Five years ago on Saturday, 44 members of the Special Action Force perished during an encounter with rebel forces as they pursued terrorists in the town of Mamasapano in Maguindanao.
The deaths of who later came to be known as the SAF 44 occasioned outrage among the people. The previous administration made many questionable decisions and actions that led us to believe that the deaths could have been prevented.
It did not help that after the bodies of the slain men were flown back to Manila, the then-president chose instead to attend an event of a car manufacturer instead of being present to receive them. When he spoke with the families a few days after, he attempted empathy by insisting he knew exactly how they felt because his own father had died. He said this instead of simply acknowledging that his own administration may have led the men to their deaths.
Five years on, many things have changed.
It’s a different administration in power now. Many of the prominent personalities who made the life-and-death decisions on that fateful day are no longer visible to the public. And while a Senate committee, after a series of hearings that captivated the nation, issued a report that identified the parties responsible for the deaths and the many factors that led to the loss of the men, the court cases that came afterward yielded unsatisfactory resolutions, if at all.
Meanwhile, the families of the 44 men have been five years orphaned, and have had to fend for themselves. Some of them have grown tired of hoping that real justice for their loved one will ever be obtained.
The reputation of the police organization itself has suffered, marred by accusations of abuse of power and discretion as it implemented the new administration’s so-called war against drugs. At the time of Mamasapano, the police chief was on suspension following allegations of wrongdoing. Today, another police chief has resigned in disgrace, after alleged involvement in a scheme that allowed cops to profit from seized illegal drugs.
But aside from remembering that this event took place half a decade ago, have the rest of us been able to reflect on what happened and pondered the possibility of similar betrayals happening again?
The tragedy is that the SAF 44 were good, honest, valorous men who responded to the call of duty to protect the nation. Alas, it could have been that their own commanders put them in harm’s way, believing that some ends—the illusion or appearance of peace, for instance, in preserving ties with rebels who did not share their goodwill—are more important than the 44’s lives.
May we never be deceived into believing that anything else is more worth saving than human lives.