SAF 44 kin slam SONA omission

RELATIVES of the 44 Special Action Force (SAF) police commandos slain in the covert Mamasapano operation in January took President Benigno Aquino III to task Tuesday for failing to mention their sacrifice in his final State-of-the-Nation Address (SONA).

“It was very sad. Imagine, he was able to thank even his barber but he never mentioned the fallen SAF 44,” said Celesino Bilog, father of PO1 Russel Bilog.

During his two-hour valedictory Monday, the President thanked his allies, Cabinet secretaries, and even his hair stylist and his maid for helping him during his presidency.

But Flavio Sagonoy from Northern Samar said the President should have also cited the contribution of his son, PO1 Joseph Sagonoy, who died doing his duty, and sought justice for the fallen police officers.

PO1 Sagonoy was the SAF officer shown on a video being finished off by armed men during the Mamasapano clash with Muslim rebels in January.

“He never mentioned or thanked the police officers who sacrificed their lives for the country. He does not care at all at the expense to cover up someone,” the older Sagonoy said.

The 44 SAF commandos were killed in a covert operation approved by the President and headed by his close friend, then Philippine National Police chief Alan Purisima, who was suspended on corruption charges at the time.

Cristina Palabay, secretary general of Karapatan (Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights), said the President’s SONA skirted peace and human rights issues.

“While the state forces tried to protect their indefensible President, Aquino thanked his minions but obviously failed to recognize the fallen SAF 44, his very own men, in the botched Mamasapano operation in January. It is predictably Aquino’s way of glossing over human rights and peace issues that have beset his regime during the last five years,” she said.

Karapatan also lambasted the arrest of top National Democratic Front officers such as Benito Tiamzon, Wilma Austria-Tiamzon, Ruben Saluta, and political prisoner Emmanuel Bacarra, whom the communists say were consultants in the peace talks with the government.

“The Aquino regime has been double-dealing with the NDF, dangling the peace talks while hunting down peace consultants and arresting them through trumped-up criminal charges using false witnesses and planted evidence like arms and explosives,” Palabay said.

“For all his contempt for Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, BS Aquino is simply enamored with the murderous skills of the Arroyo generals... whom he promoted to the high positions of the AFP,” she added.

“BS Aquino’s much touted ‘tuwid na daan’ (straight path) has been tainted with blood since day one. There is no way the people should allow tuwid na daan to continue. It must be repudiated,” Palabay said.

A former journalist, Carlos Conde, as Asia researcher for the Washington, DC-based Human Rights Watch, said the President’s silence on human rights added “insult to an injury.”

“Aquino barely touched on any of the serious human rights problem his administration has largely ignored since he took office in 2010,” he wrote.

 Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte also took potshots at the President for failing to address the peace and order situation and the increase in drug-relate crimes.

“Instead of endlessly blaming the past administration’s incompetence and strings of large-scale corruption, the State-of-the-Nation Address of President Aquino should have tackled more serious issues like peace and order as well as the upsurge in the number of Filipino youths being involved in illegal drugs,” Duterte said.

“Arroyo is now in jail,” Duterte said, referring to former President Gloria Arroyo. “The past is past. It would have been good if he mentioned what he will do from this day until the last day of his term, rather than keep on blaming and accusing the previous administration.”

Duterte said Aquino seemed to be playing the blame game to divert public attention from the ineptitude and corruption of his Cabinet members.

The biggest labor group, the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines-Nagkaisa said Aquino’s SONA skirted problems of income inequality, unabated poverty and the high cost of living, and did not depict the true state of the nation.

“Aquino chose to disregard tragedies in Mamasapano incident that shows his substandard leadership and the Kentex factory fire that mirrors the widespread poor labor conditions pervading unchecked in his administration,” said TUCP spokesperson Alan Tanjusay.

The President also said nothing about the miserable state of public transport including the MRT and LRT train system affecting millions of workers every day and the failure of his administration to provide housing for squatters living in danger zones despite the P50 billion budget allotted to it last year.

“He did not say anything about his failure to build better after the phenomenal havoc by Yolanda. He also refused to divulge the inefficiency among some of the members of his Cabinet,” the TUCP said.

The TUCP also dismissed Aquino’s claim that the number of strikes has dropped.

“The truth is that unionized workers have been under significant threat of losing their jobs or being singled out by management if they even plan to hold a strike. He also did not say that strikes and lockouts are rare because union density is dwindling,” he said.

The TUCP said Aquino obviously evaded the issue of raising wages despite of the survey by Philippine Statistics Authority released March 2015 showing salaries of workers in the minimum wage and lower informal sector workers are still P2,370 short of the poverty threshold of P8,778 a month set by the National Economic and Development Authority.

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