THE act is overdue, and it is fitting.
In declaring January 25 of every year as a “Day of National Remembrance of theSAF44,” President Rodrigo Duterte honors a debt and obligation that the nation owes the 44 Special Action Force (SAF) commandos who were killed and abandoned in the ill-fated operation in Mamasapano, Maguindanao on January 25, 2015.
Former President Benigno S. Aquino III did not issue the proclamation because he did not want to remember the tragedy, or the tragedy officially remembered, let alone investigated. To the very last day of his term, Aquino III clung to the hope that his role in Oplan Exodus would be overlooked, his accountability forgotten.
In issuing Proclamation 164, signed on February 21 and released to media on February 26,President Duterte corrects this awful mistake and carves a place of honor for the martyred 44 in the nation‘s memory.
In the proclamation, The President said: “I ask all our countrymen to remember the heroism of the SAF 44 and recall the daily sacrifices of our uniformed personnel for the sake of the continued peace and security of our nation.”
He said further and tellingly: “The heroism of the SAF 44 also serves as a constant reminder of the continuing sacrifices being made by our valiant uniformed men and women in the line of duty.” This is fitting because we should uphold and prize continuity in the nation’s arms.
Few events in national history have caused as much pain and sorrow across the entire archipelago as the Mamasapano tragedy. This is because the fallen 44 came from almost every part of the country. This is also because after two years, the tragic plight of the commandos still hunger for closure, and their surviving families still mourn for justice.
An official day of national remembrance (which the Times recommended in an editorial in June 2016) will help to assuage the sorrow, and hopefully pave the way for full closure.
From here on, there will be no disputing that the 44, in fact and in deed, made the supreme sacrifice – they died in service to people and country.
There can be no quibbling about dates and facts. The 44 SAF troopers were killed in a high-stakes operation on January 25, 2015, as they targeted known terrorists Zulkifli bin Hir aka Marwan and Basit Usman.
Members of the 84th Special Action Company (SAC), the main striking force, were greeted by enemy fire just as they killed Marwan. The 55th SAC, the main blocking force, found themselves pinned down in Barangay Tukanalipao, surrounded by local armed individuals and groups.
Nine members of the 84th SAC and all but one member of the 55th SAC died during the hours-long encounter, the bloodiest operation in the history of the Philippine National Police (PNP).
This does not close the page. Further inquiry is needed, before the identity of killers and the official responsibility can be known.
Meantime, let us be glad that the republic will officially remember the SAF 44.