PNP SAF commander: Was it worth it?

Bea Cupin

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PNP SAF commander: Was it worth it?
'I’m sure, if you will ask them, it is worth it because more lives were saved when Marwan was killed,' says the SAF OIC commander in his eulogy for the slain troopers

MANILA, Philippines – “Mike one, binggo.” 

It was a message that Chief Superintendent Noli Taliño, OIC commander of the Philippine National Police (PNP) Special Action Force (SAF), badly wanted to hear after hours of tense waiting.

He and other top SAF officials were monitoring “Oplan Exodus,” an operation to kill bomb maker Zulkifli Abdhir, better known as “Marwan,” in Mamasapano, Maguindanao. 

It was the wee hours of the morning on January 25, Sunday, when some 392 SAF troopers entered the territory of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) to target Marwan and another terrorist, Abdulbasit Usman. 

“A joyful moment was felt the moment we realized the mission was accomplished,” said the police general. 

The joy would not last. As they were exiting the area, Taliño’s men – officers and personnel in their 20s and 30s – died. It would be the biggest bloodbath in the PNP’s history. 

The 42 were flown into Manila on Thursday, January 29, in cold, steel caskets. On Friday, January 30, necrological services were held for the 44 at Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City, the SAF’s home. Taliño was the last of the PNP’s officers to give a eulogy. 

Toward the end of his eulogy, Taliño asked the crowd of surviving families, government officials and perhaps even himself: “Is it worth it, one international terrorist equivalent to 44 SAF troopers?” 

After a long pause, he added: “I’m sure, if you will ask them, it is worth it dahil mas maraming buhay ang maisasalba at maililigtas noong nawala si Marwan (because more lives were saved when Marwan was killed) and we live by our motto ‘tagaligtas’ (savior).” 

Radio silence 

The SAF’s 84th seaborn battalion, the elite force’s best of the best, had already neutralized “Mike one” – their code for Marwan – and were attempting their exit at around 7am when the 55th company of the 5th action battalion was assaulted by BIFF fighters. 

Taliño said the SAF troopers failed to notice “enemies from a distance were gathering and establishing positions.” Senior Inspector Ryan Pabalinas, the radio man of the 55th company, called for help and support.

“The support elements could not get in because the 55th SAF was practically surrounded. We sent reinforcements from different approaches, but we could not penetrate the bulk of enemies until 1 pm,” narrated Taliño. 

The police general then stopped talking, his voice shaking a little. By the time reinforcement came, the police general said, “that voice was no where to be heard, there was radio silence.” 

“After the battle I realized that that voice would never be heard from again,” he added. 

Pabalinas is one of 7 officers who died during the battle in Mamasapano. 

“I felt guilty and had the same feeling with [relieved SAF director Police Director Getulio Napeñas Jr] because our efforts were not enough to extend the help that they needed,” admitted Taliño. 

The PNP and the MILF have launched separate probes into the incident. The interior department, whose secretary Manuel Roxas II has oversight of the PNP, vowed justice would be given to the 44 slain elite cops.

Listen to Taliño’s eulogy here: 

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Bea Cupin

Bea is a senior multimedia reporter who covers national politics. She's been a journalist since 2011 and has written about Congress, the national police, and the Liberal Party for Rappler.