20 return to angry communities in North, Central Luzon
BAGUIO CITY, Philippines—A shower of petals, poignant notes from grade school children and outrage from relatives greeted on Saturday the return of 20 policemen, among the 44 troops of the Special Action Force (SAF) who were killed in a massacre by Moro rebels last Sunday in Maguindanao, to their homes in the Cordillera, Ilocos, Cagayan and Central Luzon regions.
The anger was directed at government officials responsible for sending the elite troops to the mission to get wanted terrorists in Mamapasano town in Maguindanao.
At Camp Dangwa in La Trinidad, the Benguet capital, SAF members demanded justice for their 13 slain colleagues from Cordillera.
In his eulogy during the Mass offered by the Cordillera police, Supt. Jonathan Calixto, said, “If some of the responsibility falls on [Philippine National Police] officials, then they need to face the consequences.”
Calixto, a company commander of the Police Regional Public Safety Battalion in Benguet, drew applause from the families and friends of the late PO1 Gringo Cayang-o, PO1 Angel Kodiamat, PO2 Walner Danao, PO2 Peterson Carap, PO2 Jerry Kayob, PO2 Noble Kiangan and PO3 Noel Golocan.
Their remains were brought to the Cordillera police headquarters in La Trinidad before these were again shipped to their home provinces. Three of their coffins were designed to conceal the heads of the policemen at the request of their families.
The La Trinidad women’s brigade turned up with signs that declared “Justice for the Fallen 44.”
Some church leaders have offered counseling because some relatives have advocated a violent response to the death of their kin, said lawyer Alexander Bangsoy, spokesperson of the Baguio-Benguet Ecumenical Group, which is raising funds for the families of fallen troops from Cordillera. One of the policemen is a relative of Bangsoy’s wife.
“It was largely unspoken here but there are clans who are governed by peace pacts and tribal obligations. So far, the idea of revenge has been just talk from angry family members in the provinces,” said a policeman, who asked not be named.
The other slain Cordillera policemen—Senior Insp. Cyrus Anniban, PO3 Robert Allaga, PO2 Franklin Danao, PO2 Nicky Nacino and PO1 Russel Bilog—were sent back to their hometowns.
The body of Senior Insp. Gednat Tabdi was shipped home to La Trinidad on Friday night to allow his Ibaloy family to grieve before it is returned to Zamboanga to be buried there by his pregnant wife.
Calixto said 65 percent of SAF troops come from the Cordillera. “It’s in our blood. Our ancestors taught us to be brave, to defend our women, to defend our lands from foreign invaders,” he said.
Handwritten notes from pupils of the Camp Dangwa Child Development Center helped calm some family members. The notes were posted inside the closed gymnasium of the police headquarters, where family members gathered after the Mass.
One of the notes was addressed to Golocan: “Thank you very much, Uncle. You risked your life to keep us safe. Rest in peace. Till we meet again.” Reports from Vincent Cabreza, Kimberlie Quitasol, Gabriel Cardinoza, Melvin Gascon and Villamor Visaya Jr., Inquirer Northern Luzon, and Carmela Reyes-Estrope and Greg Refraccion, Inquirer Central Luzon
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