Aquino says sorry to families of dead, wounded soldiers
ZAMBOANGA CITY—After four days of silence on the slaughter of 18 Army soldiers by Abu Sayyaf bandits, President Aquino flew to Edwin Andrews Air Base (EAAB) Wednesday and apologized to their families demanding an explanation for the worst government loss in the antiterrorist campaign since the Mamasapano massacre 15 months ago.
“He said, ‘Sorry.’ He said he was here to say sorry and to give assistance,” said Rosalinda Dominguez, aunt of Pfc. Doreen Aspurias, after the meeting with the President.
Dominguez said most of the families who met with Mr. Aquino in the base were seeking answers to why reinforcements took so long to rescue troops of the 44th Infantry Battalion dispatched to track down kidnappers holding two Canadians and a Norwegian for a P1-billion ransom since last September and threatening to behead them.
In addition to the 18 killed in the ambush in Tipo-Tipo in Basilan province across the channel from Zamboanga, 50 soldiers were wounded in the incident that happened on Saturday while the nation was celebrating the Day of Valor, commemorating the heroism of soldiers who fell in Bataan and Corregidor at the outset of World War II.
Dominguez said the President told them that the rescue came late because fighting was continuing. “They’re still fighting up to now,” she quoted the President as saying in Filipino. The woman said she accepted Mr. Aquino’s “sincere apology.”
“The Abu Sayyaf has been our problem for the longest time. They have brought suffering to so many lives. I want to end this,” Mr. Aquino said during the meeting with the grieving widows and relatives of the slain soldiers.
“We are facing a war and our soldiers are the ones who are fighting the enemies of the country. Our soldiers are those in the front lines who are securing peace in our land,” the President added.
A family member asked the President why there was a high death toll in the encounter, according to Peter Paul Galvez, spokesperson of the Department of National Defense, who recounted to reporters the private meeting with the families in the multipurpose hall at the base.
Gen. Hernando Iriberri, chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, replied for the President. He said the military was looking into the incident, but that any investigation would have to wait until after the operations in Basilan.
Mr. Aquino arrived at 10 a.m. and proceeded to the wake of Cpl. Rodelio Bangcairin in his home in Barangay Ayala in Zamboanga. He then spent an hour at Camp General Navarro Hospital where he spoke with the wounded soldiers. All the President’s engagements here were off limits to journalists. The President also did not issue a public statement.
Mr. Aquino was in Zamboanga on Jan. 24, 2015, when 44 Special Action Force commandos were massacred in Mamasapano, Maguindanao province, on a mission to take out Malaysian bomb maker Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, who was killed in the operation.
Galvez said the President handed to the families checks from the Armed Forces.
The President also told the families that government was ready to help them, but asked them to be specific in their requests so that government can also respond to them quickly.
Maj. Gen. Gerardo Barrientos, commander of the 1st Infantry Division, said the President came to “personally sympathize” with the families. “He also came to pay tribute to the widows of the soldiers and to extend his help,” the general said.
Barrientos said the families will each get P250,000 from the Office of the President, a remuneration of their base pay (roughly about P180,000), P50,000 from the MBAI (Mutual Benefit Association Inc.), P100,000 from the insurance and P80,000 as burial assistance.
“A team from the Presidential Management staff is talking to the families, writing down their other concerns and needs,” Barrientos said.
After meeting with the soldiers’ families, Mr. Aquino had a brief working lunch at the EAAB before he proceeded to Laguindingan in Misamis Oriental province for a ceremonial switch on of a sitio electrification program.
The President then went to Cagayan de Oro City to campaign with administration standard-bearer Mar Roxas, vice presidential candidate Leni Robredo, and their candidates for senators.
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