AT long last, the sacrifice of the 44 brave men of the Special Action Force massacred precisely one year ago today is to be formally recognized. Malacañang has announced that President BS Aquino 3rd will personally confer the Medal of Valor on two of the troopers, Chief Inspector Gednat G. Tabdi and PO2 Romeo C. Cempron, while the remaining 42 men will all be awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal.
The posthumous awards are to be made at a ceremony at Camp Crame today.
The awards are long overdue, having been recommended by the National Police Commission shortly after the Mamasapano Massacre last year, and they are more than deserved. We hope that their families will find some small measure of comfort in knowing that the nation honors and thanks their loved ones for their service.
Whether or not they take any comfort in that recognition being handed down now, after he specifically declined to do so on at least one occasion last year, is a choice each of the families will have to make on their own. We would certainly empathize, however, if any of them chose to regard the timing and the personality behind the awarding ceremony as a bit of an insult as President Aquino increasingly appears to be the chief culprit in the SAF 44’s avoidable slaughter.
Although the fact that today, January 25, is the first anniversary of the tragedy – which gives Aquino a plausible excuse for conducting the award ceremony now – it can hardly be a coincidence that the award was announced immediately after the prospect of reopening hearings on the Mamasapano debacle was raised, particularly after Senator Juan Ponce Enrile disclosed that he has information that would almost certainly put Aquino in a very uncomfortable position.
Aquino, or rather, the various apparatchiks who usually do his talking for him, will almost certainly deny that the growing possibility that Aquino’s grave liability for sending the SAF 44 to their deaths and refusing them reinforcements will be revealed has anything to do with his about-face on the decision to confer the troopers the awards for bravery. And just as certainly, very few people if any will actually believe him.
We certainly do not. From our vantage point, the award to the SAF 44 looks like nothing but a cheap, desperate stunt by which Aquino hopes to divert the clamorous questions about his moral and legal culpability for the tragedy. It is shameful that, having consigned their brave men to death, Aquino would risk causing the families of the SAF 44 even more pain by using them as props in an amateurish political drama.
If he was serious about giving the men of the SAF 44 their awards, then perhaps a better way to show it would be for him not to show himself at all: Let the commander of the PNP or some other high-ranking officer handle it, since those gentlemen, with very few exceptions, regard their fallen brethren with appropriate professional respect. That is a perspective Aquino is yet to learn, and maybe never will.