Anger, pain linger as SAF 44 remembered
BAGUIO CITY, Philippines—A year has passed and no one has been punished for the deaths of 44 Special Action Force (SAF) commandos, who were on a mission to kill or capture international terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, aka “Marwan,” fueling the anguish and defiance that their widows and families expressed at a gathering in Burnham Park here on Friday and Saturday.
“The government killed my son,” said Terry Sumbilla, mother of PO3 John Lloyd Sumbilla, on Friday night when the families staged a ceremonial “Atang ti Kararua (Offering to the Souls)” and watched 44 candles float to the center of Burnham Lake.
On Saturday, the families led a march on Session Road and staged a program at Burnham Park’s Ibaloi Gardens where they shared their experiences a year after the loss of their loved ones.
The memorial was organized ahead of Jan. 25 when the 44 SAF men were killed in a messed up mission to hunt Marwan in Mamasapano, Maguindanao province.
Melanie Duque collapsed when she saw a photo of the bloodied body of her husband, PO3 Andres Duque Jr.
Pictures of the ambush filled a tarpaulin streamer with the inscription: “SAF 44 sacrificed their lives to save us from Marwan’s bombings. But government has been amiss. We have waited for a year and we have not gotten justice.”
Dr. Christine Cempron, widow of PO1 Romeo Cempron, said she realized how precious a hug was. “When I received my husband’s body I wanted to hug him but I could not because his body was so bloated,” she said. “Nothing of value can replace a life,” she added.
Many widows were angry. “Someone should be punished. Someone should be held responsible for my husband’s murder. That is what justice would mean to us,” said Janet Carap, widow of PO2 Peterson Carap.
One of the widows said she received government checks but the “blood money” could not pay for her husband’s death.
Retired Brig. Gen. Getulio Napeñas Jr., the former SAF commander, said the slain SAF members were first discredited before they were hailed as heroes, to explain the lingering outrage.
Conclusions reached by a police fact-finding team and a separate Senate inquiry attributed the deaths to flawed execution of the mission and bungled coordination to deploy military reinforcement to rescue 44 policemen. Reports from Kimberlie Quitasol, Jessica Tabilin and EV Espiritu, Inquirer Northern Luzon