Hero’s welcome: Slain PNP-SAF back home

MANILA, Philippines (2nd UPDATE) – The heroes of Zamboanga, the fallen of Maguindanao are home.

On Thursday, January 29, 42 of the 44 elite cops slain during a “misencounter” with members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) arrived at the Villamor Air Base in Pasay City, 4 days after the bloody incident.

392 commandos of the Philippine National Police (PNP) Special Action Force (SAF) were involved in a Sunday, January 25 operation to arrest two “high-value targets,” alleged bomb makers Malaysian Zulkifli bin Hir, better known as "Marwan,” and Filipino Abdul Basit Usman.

The troopers, members of the SAF’s 84th seaborne battalion and the 5th action battalion, are also veterans of the 2013 Zamboanga siege. Majority of those who died were also the PNP’s operators in the Zamboanga, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi areas.

Only 42 will be arriving via 3 C130 aircraft in Manila since 2 of the troopers were already buried in Zamboanga, following Muslim rites.

The first batch of remains arrived at the Villamor Airbase at past 10 am, where they were given arrival honors and received by top PNP officials and Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II.

Fellow SAF personnel carried the first of 42 flag-draped coffins out of the first C130 plane, as relatives of the slain men watched.

Other officials present at the airbase during the arrival were Vice President Jejomar BInay, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda, Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya, Senator Nancy Binay, and Senator Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr.

Also seen during the ceremonies were former first lady and Ilocos Norte Representative Imelda Marcos.

Former president Fidel Ramos also paid respects to the slain 44. Ramos was chief of the Philippine Constrabulary when the SAF was founded. 

The 42 will then be brought to Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig, where the PNP SAF's headquarters is located. Necrological services are scheduled on Friday, January 30. 

The slain policemen, who arrived in Manila as they left the marshes of Mamasapano, are set to be embalmed in Manila.

The PNP earlier announced they will receive full police honors, equivalent to the gold cross medal, according to PNP OIC Deputy Dir Gen Leonardo Espina.

Chief Supt Generoso Cerbo Jr also said the PNP board has recommended the Medalya ng Kagitingan be awarded to the slain policemen. They will also be given a posthumous promotion.

While the exact narrative of events have yet to established, officials have said the SAF commandos found themselves in a “misencounter” with the BIFF, a faction of the MILF.

Citing preliminary reports, Roxas said members of the BIFF attacked SAF commandos, after which government forces had a “misencounter” with the MILF because they were avoiding BIFF territory. Roxas is also the chairman of the National Police Commission.

Roxas, however, said he was not privy to the operation in Maguindanao. Neither was PNP OIC Espina. The commander of the PNP SAF, Police Director Getulio Napeñas, Jr., meanwhile, has been administratively relieved over the incident.

In a televised address Wednesday evening, January 28, President Benigno Aquino III said he was coordinating with Napeñas prior to the operation. The president, however, did not categorically answer if he gave the go signal for the operation or not.

The PNP has since launched a Board of Inquiry to probe the incident. The MILF has also spearheaded its own independent review of the incident. The board will have to find out why top PNP officials were kept out of the loop.

The MILF and the Philippine government are in the final stages of a peace deal that would establish a new autonomous region in Muslim Mindanao. The development of the deal is now in limbo, following the clash.

At least two senators have withdrawn their support for the Bangsamoro Basic Law, meaning a majority is no longer in favor of the measure. – Rappler.com