Aquino reaches out; SAF 44 relatives not convinced
Video by Noy Morcoso lll/INQUIRER.net
MANILA, Philippines–President Benigno Aquino III on Friday tried to console the families of the 44 elite policemen killed in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, but they were apparently unconvinced as some refused to accept the medal of valor from him.
The lukewarm reception to Aquino’s eulogy at the necrological services comes against the backdrop of his absence in the arrival honors the day before.
“Damang-dama ko ang pakiramdam ninyo (I feel what you feel),” Aquino said in his speech at the necrological services held at Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City.
He recalled the death of his father, the late Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. and thanked the policemen for their heroism.
But despite his recognition of their sacrifice, policemen and relatives alike expressed dismay.
Rachel Sumbilla, wife of Police Officer 3 John Lloyd Sumbilla, was among those who refused to accept the medal of valor given by the President. It was handed over to another relative instead.
“Speechless po ako kasi feeling ko matatabunan at matatabunan (yung issue),” she said. “Sa dami ng problema ng government, hindi ko alam kung ipa-priotize ito.”
(I am speechless because I feel that this issue may soon be forgotten. The government has so many problems; I don’t know if this will even be prioritized.)
Her companion said the death of their loved ones may soon be forgotten.
Nevertheless, Sumbilla said her husband had always wanted to die in battle.
The Mamasapano clash, however, was not an ordinary encounter. The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which is currently pursuing peace talks with the Philippine government, reportedly aided its breakaway group, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), in the firefight. Authorities called it a “misencounter.”
Sumbilla and 391 other SAF members stormed the camp of Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir (alias Marwan) to arrest him. However, the group of elite cops was soon overpowered, allegedly by the BIFF and the MILF.
While Aquino claimed that Marwan and another wanted terrorist, Filipino Basit Usman, were not inside the BIFF and MILF encampments, the other groups supposedly joined in on the gunfight.
In his eulogy, Aquino said Marwan was killed by the SAF. He also assured the public that Usman will be arrested.
After Aquino’s speech, one police officer said she was dismayed with the President’s eulogy as she was expecting a heartfelt speech.
She was hoping the President’s speech would boost their morale but pointed out that no one even clapped.
Video by Noy Morcoso lll/INQUIRER.net
Anastacia Capinding, mother of Police Officer 1 Loreto Capinding II, just shook her head when asked about Aquino’s speech.
“Para sa akin mahirap nang magsalita (For me, it’s hard to speak),” she said. “Ang hiling lang namin sana managot na yung dapat managot. Eh namatay na yung mga anak namin sa pagtatanggol sa bansa (Our only wish is for the perpetrators to be held accountable. Our children died defending the country).”
“We just want justice,” Capinding said repeatedly before becoming almost hysterical.
As photographers and reporters rushed to her, she wailed, “Hustisya lang ang kailangan namin! (We just want justice)”
She said her son was a good man and that his killer should have been the one who died.
What touched the hearts of the policemen was the speech of Erica Pabalinas, wife of Police Senior Inspector Ryan Pabalinas.
“All I ask right now is justice, not only for my husband, who was brutally killed but for everyone who fought and fell,” she said in a loud voice.
“Mr. President, please help us,” she said as Aquino looked on.
Pabalinas shed tears throughout her speech. She was trembling as she left the podium.
When Aquino arrived at Camp Bagong Diwa, he went straight to the coffins of the slain officers.
He approached the families and gave them medals of valor.
In front of each coffin, he paused and said a prayer.
Afterwards, he was led to a holding room, where he met with the relatives in private. Each family was given five minutes with the President.
The memorial service was held a day after Aquino drew flak for attending the inauguration of a car plant in Laguna instead of being at Villamor Airbase for the arrival honors of the SAF men.
In his eulogy, on Friday morning, Aquino expressed his feelings at how difficult it was to console those who have lost their loved ones.
“Aaminin ko po, hindi ko mapigil tanungin ang aking sarili: Ano nga ba ang masasabi ko para kahit papaano ay mapagaan ang kalooban n’yo?” he said.
(I have to admit, I cannot help but ask myself: What can I say to help ease your pain?)
He said that every life is important and that he had also lost someone dear to him.
Like them, it was through media that he learned about the death of his father.
“Sa oras pong iyon, parang tumigil ang oras sa akin, huminto at halos wala akong napansin sa buong kapaligiran; bumaliktad ang aking mundo,” Aquino said.
(At that moment, time stopped for me and I no longer knew what was happening around me; my world turned upside down.)
“You probably went through the same thing,” he told the relatives.
Why was it necessary for the policemen to die? Aquino said he did not know. Instead, he cited the Christian belief that God has a good plan for each person.
Aquino said each of the young policemen joined the force to be able to contribute to the nation.
“Inialay nila ang kanilang buhay para sa malawakang kapayapaan at kaayusan (They offered their lives for peace and order),” he said.
The President promised to help all the families–through financial, livelihood and educational assistance.
“Kinikilala po natin ang kabayanihan ng ating mga nasawing kapulisan. Nagpapasalamat tayo sa kadakilaan ng kanilang sakripisyo. Nakikiramay po tayo sa bawat pamilya ng mga kapulisan nating nawalan ng mahal sa buhay,” he said.
(We recognize the heroism of our slain policemen. We thank them for their sacrifice. We sympathize with each family who lost a loved one.)
Aquino ended his eulogy with the statement that the lives of the 44 SAF members will not be wasted if their deaths will result in peace.
“Ang tunay at pangmatagalang pagbabagong ito ang magiging pamana nila sa sambayanang Pilipino,” he said.
(The true and lasting change in our country will be their legacy to the Filipino people.)
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