SAF honors fallen troopers in annual memorial day
Video by Noy Morcoso/INQUIRER.net
More than half a year after the tragic police operation in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, the Special Action Force honored its 51 fallen troopers—with the majority involved in “Oplan Exodus”—in an annual memorial day on Saturday.
The SAF holds yearly a commemoration for its members who died in the line of duty. But this year was the longest and “most emotional” memorial day, according to most SAF troopers.
Bell rings were offered for each of the fallen SAF men. Following a 21-gun salute, sobs of the families of the SAF 44 filled the silence during the ceremony at the SAF headquarters in Camp Bagong Diwa, Taguig City, on Saturday morning.
“We’re just emotional because it brings back the pain. Siyempre may sama pa rin ng loob,” the mother of PO2 Russel Bilog told INQUIRER.net.
Wearing SAF’s uniform and black beret, Philippine National Police chief Director General Ricardo Marquez graced the solemn event and joined SAF chief Police Director Moro Virgilio Lazo in laying a wreath for the fallen commandos.
Aside from the SAF 44, the collective term for SAF men killed in the Mamasapano tragedy, those commemorated were PO2 Ismael Nahyahan, PO3 Teddy Lagahi, PO2 Theodore de Guzman, PO3 Eusebio Taro, PO1 Wilber Sabling, PO1 Benjamin Posa, and PO3 Abelino Bumanghat.
“I am proud to say that the heroes we honor today have indeed lived and served God, country and people along the core values of service, integrity and excellence. Together, let us continue to give life to the SAF motto, ‘By skill and virtue, we triumph’ and I say, by their lives sacrificed, we triumph,” Marquez said in a speech.
Napeñas in SAF
Retired Police Director Getulio Napeñas, former director of SAF, made a rare appearance and granted media interviews after the SAF memorial day. Also in attendance were previous SAF directors and retired officers Carmelo Valmoria and Leocadio Santiago.
Napeñas was the commander of SAF at its most difficult time when 44 of its men died in an ill-fated operation to arrest international terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan in Mamasapano, Maguindanao. The Jan. 25 mission has triggered public outrage against the Aquino administration, which is blamed for the debacle.
“These are very good men. I have been with them for a long time. When I was in Zamboanga, I also made sure that I visit the families of my fallen men just to show respect,” Napeñas told reporters.
After the commemoration, Napeñas shook hands with the widows, parents and children of SAF 44 as they received cash donations being distributed by SAF personnel.
Asked if there was ever guilt on his part, the former SAF commander was quick to answer that “there was no such thing as guilt.”
“Siyempre nasa alaala pa natin ‘yan even until in my grave, they will always be with me. I will carry that until the last of my days,” Napeñas said.
Some critics pinned the blame on Napeñas for inefficiently planning the high-risk mission dubbed Oplan Exodus. However, reports said Napeñas only acted on the orders of dismissed PNP chief Director General Alan Purisima allegedly with the guidance of President Aquino.
“Is there anyone blaming me? Those are just small groups. But here in SAF, we look at it as an accomplished mission. What’s the mission actually? To get Marwan. Did we get him? It’s for you to judge,” Napeñas said.
“Someday we will realize what the SAF 44 have done and all the members of the operating troops. We did this to get Marwan and end his illegal activities. This is to give justice to more than hundreds of people in Central Mindanao killed in bombing incidents. Pati sa mga libo pa na mapapatay pa niya,” he added.
Napeñas, along with Purisima, is also facing administrative and criminal charges over the Mamasapano incident for command responsibility.
“We will face them. We did our job in good faith. There’s blessing from the higher-ups. There’s nothing irregular with what we did. That’s a legitimate, lawful police operations to neutralize a terrorist,” he said. Julliane Love de Jesus
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