President Benigno Aquino 3rd on Friday assured families of Special Action Force
(SAF) commandos who died in a clash with Muslim rebels in Mamasapano, Maguindanao that the government will get justice for them and their loved ones.
The fallen troops’ families were joined by the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches (PCEC) also on Friday in demanding justice for the death of 44 SAF members in the hands of the separatists from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) last Sunday.
In a speech, Aquino acknowledged that Sunday’s mission, intended to get Malaysian terrorist Malaysian Zulkifli bin Hir, alias “Marwan,” and his Filipino cohort Abdul Basit Usman, left several questions begging for answers, beginning “Why?”
He admitted that he could not answer the question.
“So many questions asked today begin with ‘Why:’ Why did this happen? Why did they have to die? Why do families have to suffer?,” Aquino said. “I must be honest, I do not have the answers to all these questions.”
But, he told the families of the slain police officers, “that I genuinely understand how you feel.”
The President, who kept mourners waiting at Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City (Metro Manila), where the necrological rites for the fallen troops were held, recounted how he overcame his own grief over the assassination of his father, Marcos nemesis and opposition leader then senator Benigno Aquino Jr., in 1983.
“I, too, lost a loved one in a sudden manner,” he said, recalling how difficult it was to lose his father and how even more difficult it was to move from anger to acceptance.
“In that moment of absolute misery and pain, several questions occupied my mind: Now that our father is no longer with us, how can we achieve that which we desire for our country? Does this mean we have reached the end of our fight? If transformation could not be achieved even after my father died, had my father’s sacrifice, and that of thousands of Filipinos, gone to waste?,” Aquino asked.
“To the families of our fallen [troops], I know [fully]well that your lives have been turned upside down with the sudden death of your loved ones. You had plans laid out for your future; you had set your sight toward achieving certain dreams. Now, with this unexpected outcome, the future for you and your families seems to be clouded with uncertainty,” he said.
The President, nevertheless, vowed to get Usman, who supposedly escaped while the other target, Marwan, was reportedly killed.
“You know this: I am a man of my word… I assure you, we will get Usman,” Aquino said, adding that this promise is “number one on our list of priorities.”
The President said he has ordered concerned authorities to execute “a more effective plan” to hunt down and apprehend Usman.
“Your government is already working toward this end. In fact, even before speaking to you, we were already taking steps to meet this objective. We will prove that the law truly prevails in the Philippines,” he added.
“We do not want a repeat of incidents like this,” Aquino told the somber crowd.
He reiterated that authorities have to get to the bottom of the incident to determine the next course of action, instead of just making decisions based on pure emotions.
“As President, even if I want to be angry, I cannot allow myself to be carried away by my emotions. Rash decision-making has no place in these situations. If I were to let my anger dictate my actions, then perhaps instead of resolving the problem, I would only exacerbate it. We will do our utmost to gain justice for all those who perished and for the loved ones they left behind,” Aquino said.
Meanwhile, he also assured the families that all possible help will be extended to them, including scholarships and employment opportunities.
“Let me also assure you: We will exert every effort to lessen your worries and doubts about the future. We will provide for your needs, in accordance with all laws and regulations. We will do everything in our power to help each family of our fallen heroes in the police,” Aquino said.
“It is clear: Your husbands, brothers, and sons, whom we honor today, are heroes. Our nation owes them a great debt of gratitude. They sacrificed their lives, to bring peace and order to the lives of the vast majority,” he added.
When Aquino arrived at Camp Bagong Diwa, he went straight to the coffins of the slain officers, paused and said a prayer.
The President the approached the families and gave them medals of bravery.
At one of the coffins, the widow of the fallen police officer from Bataan did not take the plaque offered her by Aquino. Her mother did so in her stead.
Afterward, the Preside was led to a holding room, where he met with the relatives in private. Each family was given five minutes with him.
The memorial service was held a day after Aquino drew flak for attending the inauguration of a car plant in Laguna instead of being at Villamor Air Base for the arrival honors for the SAF commandos.
In a statement, officials of the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches said, “From our biblical perspective, all lives are created in the image of God and are inherently and equally valuable in the eyes of the One who created all human beings. Though we sincerely cry with those who lost their loved ones, our words would not be enough to describe the deepest pain and suffering of their families and loved ones.
Apart from demanding justice for the 44 police officers killed and also for their families, Bishop Noel A. Pantoja, National Director Designate; Bishop Efraim M.
Tendero, National Director; and Bishop Cesar V. Punzalan III, Board Chairman, sought the “truth” and at the same time called for “mercy.”
To find the truth, they enjoined civil societies, religious bodies, business sector and all other peace-loving organizations to help conduct a joint fact-finding mission independent of the government and the MILF.
In appealing for mercy, the PCEC officials said, “Violence makes us angry. When we are violated, we naturally want to get even. We are tempted to see human society as ‘us’ versus ‘them’ in a perpetual adversarial relationship. As followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to transform adversarial relationships into reconciling relationships.
This is done through loving God and loving our neighbors, even loving our enemies.”
Based on established facts and under the rule of law, they added, “Those who are responsible for these violent deaths must be brought to justice. All those who are responsible–from the official who planned and sanctioned this operation, to the personnel on the ground who pulled the trigger, whether they are from the [government]side or the MILF side–must be brought to justice.”