SAF commando ‘lived as a leader, died a hero’
MANILA, Philippines—“He lived as a leader, he died a hero,” the brother of Police Officer 1 Joseph Sagonoy, one of the 44 elite cops killed in the Maguindanao carnage, said.
James and his father Flavio Sagonoy, a farmer from Northern Samar, were at Villamor Airbase on Thursday to receive Joseph’s body in a flag-draped metal casket.
“It’s too painful,” James said, adding that Joseph had always dreamed of becoming a member of the Philippine National Police-Special Action Force (PNP-SAF).
“Dong, I really really want to be a commando. I want to be challenged. I want to be in the field,” James quoted Joseph as saying.
“He was very hardworking and diligent as a student. I even stopped schooling so he could finish his. We don’t have enough money. Our father is not earning enough as a farmer,” James said in an interview with INQUIRER.net.
After Joseph finished college in Catarman, Northern Samar, he followed James’ advice to find a job first before applying for the PNP.
Joseph worked as a security guard in Manila to save up. After three months, he finally went to the PNP national headquarters in Quezon City to submit his requirements. He underwent police training and passed the criminologist board exam.
The 26-year-old Joseph later became part of the PNP counterinsurgency unit.
Last phone call
On January 22, three days before the disastrous operation, Joseph told James through Facebook that the SAF was preparing for an operation “against a bomber.”
“He said, ‘We’re going to a big camp of the BIFF (Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters). The bomber’s location was given to us,’” James recounted.
Joseph sent James, who’s working in an advertising firm in United Arab Emirates, a photo of him in full battle gear.
“Tol, our training’s over, we’re going to Maguindanao. We’ll be sent to battle. This is my last call, I’m going to turn off my phone,” Joseph told James over the phone.
And it indeed turned out to be Joseph’s last call.
“After that, I hadn’t heard from him. By January 24, I couldn’t sleep and eat well. I kept on calling but he’s not answering,” James said.
When James checked his Facebook on January 25, a SAF member sent him a message.
The female officer, whom James did not identify, asked him to compose himself as she delivered the bad news. She showed James the list of police officers killed in action. Joseph’s name was at number 28.
Flavio, on the other hand, learned about his son’s death on television. He saw it in the news when he came home from the fields in Silvino Lobos, a remote town in Northern Samar.
“I didn’t have money to go here. A police officer just gave me fare money,” Flavio said as they waited for a PNP-sponsored vehicle at Villamor Airbase that will bring them to the funeral parlor.
The father looked glum, but he maintained calm as he talked.
“What happened to them was wrong,” he said, adding that the fatal mission that killed 44 of 392 SAF men was not a “misencounter” as the government claimed.
“It wasn’t fair. They were betrayed. How could it happen that they were in the middle while the BIFF and the MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) were around with only a river in between? They got wrong intelligence report,” Flavio said.
James expressed distrust that justice will be accorded to the slain cops as he said the outcome of the investigation might pin the blame on the SAF.
The PNP and the MILF, which set up separate investigating bodies, said the operation was carried out without coordination. The Moro group said they fired in self-defense.
James said he would always be proud of his brother. If only he could, he said he would tell Joseph how much he loves him, “You were a good person. You lived as a leader, you died a hero.”
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