Palace: SAF families wanted details of operation from Aquino

MANILA, Philippines – When the President met with families of the fallen Special Action Forces (SAF) commandos who died in a clash with Moro rebels, they continued to ask him for clarity on what happened during the deadly January 25 operation.

On Thursday, February 19, a day after President Benigno Aquino III paid a surprise visit to the loved ones of the victims, Communications Secretary Sonny Coloma said the families asked Aquino what he knew about the operation so far.

“They continued to ask for clarity on what happened so the President told them what he knows and what he understands to have happened in Mamasapano,” Coloma said. He did not give details on what exactly was said.  (READ: The women they left behind)

On Wednesday, February 18,  Aquino spoke to 42 out of 44 families of the dead to ensure compensation for the victims were being received. Coloma said his visit to Camp Crame is a “follow through” of the January 30 meeting with families at Camp Bagong Diwa – the day of the necrological service for the cops – where government assistance was first discussed in detail with families and pledged.

The President was in Camp Crame for over 6 hours, finishing at near midnight.

Coloma said the meeting with families was for the President to “listen to the sentiments of the families.” He also denied rumors of heated conversations between Aquino and the families.

“There were no reported arguments or heated conversations. On the other hand, explanations were given and the President listened to the feelings of the families who were there,” he said.

Families, when speaking to media, did not keep their disappointment with Aquino following the deadly operation a secret. Since the incident, calls for Aquino’s resignation have also arisen from various sectors, as the public has expressed frustration on his handling of the event. Further dissatisfaction stems from confusion over Aquino’s role in the operation.

Coloma said the administration “understands that sectors are angry or losing patience or have lost faith in the government” after the clashes, but said it believes finding out the truth will bring about a “healing process.”

Cabinet support

The second meeting with families comes nearly 3 weeks since the operation, which saw some 392 Special Action Force (SAF) commandos enter Mamasapano town, a known bailiwick of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and its breakaway group Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), to serve arrest warrants to 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. The MILF blames this on the SAF team's failure to coordinate with them, as provided in its agreement with the government on operations in known MILF territories.

Two investigations – one by the Board of Inquiry and the other by the Senate – are ongoing to determine what went wrong.

Also with the President in Camp Crame were members of the Cabinet, namely Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman, Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz, Justice Secretary Leila De Lima, Commission on Higher Education Chairperson Patricia Licuanan, Education Secretary Armin Luistro, Technical Education and Skills Development chair Joel Villanueva, Trade and Industry Secretary Greg Domingo, Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala and National Housing Adminstration General Manager Chito Cruz.

Coloma said Soliman helped determine “social welfare concerns like stress debriefing” as well as provision of immediate relief assistance. Baldoz, Villanueva and Domingo were present to help wih livelihood and employment concerns of the spouses, siblings and parents of the victims, while Alcala was there to assist with farming, fisheries and agriculture-related livelihood and employment.

Luistro and Licuanan also said they would help ensure that the education of children left behind will continue. Cruz was present for housing concerns. –