Slain SAF’s son wants to be a policeman also
CAMP AWANG, Maguindanao—When Ellen Cordero told her 9-year-old son that his father was now in heaven, the boy showed no emotion.
Instead, Archidaniel Cordero told her: “Papa is coming home. But he will be in a casket.”
Archidaniel wants to be like his father, PO2 Roger Cordero.
The father was one of dozens of elite Special Action Force (SAF) commandos killed in one of the bloodiest encounters with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), with whom the government already has a peace agreement.
Security officials described the clash as a result of a “misencounter” as the SAF went on a mission to arrest a Malaysian terrorist and a Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighter (BIFF) commander.
Like his father
“I don’t want my son to be a policeman but his father was able to really influence him,” Ellen said. She described her son as a spitting image of his father.
On Tuesday, Ellen and her father-in-law, Herminio, sat pensively under a waiting shed near the camp mortuary, where Roger’s remains lay in a body bag, along with those of his fellow commandos in other bags.
On a fence in the compound, dirty boots, torn uniforms and body bags hung. On the ground lay other dirty green body bags.
On Monday, the stench of dried blood was overpowering that top officials had to use surgical masks when they paid their respects to the dead at the mortuary.
Police operatives worked almost overnight to process the bodies.
On Tuesday, metal caskets arrived in two batches at the air base, delivered by an Air Force C-130 cargo plane. They were brought to the mortuary.
The Inquirer counted around 20 metal caskets. Obviously, more were needed.
Jennifer Asjali said her brother-in-law, PO3 Jhedz-in Asjali, had to be buried immediately, according to Muslim tradition.
But Jennifer was told the bodies still needed to be autopsied.
She and her children made the nearly three-hour drive in a van from General Santos City to reach Camp Awang to be with her husband, Asjali’s younger brother, who is an Army soldier.
“It was the kind of travel you wanted to be fast and yet you didn’t want to reach your destination,” Jennifer said, her tears rolling down her cheeks.
At 38, Asjali was unmarried but had a girlfriend who lived overseas. She has been told of Asjali’s death, Jennifer said.
She said her husband had seen his brother’s remains at the mortuary. “My husband was speechless,” Jennifer said.
While pained with the loss of a son, Herminio Cordero, 67, said he was proud that Roger died fighting. Cordero’s two other sons are soldiers.
Cordero said his sons had always talked about the dangers in their jobs—but the reality that one of them was now dead was still difficult to understand.
Ellen said she was also proud of her husband, who himself always wanted to be a policeman.
It hurts her, she said, that talk is rife that the SAF commandos were after the reward money offered for the capture of Marwan. Ellen said she read about this on Facebook.
“Talk like this hurts me because, look, my husband is dead,” Ellen said.
In 2013, a number of the slain commandos had survived defending Zamboanga City from invading Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) forces.
They were not as lucky on Sunday fighting MILF rebels in Mamasapano, Maguindanao province.
“We mourn the death of our elite police forces and we thank them for their heroism in defending Zamboanga during the (2013) siege,” Mayor Maria Isabelle Climaco-Salazar said.
“We also pray for the orphaned families that they will overcome the loss of their loved ones,” she added.
Supt. Ariel Huesca, spokesman of the Zamboanga City Police Office, said the 5th Special Action Force Battalion “played a significant role in containing the MNLF rebels” two years ago.
Huesca described the unit’s members as “very professional, highly trained, highly equipped, highly disciplined and highly motivated.”
The SAF was one of the two major units that responded during the first day of the Zamboanga siege.
“They were able to stop the MNLF rebels from advancing,” Huesca said. The other unit was the Army’s 32nd Infantry Battalion.
Col. Ramon Zagala, then the spokesman of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, agreed.
“They were the first to engage, especially during the first few days of the attack,” he said. “They are well trained and professional. (They had) the best equipment and training in the PNP,” Zagala said.
He said the SAF members were “critical in the recovery of the Zamboanga City Medical Center” during the 2013 siege.
Boy without father
Aside from being considered a hero, Jedz-in Asjali was himself a victim during the Zamboanga clash, losing his home.
The barangay (village) chair, Jimmy Villaflores, said Asjali and his family were among the evacuees “yet this officer performed his duty in protecting the people.”
“He (Asjali) was our hero; they are our heroes and we lost them in just a matter of a day.”
Insp. Joey Gamutan, father of two and one of those killed on Sunday, “loved his profession so much,” his wife Merlyn told the Inquirer.
Merlyn celebrated their seventh wedding anniversary on Jan. 24 alone as her husband was away. On Monday, their son Meagan celebrated his fifth birthday—without a father.
“I am so angry but I don’t know who to blame. My husband really loved being in the service,” she said.
Mayor Salazar said that of those who died in Mamasapano, five were from Zamboanga.
She said the city government would extend financial assistance to the families of Gamutan, Asjali and the other Zamboangueño SAF members—PO2 Amman Misuari Esmula, Senior Insp. Ryan Pabalinas and PO2 Glenn Berecio Bedua.
In solidarity with the Philippine National Police, Armed Forces Chief Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. ordered the lowering of flags at half-staff in all military camps, bases and installations nationwide to mourn the death of the SAF members.
“We mourn the loss of these brave policemen who paid the ultimate sacrifice while fighting for our country. They fought heroically and they did not die in vain,” Catapang said.
Catapang ordered flags flown at half-staff for five days.–With a report from Cynthia D. Balana in Manila