SAF 44 widow: What happened in Mamasapano?

Bea Cupin

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SAF 44 widow: What happened in Mamasapano?
'There should be someone that’s accountable. That’s all we want,' one widow tells Interior Secretary Mar Roxas



BAGUIO CITY, Philippines – Four-year-old Arajil Carap milled around the Ressurection Chapel in Baguio City, oblivious to the bright camera lights and intrusive microphones surrounding his mother Janet and a top government official.

“His father is a hero,” Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II said of the little boy, the only son of the late Police Office 2 Peterson “Terson” Carap, one of the 44 Philippine National Police (PNP) Special Action Force (SAF) troopers who died during an encounter with Moro rebels in Mamasapano town, Maguindanao on January 25.

It’s been more than a week since Terson and his comrades died in the marshy areas of Mamasapano after an operation to neutralize bomb makers Zulkifli bin Hir and Abdul Basit Osman.

For Janet, Terson’s widow, it’s been a week of sorrow and unanswered questions.

“My son, hindi nya alam kung ano yung nandyan, kung bakit maraming tao… Ang masakit ay how we’ll be able to explain to him when he grows up (He doesn’t understand what’s going on, why a lot of people are here. What’s painful is the thought of explaining to him when he grows up),” she said.

Holding back tears at her husband’s wake, Janet said she had only one wish: for someone to be held accountable for the death of Terson and his 43 comrades.

DILG Secretary Mar Roxas leads the welcoming of SAF members who were killed in a clash with Muslim rebels at the Villamor Airbase in Pasay City on January 29, 2015.

“It’s not easy na sabihin lang na ganito kasi, ganito, ganoon (It’s not easy to just hear these explanations). There should be someone that’s accountable. That’s all we want,” Janet told Roxas when the Interior chief visited her husband’s wake in Baguio city on Monday, February 2.

The details and circumstances surrounding the bloody operation are still fuzzy. Top officials – Roxas and PNP OIC Deputy Dir Gen Leonardo Espina included – said they were left in the dark about the operation until after the troops had gone in.

“I’ve accepted that fact that he’s dead. It’s just that it was very brutal, especially for the others. Good for him, he came home complete. But for the others, the mutilated… I don’t think it was a legitimate encounter,” added Janet.

Roxas, accompanied by PNP SAF OIC Chief Superintendent Noli Taliño and former SAF commander and current Metro Manila chief Police Director Carmelo Valmoria, visited the families of some of the 44 in Benguet, Baguio, La Union and Pangasinan on Monday.

Afraid of forget

Janet is no stranger to the dangers of being married to an “extraordinary warrior.”

“There was a time sabi ko sa kanya, palit na lang kaya tayo: ako ang magtrabaho, ikaw ang mag-alaga [kay Arajil]. [Sabi niya], nakakahiya naman ang laki-laki ng katawan ko. Sabi niya: Sige, ako magtratrabaho and will take care of the family. And you stay, take care of our son,” said Janet.

(I told him, maybe we should switch places. I’ll work and you take care of Arajil. But he said, that’s not right. He said he would work and take care of the family.)

A tearful Janet told Roxas she could not understand how her husband – a veteran of the 2013 Zamboanga siege and a well-trained fighter – was unable to survive the Mamasapano siege.

By the time top PNP officials knew of the operation, troopers from the 84th seaborne battalion and the 5th special action battalion were already in trouble.

The SAF troopers, young men in theirs 20s and 30s, were already surrounded by fighters from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

The cops radioed for help but it was too late – reinforcement, the military included, were unable to penetrate the area by then. 

“There’s no need to argue because they’re already gone. We just need an explanation. I hope the Board of Inquiry will be able to bring out the truth about this. Justice should be served as soon as possible. Yung hindi after two years tsaka malalaman yung nangyari (I hope it won’t take 2 years for us to know what happened),” Janet told Roxas.

A police badge taped with black cloth during the arrival honors 42 0f 44 SAF members killed in a clash with Muslim rebels in Mamasapano, Maguindanao. Photo by Dennis Sabangan/EPA

“I hope it doesn’t end in a way that we won’t have closure. Possibly for other people they will forget about this but for the orphaned families, we surely would not,” she added, echoing the sentiments of other surviving families.

Patient husband, loving father

Before he was PO2 Carap, Terson was a loving father and patient husband.

Kahit inaaway ko na siya, kahit alam mong galit na galit na siya, hindi niya pinapakita sa akin na galit siya (Even when I’d fight him, even if it was clear he was already angry, he’d never show his anger),” said Janet of Terson.

Tough as he was on the field, Terson was a different person at home. “Donyang donya ako kapag andiyan siya (I lived like a queen whenever he was home),” recalls Janet.

No household task was too small for the 36-year-old Terson, not even Arajil’s tiny clothes.

Kaya minsan mahirap kasi maliliit ang damit ni [Arajil]. Eh sanay siya maglaba ng uniform nila (That’s why he found it hard to wash Araji’s clothes. He’s more used to washing his uniform),” mused the young widow.

Janet last saw Terson alive just before he left for Zamboanga on January 9. He also managed to squeeze in his birthday greetings for her on January 19, just as he was in the middle of SAF training.

During his visit, Roxas checked if families had gotten the checks and cash that could be cleared right away, at the same time listing down any other concerns of family members.

Members of elite Police Special Action Force carry the remains of forty two of their forty four comrades from three C-130 military planes that arrived at the Villamor Air Base on January 29, 2015. Photo by Dennis Sabangan/EPA

But money is the least of Janet’s concerns. There’s Arajil, the splitting image of his father, and the painful sting of never seeing Terson alive anymore.

The couple had simple but big plans ahead of them: the downpayment for their own home had been settled and they even had plans of a little brother or sister for Arajil.

“But it’s so sad, wala na (it’s over),” mumbled Janet.

Everywhere Roxas visits – be it Camp Bagong Diwa where he met with SAF troopers or Northern Luzon where he spoke to grieving families – he is hurdled with questions he does not have the answer to.

The PNP has launched a Board of Inquiry to probe the clash, while the AFP, the MILF and Congress have formed their own investigating bodies

There’s really not much to say to unconsolable parents, grieving young widows, or orphaned little boys. “I know that this may be of little comfort but your husband died a hero. His father died a hero,” repeated Roxas. –

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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.