SAF survivors say ‘only God came to help’
PANABO CITY—“We finally said goodbye to each other because aside from God’s help, we have lost hope that any help will come,” a survivor of the clash that killed 44 police commandos of the Special Action Force (SAF) recounted the last hours when advancing enemy forces closed in on them in the cornfields of Mamasapano town, Maguindanao province, after eight hours of gun battle.
SPO2 Hamidhan Tebbeng said SPO1 Lover Inocencio, the SAF commando who was buried here on Wednesday, was hit by a bullet only in the last hours of the fighting, and might still have been saved if reinforcements arrived in the span of eight hours that the commandos were calling for help.
Tebbeng, a Muslim, delivered a tribute to the fallen SAF commando at the San Pedro Chapel here shortly before Inocencio was buried.
Tebbeng said Inocencio was still alive and fighting at 3 p.m. of Jan. 25, when he was first hit by a hail of bullets from the advancing enemy forces, who were closing in on them.
“From 8 a.m. up to 4 p.m., the fighting never stopped,” said Tebbeng.
“We were more than two kilometers away from the next group, facing an enemy of not less than 1,000 only 10 to 15 meters away from us,” he said.
Later, he told reporters the other group was wiped out.
He said it was only in the last hours of fighting, when they were already cornered by their enemies, that Inocencio first got hit by a bullet.
“Tol (Brother), I was hit,” he recalled Inocencio saying. Inocencio had acted as assistant team leader in the battle.
“So, I called the medic who immediately gave him first aid,” he said. But despite his wound, Inocencio still kept on fighting until 3:45 p.m., when the team felt the enemy was getting closer, no reinforcement was in sight and they felt they were fighting their last fight.
“No more retreat,” Tebbeng said, recalling the moment when the commandos had prepared to use all their bullet magazines.
“We already put the magazines in front of us,” he said. Just then, the second burst of gunfire hit Inocencio again in the thighs.
Ready to die
Tebbeng said Inocencio was still treated by medics when the third burst of gunfire came and they had to say goodbye. “Except for God, help was not coming anymore,” he said, adding they felt they had already been surrounded.
He said they were pinned down in a cornfield, where they had no way of concealing themselves or their movements.
“We never expected to live,” he said. “We, the survivors, consider this our second life, it was only God who helped us during that time. If God did not help us, I wouldn’t be here talking to you,” he said.
He saluted Inocencio, whom he described as a brave and a brilliant man, a recipient of honors for bravery and numerous recognition awards from the Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines for his work in the SAF in the last 12 years. He and Inocencio graduated from SAF training in 2002.
Tebbeng said the capture and death of Zulkifli bin Hir, also known as “Marwan,” who was on the US list of international terrorists with a bounty of $6 million over his head, had saved the lives of many innocent people, making the death of Inocencio and 43 other SAF commandos “heroic.”
Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles, in his homily during the Mass for Inocencio, said he could not understand the heavy loss of lives as he extended sympathy to the families of the victims.
Not worth it
Arguelles, who had earlier called on President Aquino to resign because of the deaths of the 44 SAF men, said no amount of money could replace a father, a husband, and a son who got killed in the operation.
“I heard that P1 million has been shelled out for each of the families of the 44 commandos,” Arguelles said. “What I know is the P50 million is being enjoyed by some of our leaders in power just to destroy our justice system,” he said.
“Money would not be enough to replace the loss of a father, a husband, and a son to the families he left behind,” said Arguelles. “It’s not enough if the intention is to cover up the mistakes of the most powerful people that led to the loss of lives,” added Arguelles, a former military chaplain.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.