the elite cops who dedicated their lives to kill the country's top terrorist, Zulkifli bin Hir or Marwan, may be deserving of the award, but "not all." He echoed protests of valor awardee retired Marine Colonel Ariel Querubin and retired General Ramon Farolan. 

"I do not agree that they will all be given the award. The medal is never given en masse. It is an individual award for someone who distinguishes himself conspicuously, at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty," the defense chief told reporters.

"I am sure that there are some who may be deserving, but definitely not all of them. As I said initially, there are vital criteria for the MOV and dying is not one of them," he added.

Querubin, meanwhile, said the planned wholesale awarding has left officers demoralized. He blamed the National Police Commission (Napolcom) for making the recommendation.

"I dread that there'll come a time na balewala na ang magsuot niyan (that wearing it will not mean anything anymore)," he said.

"We are not opposing that they be given awards. Huwag naman (But please not the) valor."

Police spokesperson Senior Superintendent Dionardo Carlos said the police valor award is different from the military's because separate bodies vet prospective awardees.

But Querubin said the prestige should be the same because the police patterned its criteria for its awardees from the military.

The SAF, the elite unit of the Philippine National Police, dedicated its operations to hunting down Marwan. They succeeded on January 25, 2015, but it came at a huge cost: at least 67 were killed – 44 SAF troopers, 18 Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels, and 5 civilians.

It was the biggest crisis faced by the previous Aquino administration. It threatened to break the peace talks with the MILF and caused a rift in the relationship of the military and the police, which traded blame for the bungled operations. 

Then president Benigno Aquino III already gave two SAF troopers the valor award. Duterte granted the request of the families of the rest of the slain cops – who were previously given the 2nd highest combat award – for the valor award to be given to them posthumously, too.

Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said Duterte's decision should be respected. 

But Lorenzana said the valor award cannot be given wholesale. "The act must have required a risk of life and have displayed personal bravery or self-sacrifice so extraordinary as to set the individual apart from his comrades," he said. (WATCH: Soldier killed in Zambo given highest military honor and READ: The legend of the soldier who said: 'Fire on my location')

In a strongly worded column published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Farolan said there are only 40 valor awardees in the military. 

"In the entire AFP history, there have only been 40 awardees. Then in one fell swoop, 42 SAF members get the same medal. It would surely land us in the Guinness Book of World Records," Farolan said in his column.

"This action sets a bad precedent and would open a floodgate for indiscriminate awarding of the MOV. This cheapens the award and might weaken the institution and system of AFP awards." –