Dead SAF’s kin ask why, how
ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines—Merlyn Gamutan had been trying to reach her husband, Insp. Joel Gamutan, through her mobile phone since Saturday.
It was their wedding anniversary but he had not called her, which was unusual.
Merlyn said she suspected that her husband was in trouble.
“I tried calling his number but he was not taking my calls,” she said.
Joel, commander of the 55th Special Action Force (SAF) Company, called up on 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 him as saying.
It was the last time she heard from him.
Shot at close range
The next thing she heard was Joel had died along with 43 other policemen in a clash between SAF commandos and Moro rebels in Mamasapano town, Maguindanao province.
Equally painful, Merlyn said, was that up to now, nobody has offered her an explanation of what happened.
“No one from his mother unit or from the government can give a clear explanation of how the Mamasapano incident happened,” she said.
Like Merlyn, the families of the other slain SAF commandos said pledges of benefits from the government were not the answers to their questions.
“We want justice. Benefits, alms and other monetary considerations are normal. What is difficult for us is not understanding how they ended like that,” said Ibrahim Asjali, brother of PO3 Jedz-in Asjali, who served on Gamutan’s team.
Their 60-year-old mother, Rohermina, after watching President Aquino’s televised statement on Wednesday night, said she had more questions.
“It seems they were shot at close range. It appears there was treachery,” she said.
And the manner by which they learned about Jedz-in’s death was also too unusual.
Ibrahim, the youngest in a brood of five, said the family 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 on the SAF team that went to Mamasapano.
Of the 44 dead, “35 were under our unit and it was so difficult to move around informing families due to lack of personnel handling and assisting administrative work,” he said.
“We apologize to the families if we were not able to inform them appropriately of the incident,” Depnag said.
In Mamasapano, residents are not only asking how the incident happened but are also living in fear and anxiety, especially those who lost relatives in the crossfire.
Nineteen-year-old Sarah Lawani said her husband, Badrudin Nanganlan, 21, was killed on his way to Tukanalipao village to have his cell phone charged.
Their two sons were with him but the children were not injured.
Lawani said it was only on Monday that she learned her husband was killed in the fighting.
Aside from Nanganlan, a child was also killed when she was hit by stray bullets during the firefight.
Five-year-old Samrah Sampulna Panangulon was killed while fleeing with her parents, Sarah and Tot. The parents were wounded.
The Community and Family Services International (CFSI) reported that another civilian, Said Pasawilan, was hit by stray bullets on Sunday morning while he and his family were fleeing the site of the clash.
“Everything happened so fast,” Amida Muda, a resident of Tukanalipao, said.
Muda is staying in an evacuation center in Poblacion, Mamasapano, along with hundreds of others. With a report from Romy O. Ponte, Inquirer Southern Luzon