Shortly a week after a blissful papal visit, the whole nation was taken aback from a breaking news about 44 PNP-SAF (Philippine National Police – Special Action Force) commandos who died last January 25 during a clash with MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) and BIFF (Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters) rebels in Mamasapano, Maguindanao. It was when everybody got irked on the news about an ambiguous leadership and lack of reinforcement, which was said to have contributed to the death of our highly elite policemen after a successful search of a notorious bomb expert named Zulkifli Abdhir, also known as “Marwan”. Emotions, opinions, sympathies started pouring out, mostly in a protestive manner.
This is going to be a long episode of what went on behind a successful yet tragic operation of a most-wanted terrorist. An outnumbered elite troops fighting in long hours with the rebels without any help and assistance from the government is what makes people prying for answers.
‘Bingo Mike One’, the words that boosted the morales of SAF commandos during a mission to kill Marwan, a high value target. But the celebration did not last long, after MILF rebel groups attacked the SAF policemen.
Why SAF troopers are high-calibre fighters
Special Action Force are elite units created within the components of the AFP to streamline its operations, to address the various threats to national security and revitalize the military. Formed along the lines of the British Army (SAS) Special Air Service, but with different recruitment and selection procedures, SAF over the years has received training from the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) and Critical Incident Response Group, RAID and YAMAM with the Anti-Terrorist Unit (ATU) of the PNP-SAF is responsible for nationwide Police Counter-Terrorism (CT) operations nationwide.
SAF policemen are highly trained fighters. It is said that an eight-man SAF troop can outdo 40 attackers making them fully fit for ground, sea and air battles. Many policemen aspire to be SAF members but the cream of the crop are the ones that succeed, thus naming them as ‘elites’. Before becoming a SAF member, a trainee undergoes several special military combat related training such as Basic Airborne Course Training, Urban Counter Revolutionary Warfare (SURESHOCK), SCUBA-BUSROC (Basic Under-Water Search and Rescue Operations Course) and Internal Security (COMMANDO course). It is a long course of building physical and mental stamina not all are able to surpass.
SAF troopers in series of trainings
A wife of a slain SAF member imparts that she has always been confident of her husband’s competence. Her husband was one of the fighters in the Zamboanga seige and survived in two long months of fighting with the rebels. But in January 25, a one day operation, lead to the death of his husband in a close encounter with the rebels. She knew there is something disputable with how the operation went, for 44 highly trained fighters to not be able to survive the battle.
Necrological service for the fallen 44 SAF cops in Camp Bagong Diwa held last January 30, 2015.
PNP OIC Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina probes the MILF representatives during a senate hearing: “Why did you not let these men go home and see their children?”
Behind these uniforms and badges
My husband who went through months of trainings in Camp Bagong Diwa relates and remembers how painful it is to undergo months of grueling sacrifice in the camp before you can call yourself an official servant of the country.
He relates the hardships they needed to endure physically, mentally and emotionally. They’d ask, “what if I just quit, go back home, be with my family and just live a normal life?” But they’d rather not, for this is not what they stood up for. They’d sing to each other when loneliness sinks in, cheer up when one is almost giving up, take punishments to save fellow comrades. Camaraderie and genuine comradeship is mastered to their very core. This is how brotherhood is cultivated to harness selfless act of courage, so when they come face to face in battles, they are primed to put theirselves last.
A lone survivor from one group (55th SAC) tells his story about how his comrade helped him escape by redirecting the focus of one rebel sniper and have himself shot instead. He recalls seeing a comrade lying on the ground looking at a photo of a loved one before he breathes his last. Another survivor from another group (84th SAC), after bearing a serious wound at the back shares when one of his comrades carried him out of the scene to save him from the attack of the enemies. His comrade was also one of the 44 who died.
After hours of fighting, they all ran out of bullets and nothing they could do but accept their fate. A fate long before accepted since they stepped in the training grounds to become protectors or “tagaligtas” of the country. As one survivor recounts the words they impart to each other , “No one will leave, no one will give up, no one will surrender. We will all die here.” It is this kind of stories like in movies that make you stirred and all the more appreciative of the fact that there are heroes working 24/7 for all us civilians to live in normalcy.
A marshland and swampy areas in Brgy. Tukanalipao in Mamasapano became an unfavorable battleground for the SAF troopers making it difficult to flee the area.
(photo: Jo Henry-ARMM-HEART)
The cornfield in Mamasapano where SAF blocking force or 55th SAC composed of 36 commandos were outnumbered by MILF fighters. 35 were killed, only 1 survived.
(photo: AFP / Mark Navales)
SAF members not able to hide their emotions
(photo: ANC 24/7)
Special Action Force (SAF) chief Police Director Getulio Napeña weeps and approaches PNP OIC Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina after the latter expressed grief over the (over) killed 44 SAF members during a senate hearing.
From watching and reading news about the clash that killed 44 of our SAF members, hearing the outcry of bereaved families, friends and comrades and becoming aware of the many Filipinos expressing their grief and sympathy, it is when I realize the power of the words ‘mercy and compassion’, an advocacy Pope Francis’ had left to the Filipino people a few weeks back, which instantly brought the nation as one. It came to me the willingness to pique the emotions and morale of more Filipinos to have the same empathy. So more and more would be as much concerned, and eventually be bridges to seek for the truth. The one and only truth.
Bereaved family of a slain SAF trooper
If we could only capture every moment and every detail on what went on and what these men had to go through when they were all helplessly trapped by their assailants, no words, anxiety or tears can subdue the agony. For this is not just a movie, but a real story of heroes giving up their lives for the country. More often than not, a scene hardly seen by many.
At this point, we hope every Filipino, especially those with the knowledge of what had happened, to take courage to speak up, be moved, question, and toss aside mediocrity. A courage not tantamount of what our soldiers did to serve their countrymen, selfless and devoted. For leaders to step up and eradicate vested interests even if it calls for a need to drop status quos.
Our soldiers have served us well. Let’s rightfully grant them the justice and truth they all deserve and prolong the honor they have started.