SAF 44 families demand justice from Duterte

MANILA, Philippines – When will justice for their fathers, sons, and husbands be served?

This question was voiced by family members of the "Fallen 44," the Special Action Force (SAF) troopers who were killed in the Mamasapano clash on January 25, 2015, to President Rodrigo Duterte on the eve of the tragedy's 2nd anniversary.

Duterte hosted a dinner for the families in Malacañang Palace. Thirty-nine out of 44 families attended.

"It's been two years since the tragedy and until now, we don't know when we'll get justice and who should be held accountable," said John Anniban, father of Senior Inspector Cyrus Paleyan Anniban, as he took to the podium to address Duterte.

That day, the Ombudsman filed with the Sandiganbayan criminal charges against two officials who led the operation: former Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Alan Purisima and ex-SAF director Getulio Napeñas.

MOTHER'S MESSAGE. The mother of one of the SAF 44 gives a message as President Rodrigo Duterte, PNP chief Ronald dela Rosa, and other families listen. Photo by Ace Morandante/Presidential Photo

MOTHER'S MESSAGE. The mother of one of the SAF 44 gives a message as President Rodrigo Duterte, PNP chief Ronald dela Rosa, and other families listen.

Photo by Ace Morandante/Presidential Photo

Rohirmina Asjali, mother of PO3 Jed-in Abubakar Asjali, asked if all the fallen SAF troopers could be awarded the Medal of Valor.

"Justice, Mr President, is what everyone is asking for. Why is there none even after two years? And Medal of Valor, I hope they can be given to all since they all died," she said.

The Medal of Valor, the highest award that can be conferred to a member of the police or military, was given to only two of the SAF 44 supposedly because of the tedious process required before it can be conferred. Witnesses are required to testify on the acts of the possible awardee.

But all 44 troopers were awarded the PNP Distinguished Conduct Medal and given a posthumous promotion.

Melanie Duque, wife of PO3 Andres Viernes Duque Jr, claimed not all the families have received what the government promised them.

"How about the promised employent of familes? Not all are employed like me. Other sources of livelihood, not all have been given, like from DSWD (Department of Social Welfare and Development). Not all families have been given houses. Will full scholarship really be given to our children?" she asked.

'MANO PO.' President Rodrigo Duterte meets the family of a fallen Special Action Force trooper. Photo by Rolando Mailo/Presidential Photo

'MANO PO.' President Rodrigo Duterte meets the family of a fallen Special Action Force trooper.

Photo by Rolando Mailo/Presidential Photo

Duterte, in his speech later that night, sought to address the concerns of the families.

He promised to create a commission to reinvestigate the Mamasapano clash.

He also asked PNP chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa, who was in the room, to study the possibility of awarding all 44 troopers the Medal of Valor. 

"Look into it, I'm directing you now and give me the result within, probably at the end of the month. Anyway the records are there, you don't have to investigate. Look at the records of the Senate and everything. And if you think as a [policeman] that the 44 deserve the Valor, then recommend it and I would give it to them. All of the [policemen], the 44," said Duterte to applause.

He promised to set a "day of remembrance" for the SAF 44.

During his speech, Duterte also criticized former president Benigno Aquino III for allegedly covering up some aspects of the botched operation, including supposed US involvement.

"SAF 44" is the collective term for the 44 SAF troopers who died on January 25, 2015 during "Oplan Exodus," a police operation that targeted terrorists Zulkifli bin Hir and Abdul Basit Usman. It was the biggest crisis to hit Aquino and his administration. – Rappler.com 

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.

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