During the first People Power Revolution in EDSA, these six brave men pictured above were babies or simply biding their time inside the wombs of their mothers. Like me, they grew up in the 1990s — when songs from the Eraserheads ruled the radio airwaves and when brownout was rampant.
Years ago, they were just children. And they were still young when they became high ranking officers of the PNP-Special Action Force. None of them were over 30 years old when they lost their lives in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.
Sadly, like Robb Stark in Game of Thrones, these six commandos and their men are now forever young.
With the demise of the SAF 44 commandos, the Philippine National Police Academy lost six promising alumni. They were the leaders of Oplan Exodus.
Even though these men were young, they entered the police force as Police Inspectors (Lieutenants) because of their status as PNPA cadets, bypassing several ranks from PO1 to SPO4. Steadily, five of them became Police Senior Inspectors (Captains). They made their mark in the service, highlighted by their successful missions to save lives during the Zamboanga siege of 2013. These young officers were the cream of the crop. With the way their careers were progressing, one of them could have possibly become the next PNP chief.
I sifted through the pages of their PNPA yearbooks. These were bittersweet time capsules that immortalized their youth and passion to serve. It was a harmless time when they didn’t have to carry the burdens of the real world yet. But from the start, these cadets knew what they got themselves into when they entered the academy. Their lives were not theirs.
In 2006, Senior Inspector Pabalinas wrote in his yearbook message that there is a woman behind every man’s success or struggle. If he could only hear what her wife Erica said during her eulogy: “Behind every brave SAF trooper is a strong wife.”
GMA News senior correspondent Jun Veneracion reported on 24 Oras how authorities found the body of Senior Inspector Max Jim Tria with two intact grenades in his hands. He went down fighting and never thought of surrendering. A Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) officer who fought the commandos also confirmed in an interview that Tria was the “last man standing” from the cornered unit.
Senior Inspector Gednat Tabdi would have been a first time father had he survived. His wife is pregnant with a baby boy. Unfortunately, his son can only see the face of his father through pictures. He received a Medal of Valor for his gallant efforts in leading Team 1 of the 84th Special Action Company.
Senior Inspector John Garry Erana is the Baron of batch 2009. That makes him the regimental commander of all his fellow graduates. Because of his leadership during the Zamboanga siege, the alumni association of the PNPA was planning to give him an award this March. He and his fiancee also had plans to get married. Their story has been featured in the drama anthology program Maalaala Mo Kaya.
Senior Inspector Cyrus Anniban is one of the thirteen SAF commandos from the Cordillera region.
Inspector Rennie Tayrus is the youngest officer among the SAF 44 commandos. His body was one of the last ones recovered.
A Battlefield of Questions
Weeks after the clash, the government provided proof that it has really killed the highly valued target Marwan (Zulkifli bin Hir)? But instead of providing answers, the operation seemed to have caused more questions:
- Who gave the go signal for the operation?
- Was it a misencounter or a massacre?
- Were there really mutilations?
- Why was there no reinforcements from other SAF troopers and even the Army?
- How bad was the lapse in coordination?
- What was the role of MILF in the encounter?
- Were foreign military forces included in the operation?
- How involved are the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and other private armed groups?
- Who was harboring Marwan?
Only one thing is certain: the nation appreciates the sacrifices of our Fallen 44. During the arrival honors of the closed caskets, concerned citizens stood watch in the gates of Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig to extend their sympathies. Most of them were complete strangers.
For the Future
These men were the children of yesterday. They gave up everything to be the leaders of today. We are now in a position to help build a better future for our children and the next generation. But this opportunity will quickly pass us by if we lose our focus. The peace situation in Mindanao is a good example. After the clash, many were suggesting that the government should avenge their deaths and retaliate with force in Maguindanao. But it also provided us with an opportunity to assess the ailments of Mindanao.
A war is easy to start and hard to end. The conflict in Mindanao is the reason why many children do not have any childhood to speak of. It is a significant reason why there are uneducated teenagers who are influenced by extremists as they grow up. It is why many families are always on the run, always afraid of the next bloody encounter.
Let us not lose sight of the entire picture too. There were also civilian casualties in the Battle of Mamasapano. One of whom is a five year old toddler. The SAF 44 commandos sacrificed their lives so that the general public can lead ordinary lives. I hope it’s not in vain. Let’s still try to give peace a chance.
But there are trust issues that must be settled first with the MILF if we are to proceed with the Bangsamoro Basic Law. How sincere are they in forging a peace deal? Can they control the lawless elements that may have splintered from their group?
Will there be closure for this case? Citing a previous tragedy in Maguindanao as reference, it seems it will take a while before the families of the victims can receive the justice they seek. The massacre of 57 people, including journalists, in this same province back in 2009 hasn’t been resolved either…
[Entry 65, The SubSelfie Blog]
The Maguindanao Massacre: Five Years Later
Written last November 2014
During the fifth anniversary of the gruesome Maguindanao Massacre, I revisited the actual site of the carnage in barangay Masalay located in a town with an ironic name: Ampatuan. Five years later, there are 58 markers in the area to remember the victims of this barbaric act. 32 of these casualties were journalists.
The memorial site is only a fraction of the crime scene. Behind these markers are the actual hills where the authorities discovered a sloppy mass grave with mangled bodies, wrecked vehicles and a backhoe.
DOJ Secretary Leila de Lima attended the commemoration to provide updates. The case is still with the Regional Trial Court of Quezon City, Branch 221. When asked why there are no convictions yet, she answered it is a complicated situation. There are over a hundred suspects and a barrage of petitions to review and petitions for bail from the accused. However, there were positive developments:
- Weeks ago, she took the responsibility of overseeing the case so that there will be no further delays.
- The Supreme Court initiated its own measures to speed up the processing of the case, including the assignment of a third assisting judge.
- The court denied the petition for bail of Chief Inspector Sucarno Dicay, one of the alleged henchmen of the Ampatuan family. The prosecutors believe the masterminds will get a similar result.
And there were undesirable updates as well:
- The court approved the bail petition of over 40 police suspects. But the amount they have to pay is P200,000 for each victim. That’s a staggering P11.6 million for each policeman for their temporary freedom.
- Dennis Sakal, a former driver of the Ampatuans, died in an ambush a few days ago. He was planning to be a new witness for the prosecution.
The spotlight from the media may fade. But we should remind ourselves over and over again that these horrors must never happen again. No matter how many years pass, the pain will always be there for the family members of the victims. Without justice, the wounds will only cut deeper.
[Entry 57, The SubSelfie Blog]
About the Author:
Bam Alegre is the founder of SubSelfie.com and writes from time to time as a guest contributor. He is a News Reporter for GMA News (2012) and an Instructor for the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of the East (2015). He was also part of the team that won GMA News the prestigious George Foster Peabody Award for the news coverage of super typhoon Yolanda (2013). Previously, he worked behind the scenes as a Segment Producer for State of the Nation with Jessica Soho and 24 Oras (2009-2012). He is also the vocalist, pianist and guitarist of the band No Parking (2005). BA Broadcast Communication 2007, UP Diliman. Read more of his articles here.