MALACAÑANG on Friday quashed reports that President Benigno Aquino 3rd ordered the removal of the names of the members of the Special Action Force (SAF) who were involved in the infamous Mamasapano incident from the list of awardees for this year’s anniversary of the Philippine National Police (PNP).
A PNP memorandum with the subject ‘Result of the Selection of Awardees” earlier seen by The Manila Times showed that the highest honors were recommended for two of the SAF officers for their gallantry in action during “Oplan: Exodus.”
The operation plan was aimed at capturing a top international terrorist, a Malaysian, and his Filipino protégé.
Supt. Raymund Train and Police Officer Romeo Cempron were reportedly on the initial list of the awardees but were eventually delisted.
Train, who survived the controversial firefight in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, was to be decorated with the Distinguished Conduct Medal while Cempron, one of the 44 who died in the incident, was to receive a posthumous Medal of Valor.
The head of the PNP Intelligence Group, Chief Supt. Fernando Mendez Jr., the official who reportedly provided the intelligence packet that was used in the ill-fated operation last January 25, was also said to be among the awardees but was also eventually not included in the program.
The PNP spokesman, Chief Supt. Wilben Mayor, told reporters he was not aware of the changes made in the anniversary program.
“Tedious deliberations are being made to ensure that the appropriate awards are given to deserving police personnel,” Mayor said in a news briefing.
Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said the Office of the President was not involved in the selection of awardees.
“The Office of the President has no participation in the selection of police officers and individuals that were given recognition in connection with the 114th anniversary of the PNP,” he said in a statement.
The President on Friday led the awarding of citations to five police officers and a non-uniformed personnel in a ceremony in Camp Crame in Quezon City.
“According to the PNP, the evaluation process for the proposed giving of the Medal of Valor, which is the highest award that can be bestowed to any member of the PNP and the Armed Force of the Philippines, requires a lengthy process and a thorough evaluation,” Coloma said.
The PNP, meanwhile, said the ceremony was intended to recognize “the outstanding achievements of the men and women of the Philippine National Police for calendar year 2014.”
The Mamasapano incident happened in January 2015.
Mayor admitted that the PNP initially intended to include the SAF awardees in the program but the lengthy process in awarding the Medal of Valor “could not be completed on time despite our best efforts.”
“For these reasons, these awards were not included in the program today. Rest assured
that the deliberation and vetting process by the committee are ongoing and shall render the honor due them at the most appropriate time,” he said in a statement.
The President has taken flak for the incident for allowing then suspended PNP chief Alan Purisima to participate in the planning of the law enforcement mission.
He was also criticized for not acknowledging the slain SAF members in his last State of the Nation Address on July 27, prompting Vice President Jejomar Binay to step up plaudits for the police commandos in his version of the SONA.
A source of The Manila Times said Cempron’s widow Christine was informed last weekend that her husband would be given the award during the PNP Day in Camp Crame.
“But in the same week, there was a verbal instruction from the Presidential Management Staff (PMS) to the PNP to remove the Mamasapano awardees from the program,” the source, who requested he not be named as he was not authorized to speak to the media, added.
During tdeliberations for the awarding of the Medal of Valor to Cempron, PO2 Christopher Lalan, the lone survivor from the 55th Special Action Company, told the awards review panel that Cempron directed him to flee while he stood up to provide cover fire. Cempron was eventually fatally shot.
Chief Supt. Augusto Marquez of the Directorate for Investigation and Detective Management and a member of the awards deliberation board earlier said that no less than President Aquino will award the medal to Cempron’s family.
Another source in the PNP said the SAF had shouldered the travel fare for Christine and her family from Leyte as well as the cost of their hotel accommodations in Manila.
The SAF even bought a Filipiniana attire for Mrs. Cempron in preparation for the ceremony–only to discover that they will not be joining the program.