Unfulfilled dreams, inspiration as kin remember SAF heroes
The last time PO2 Ephraim Mejia was with his family in San Nicolas town in Pangasinan was December last year when he had a weeklong vacation.
“He was complaining then that his bags were heavy, because he was carrying two bags,” said his wife, Miya.
Almost a month later, Miya would hear her husband’s complaint again, but this time in her dream. At dawn of Jan. 25, Miya heard gunshots in her sleep. Then she saw her husband struggling to walk because of his heavy bags.
At that time, Mejia, 33, and his team in the Special Action Force (SAF), were engaged in a bloody clash with Moro rebels in Mamasapano town in Maguindanao province.
When the smoke cleared, Mejia was among the 44 SAF members dead.
“He was such a caring husband, always finding time to be with me and our 2-year-old daughter,” Miya said.
One of Mejia’s unfulfilled dreams was to build a house for his family in Barangay Calaocan in San Nicolas.
In 2011, when Miya married Mejia, who had joined the SAF, she knew that one day, she would lose him. “But not [dying] this way. He was already dead and they still mangled his body,” Miya said.
In Nueva Vizcaya, Corazon Dulnuan is even more determined to pursue her dream of becoming a law enforcer, even as her elder brother, PO2 Joel Dulnuan, died in the call of duty.
She made this clear on Monday just as the clan buried Dulnuan in a grave just a few meters from their house in upland Ocapon village in Villaverde town.
“[Dreams] will happen if one pushes it. Why should I allow myself to be deterred by something like this?” Corazon told her mother, Carmen.
The mother looked at her and just bowed her head. “If that is what she wants, I’m afraid I cannot stop her,” she said.
The police may have lost many of their fighters in Mamasapano, but their deaths will not deter other youth in Villaverde from following in their footsteps.
Dulnuan’s cousin, Maricel Valdez, 23, said Dulnuan’s exploits have inspired a number of teenagers in Ocapon to become soldiers and policemen.
“Many of those who used to be out of school are now either taking up a course in criminology or are undergoing training, aiming to become either police officers or Army soldiers,” she said.
The mountainous, jungle-like terrain of Ocapon, which lies at the foothills of the Cordillera mountain range and straddles Ifugao province, molds the ideal physique that allows the youth to hurdle the rigors of police or military training.
Until today, the Dulnuan family has kept a small armory of wooden rifles, which, the mother said, Joel, his cousins and peers used to mimic military drills during breaks from vegetable farming.
In Tuguegarao City, Virgie Carodan-Viernes, wife of PO1 Oliebeth Viernes, also wants to become a police officer, despite the tragedy.
“I would want to assume the position left behind by my husband,” Virgie said, repeating what she told President Aquino during their conversation at Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City.
“He was always envious of couples who are both serving in the Philippine National Police, so he also dreamed that one day, I can join him there,” she said.
In La Union, neighbors remembered PO2 Omar Nacionales, 27, as low key in their community of Sto. Domingo in Luna town. They knew that Nacionales and his wife, PO2 Gae Ann Guiniling, are both in the police force but they are not aware that they belong to the elite SAF.
“He was quiet, unassuming and never bragged about his police work,” a neighbor said.
Nacionales has four other siblings, one of whom is Ezar who is studying to become a policeman like Omar. Ezar said it was his older brother, Omar, who supported his studies.
“Despite what happened to my brother, I will continue my police education and become an officer like him,” Ezar says.
In Morong town in Bataan, Telly Sumbilla, 62, remembered her son, PO3 John Lloyd Sumbilla, as kind and thoughtful.
“He would always bring something —from food to shirt—to his brothers and relatives whenever he’d been to an important mission or duty,” she said.
She said she was puzzled why her son was extremely happy when they visited relatives in Pangasinan in December, and realized that this was the last family outing that he would join.
Sumbilla’s father was a former police chief of Sulat town in Eastern Samar. He is third of five children.
Sumbilla met his wife, Rachelle June Millado, a teacher, while he was undergoing training in Morong. They were married in September last year. Rachelle is five months pregnant when Sumbilla died.
In Isabela province, the wedding of PO1 Loreto Capinding II and Genevieve Binoya, his girlfriend of seven years, that is set for 2016 will not happen anymore.
“It is painful but I have to live with it. He had so many dreams for us. We have been saving money for our wedding next year,” Binoya said.
She said Capinding, 21, kept his mission a secret and told her that he would be in General Santos City to get some documents. Capinding’s father, Loreto, said his son, who was based in Zamboanga City, would have been assigned to Isabela this year had his group succeeded in Mamasapano.
Killed with Capinding in the clash were his fellow Isabelino—PO3 Rodrigo Acob and PO3 Andres Duque Jr. Reports from Gabriel Cardinoza, Melvin Gascon, Villamor Visaya Jr., Cristina Arzadon and Greg Refraccion