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Kin of slain police commandos want truth, justice, not just benefits

... Wife gets last call from husband in middle of SAF battle in Maguindanao

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines – Merlyn Gamutan tried to get hold of her husband, Insp. Joel Gamutan, through mobile phone as early as Saturday.

It was their wedding anniversary and it became puzzling for her why he was not able to call – which was not normal.

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Merlyn said she had suspected that her husband was in trouble as early as Saturday when he failed to greet her on their anniversary.

“I tried calling his number but he was not taking my calls,” she said.

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To her surprise, Joel – commander of the 55th SAF Company – called up Sunday.

It was not to greet her but to inform her that he and his team were in deep trouble and that he was trying to survive the situation he was in.

“I am trying to fight but there are many of them, we cannot hold on,” she quoted her husband as saying on Sunday, a day after their wedding anniversary.

It was their last contact.

The next thing she knew was that Joel had died – along with 43 other SAF members in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.

Equally painful, Merlyn said, was that up to now, nobody had offered them explanation on how the operation ended that way.

“No one from his mother unit or from the government can give clear explanation on how the Mamasapano incident happened,” she said.

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Like Merlyn, the kin of other slain SAF members said pledges of benefits for them from the government could not appease their quest for answers.

“We want justice. Benefits, alms and other monetary considerations were normal. What was not easy for us was how they ended like that,” Ibrahim Asjali, brother of PO3 Jedz-in Asjali – who under Gamutan’s team – said.

Their 60-year-old mother, Rohermina, after watching President Aquino’s televised statement on Wednesday night, said she had more questions in her head.

“It seems they were killed at close range, it appears there was treachery,” she said.

And the manner by which they learned of his death was also too unusual.

Ibrahim, the youngest of five, said they learned of his brother’s death from the wife of his killer. “She informed us through my brother’s cell phone that her husband killed my brother,” he said.

Chief Insp. Flint Depnag, deputy commander of the 5th Special Action Battalion, said he too lost a cousin in Mamasapano.

PO2 Noble Sungay Kiangan was the lone bomb expert in the SAF team that went to Mamasapano.

Of the 44 casualties, “35 were under our unit and it was so difficult to move around informing families due to lack of personnel handling and assisting administrative works,” he said.

“We apologize to the families if we were not able to inform them appropriately of the incident,” Depnag said.

In Mamasapano, Maguindanao, civilians did not only have questions on how the clash happened but there were also fear and anxiety – especially on those who lost their relatives in the crossfire.

Nineteen-year-old Sarah Lawani said she learned days after the clash that her husband, Badrudin Nanganlan, 21, was killed while trying to go to Barangay Tukanalipao to have his cell phone charged.

He was with their two sons but the children were unscathed.

It was only on Monday that Sarah learned of her husband’s death.

Aside from Badrudin, a child was also killed when hit by stray bullets during the fire fight.

Five-year-old Samrah Sampulna Panangulon was killed while fleeing with her parents, Sarah and Tot. The parents were also wounded.

The Community and Family Services International (CFSI) also reported that another civilian, Said Pasawilan, was hit by stray bullets Sunday morning while he and his family were fleeing the encounter site.

“Everything happened so fast,” Amida Muda, a resident of Barangay Tukanalipao, said.

Muda is now living in an evacuation center in Poblacion, Mamasapano, along with hundreds of other people.

Tukanalipao village chair Esmael Hashim said as early as Friday, villagers already noticed the presence of uniformed men along the road leading to the barangay.

“I thought it was just an ordinary police movement,” he said.

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TAGS: Amida Muda, arrival honors, Badrudin Nanganlan, Benigno Aquino III, bloodshed, carnage, Ceasefire, civilians caught in crossfire, clash, crime suspects, Encounter, Esmael Hashim, grief, gun battle, Ibrahim Asjali, Jedz-in Asjali, Joel Gamutan, law enforcement, Massacre, Merlyn Gamutan, Moro Islamic Liberation Front, Mourning, news, peace process, Philippine Government, Philippine National Police, Philippine president, policemen killed in action, policemen killed in combat, policemen killed on duty, Regions, Samrah Sampulna Panangulon, Sarah Lawani, serving of an arrest warrant, Special Action Force, suspected terrorists, terror suspects, Villamor Airbase, warrant of arrest, Zulkifli bin Hir
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