A PALL of gloom descended on Villamor Air Base in Pasay City (Metro Manila) on Thursday morning as the caskets of 42 members of the police Special Action Force (SAF) are brought down one after the other from C-130 transport planes that flew them in from Mindanao.
The bodies of the 42 “heroes” who were slain during a clash with separatist rebels in Mamasapano town in Maguindanao province on January 25 were finally brought home in time for Friday’s necrological services at Camp Bagong Diwa in taguig City (Metro Manila) to be led by President Benigno Aquino 3rd.
But Aquino was a “no-show” at the air base as he preferred to attend the inauguration of a manufacturing plant in Santa Rosa City, Laguna.
Strong emotions welled up as the military aircraft carrying the fallen policemen touched down around 10 a.m. at Villamor Air Base, where arrival honors were prepared by the Philippine National Police (PNP) leadership.
Distraught mothers and widows of the slain policemen cried and moaned in grief as the metal caskets each draped with the Philippine flag were unloaded by SAF troopers who also acted as pallbearers.
A number of honor guards were seen either fighting back or wiping up tears.
Some relatives and loved ones of the slain SAF members passed out after protocol officers accompanied them beside the caskets that have been lined up on tarmac.
After the arrival honors, the bodies were brought to a SAF headquarters in Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City.
PNP top brass headed by officer-in-charge Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina and newly installed SAF commander Chief Supt. Noli Talino led the arrival honors.
They were joined by Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gregorio Pio Catapang, Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas 2nd, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and Palace spokesman Edwin Lacierda.
Vice President Binay, former President Fidel Ramos, Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Rep. Rodolfo Biazon of Muntinlupa City (Metro Manila) also attended the rites.
Six of those killed were Binay’s fraternity brothers in Alpha Phi Omega.
Kabataan Rep. Terry Ridon said Aquino’s absence in the arrival honor ceremony for the fallen SAF men speaks volumes of the President’s lack of basic respect for his servicemen.
“His choice to instead head to the opening of a car factory in Santa Rosa shows how little he cares for his uniformed personnel, who died in an encounter that he himself green-lighted. Aquino’s cold, unfeeling heart cannot even sympathize briefly with the families of the fallen SAF officers. It is truly despicable, especially for the Commander-in-Chief,” Ridon added.
Memes of the arrival honors and Aquino attending the inauguration of Mitsubishi Motors plant went viral on Facebook and Twitter.
Netizens also mourned the brutal slaying of the police commandos by using the SAF insignia (both the Beret Patch and Badge) as their profile pictures on their Facebook and Twitter accounts.
“Nakakaiyak. Nakakadurog ng puso [So sad. Heartbreaking],” a netizen said in her tweet.
“Very revolting!” exclaimed a retired police general.
People also took turns in slamming the President’s absence in the arrival honors.
“He [Aquino] refused to categorically answer if the operation had his ‘go-signal.’ He refused to condemn the massacre of these 44 policemen. He said he grieves for them.
But did he say if the government will run after the killers? Now, he is attending a plant’s inauguration as bodies of slain SAF men arrive (d),” posted a netizen.
One of them commented: “How insensitive . . . if not stupid!!!”
The Peaceful Responsible Owners of Guns (Progun) said: “While the bodies of the fallen SAF soldiers arrive at Villamor Air Base, their Commander-in-Chief is at an auto plant opening ceremony. Is this the kind of attitude and leadership that we can expect from a Commander-in-Chief who does not even seem to care about the fallen soldiers whom he ordered into battle?”
But Malacañang also on Thursday defended the President’s absence from the arrival honors, noting that Aquino will lead the necrological rites on Friday.
I n a text message, Palace deputy spokesman Abigail Valte said Aquino was not originally scheduled to be at Villamor Air Base.
“The President did not skip the arrival honors today [Thursday], it presupposes he was originally scheduled to attend it, which was not the case. The President will lead the necrological services tomorrow [Friday] at 10 a.m at Camp Bagong Diwa,” Valte added.
She said the government officials assigned to lead the arrival honors were Roxas and Espina.
Aquino attended the inauguration of the Mitsubishi Motors’ plant in Santa Rosa City in Laguna and delivered a speech. He was with Trade Secretary Gregory Domingo and Cabinet Secretary Rene Almendras.