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Four years on, justice eludes SAF 44; swift closure urged

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The Palace on Friday called on the Office of the Ombudsman to swiftly conclude the case filed against those responsible for the deaths of 44 Special Action Force commandos who were killed in a botched clandestine operation in Mamasapano four years ago.

LOOK: 44 flags up

“Even as we continue to pray for the eternal repose of the souls of these gallant heroes and share in the grief of their bereaved families, we urge the Office of the Ombudsman to resolve with dispatch the case filed against those who recklessly placed them in mortal peril,” Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said in a statement.

“The nation demands justice for them as well as the prosecution of those responsible for the botched police operation,” he added.

In January 2018, Solicitor General Jose Calida asked the Supreme Court to order the Ombudsman to charge former President Benigno Aquino III with reckless imprudence resulting in homicide for the death of the 44 SAF members.

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Calida also sought the inclusion of former Philippine National Police chief Alan Purisima and former Special Action Force director Getulio Napeñas Jr. among the accused of 44 counts of reckless imprudence resulting in homicide.

The Ombudsman at the time, however, charged Aquino, Purisima, and Napeñas only with the usurpation of official functions and violation of the Anti-Graft Law, and dismissed the reckless imprudence complaint.

Panelo said even as the fallen SAF 44 were honored posthumously with the Philippine National Police Medal of Valor, the Duterte administration will not allow the same tragedy to befall the men in uniform.

“Never again will we allow a recurrence of such tragic event. Those in authority must learn from the mistakes of the past otherwise those valorous men in uniform would have died in vain,” he said.

On Jan. 25, 2015, under the top-secret military operation called “Oplan Exodus,” a 475-man SAF unit was sent to Barangay Tukanalipaoin Mamasapano, Maguindanao to neutralize international terrorists Zulkifli Bin-Hir alias “Marwan” and Bassit Usman.

The police commandos succeeded in killing Marwan, who was also wanted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation of the United States but were ambushed by members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, and other armed groups.

The death of the 44 police commandos torpedoed efforts to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), a key component of peace talks with the MILF rebels.

President Rodrigo Duterte has declared every Jan. 25 as the National Day of Remembrance to commemorate the bravery of the SAF 44.

Retired police Chief Supt. Noli Taliño, who was then the deputy SAF commander at that time, said the highly top-secret military operation named “Operation Exodus” was carefully planned before it was launched. Only a handful knew about the top-secret military operation. Among them were then President Aquino and his national police chief, Purisima. In fact, even then PNP officer-in-charge Leonardo Espina was kept in the dark.

But the military, too, was not informed until the operation was well under way, and a congressional probe after the massacre demanded to know why there were no military reinforcements or supporting artillery fire to help the beleaguered police commandos.

The lack of coordination with the military was a blunder that cost the lives of the SAF 44.

The PNP, meanwhile, said aid to the families of the SAF 44 would continue, after the mother of a slain commando said she had yet to receive the financial help promised them four years after the massacre.

READ: SAF 44 families hold protest at Ombudsman’s office

“We will not abandon the families of the SAF 44,” said Senior Supt. Bernard Banac, PNP spokesman. This is the commitment of the leadership, especially the President and the PNP chief. We are still here to aid them. We will help them coordinate with various government agencies, just in case there are still benefits to be given to them.”

Banac made the statement after Helen Ramacula, mother of slain PO2 Rodel Ramacula, said she has yet to fully receive the financial livelihood assistance that was promised to them, four years after the tragic incident.

Ramacula said the Department of Social Welfare and Development has yet to give the remaining 30 percent of the livelihood assistance worth P300,000.

“It has been four years and we still haven’t received the second grant. We only got the first grant,” Ramacula said in Filipino.

She said other beneficiaries are experiencing the same problem, noting that she has already complied with the requirements of DSWD, such as submitting documents and other necessary papers for the grant.

Also on Friday, the Government Service Insurance System said it reached out to some of the widows of the SAF 44 by hiring them as personnel in the GSIS Zamboanga operations.

“In 2018, the GSIS branch office in Zamboanga was in need of additional people after a considerable number of its personnel retired and requested transfer to other branches. Heeding President Duterte’s appeal to give priority to qualified SAF 44 widows in government employment, we hired four SAF 44 widows in December 2018 as personnel after their applications were evaluated and they were found qualified for the job,” GSIS chairman Rolando Ledesma Macasaet said. With PNA

READ: FVR guest at SAF 44 museum

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