Take 2 for Aquino: SAF troopers open up
They opened up to their Commander in Chief the second time around, some speaking out their minds that their daring effort that got a Malaysian terrorist at the heavy cost of 44 lives was under appreciated.
President Benigno Aquino III spent three hours on Wednesday talking to select police commandos of the Special Action Force (SAF) at Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City following the cold reception they gave him more than a month ago when the wounds were raw after the Mamasapano massacre on Jan. 25.
The wounds were still apparently gnawing at the meeting, held at a conference room, which included some survivors of the bloodbath.
Also present were Interior Secretary Mar Roxas; the Philippine National Police officer in charge, Deputy Director Leonardo Espina; newly appointed SAF Director Moro Virgilio Lazo; and other PNP officials.
The Inquirer learned that the President had allowed an open discussion, encouraging the troopers to tell him what they feel and think, their observations, their laments.
And some of them did, raising the point that it seemed their score against global terrorism after they took down Zulkifli bin Hir, alias “Marwan,” had not been appreciated.
“The SAF troopers emphasized that ‘we got our man,’ ‘we accomplished our mission.’ And the President said no one was questioning that. Marwan was a threat to our whole country, to innocent Filipinos. And even if we hunted him down for a long time, the President recognized that it was the SAF that took him down,” Roxas told reporters after the assumption ceremony for Lazo.
A well-placed source privy to Wednesday’s talks told the Inquirer that some troopers refused to accept that their former commander, Director Getunio Napeñas, was sacked for the slaughter of their 44 colleagues in Maguindanao province.
“Napeñas seemed faultless to them,” said the source, who requested anonymity.
But the source added that another senior officer pointed out that by virtue of command responsibility, Napeñas should be accountable.
Shortly after midnight on Jan. 30, the President met with SAF commandos at the camp during the wake for their slain colleagues and urged them to have a dialogue with him. The men remained silent, even after the President asked them at least twice if they had any questions for him.
Were the troops tired considering the lateness of the hour and that they were emotionally drained? Or, did they deliberately give the President the silent treatment?
Asked on Wednesday why Mr. Aquino had met with the SAF troopers anew, Roxas replied that as the “premier strike force of the PNP in law enforcement … it should be given enough attention.”
“If there are questions that have not been asked, if there are discussions, like the one about hazard pay or about the fact that they could no longer see their families because they are on red alert, these things should be given time by the President so that these could be corrected or the SAF would be in a better situation,” Roxas said.
He said the President instructed Lazo to “make the SAF stronger and heal their wounded morale, if there were wounds.”
Roxas said the commandos also raised administrative concerns such as rotational issues as SAF troopers serve in an area of assignment for a long time.
“The SAF is also different in a way from the PNP. If the PNP has a blue status where only 25 or 50 percent are on alert, the SAF is 100 percent on alert all the time,” he said.
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