SAF 44 widow: Duterte revived our hope for justice

MANILA, Philippines – Three full years. 

This is how long Julie Cayang-o waited, hoping that someone would pay the price for the death of her husband Eugene, one of the 44 Special Action Force (SAF) members who died in the botched Oplan Exodus in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.

She said she was almost certain that justice would not come, given that they had to prove fault of ranking elite police and military officials, and then-President Benigno Aquino III.

She said these all changed when Duterte took over Malacañang.

"It's almost 3 years from now, and for the past years, we feel that hope is not really coming to us. But presently, when President Rodrigo Duterte had finally sat on that powerful throne, we now feel that we are able now to see the sun shining upon us," Cayang-o said during the first SAF 44 National Day of Remembrance ceremony in Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig.

"We believe that step by step, I see that the perfect day will come and punish those people involved in (what happened) that unacceptable day," Cayong-o added, her voice breaking as she held back tears.

She was among the dozens of wives who wept for their husbands, holding their children who lost their fathers forever. Cayang-o added that while they received financial  aid for the death of Eugene, they also deserve justice for the missteps that led to his death. (READ: SAF 44: The women they left behind)

What happened since Duterte?

On the eve of the first anniversary of the Mamasapano clash in 2016, the grieving families of the SAF 44 dined with Duterte, who first vowed justice for them.

On the same day, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales filed criminal complaints against Allan Purisima and Getulio Napeñas. Purisima was the suspended PNP chief and Napeñas was the SAF director during the deadly operation.

A month and a day later, Duterte declared January 25 as an annual National Day of Remembrance for the SAF 44.

In July some 5 months later, Morales indicted Aquino with one count of graft and usurpation of authority for allowing suspended Purisima to participate in the operation.

A week later, Aquino filed a motion for reconsideration seeking to dismiss the charges against him. The Ombudsman denied Aquino's appeal.

On November 8, Aquino is charged at the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan with one count of graft and usurpation of official functions. (READ: Aquino again blames Napeñas for Mamasapano mistakes) –


Rambo Talabong

Rambo Talabong covers security, crime, and the city of Manila for Rappler. He was chosen as a Jaime V. Ongpin Fellow in 2019 for his reporting on President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs.