By Azer Parrocha
MANILA (Philippines News Agency) – President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday remembered the heroism of the 44 Special Action Force (SAF) troops who were killed in a botched counterterrorism operation in Mamasapano, Maguindanao six years ago, saying that the country owed their families a debt of gratitude that cannot be repaid.
In a message during the observance of the National Day of Remembrance, Duterte described the death of the 44 SAF troops as a “painful yet necessary reminder” that the struggle to rid the country of militants come with negative consequences.
“Today, we honor the memory of the 44 troops of the Philippine National Police-Special Action Force (SAF) who offered their lives defending our nation six years ago in Mamasapano, Maguindanao,” he said. “An enduring testament to the unyielding commitment of our uniformed personnel to fight all threats to our national security, this heartbreaking incident serves as a painful yet necessary reminder to all of us that the struggle for lasting peace comes with a very heavy price.”
Duterte said the country lost more than just police officers, but also family and friends during the deadly clash with Moro rebels and their armed allies.
“Let us all remember that we have not just lost valiant police officers who made the ultimate sacrifice defending our nation. On that day, there were also some of us who lost their husbands, fathers, sons, brothers, friends and colleagues whose memories will forever be in their hearts,” he said.
Addressing their families, he expressed appreciation for the sacrifices made by the 44 SAF troopers.
“To their families and loved ones left behind by the 44 brave SAF personnel who perished on January 25, 2015, please know that we owe you a debt of gratitude that cannot be repaid, and that you have the love and respect of a grateful nation,” he added.
On Jan. 25, 2015, SAF commandos carried out a law enforcement operation against two high-value targets, Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, and terrorist Abdul Basit Usman.
The SAF commandos were able to kill Marwan but failed to get Usman, who was later killed in another operation.
On their way out, a firefight occurred which eventually trapped 45 SAF commandos, with only one surviving after swimming on a creek and hiding on bushes on his way out.
In February 2017, Duterte, through Proclamation No. 164, declared January 25 of every year as the day of national remembrance for the heroic sacrifice of SAF 44.
Eight months later, the Office of the Ombudsman, then led by Conchita Carpio-Morales, filed graft and usurpation of authority charges against former President Benigno Aquino III for allowing then Philippine National Police (PNP) Chief Alan Purisima to play a major role in the operation despite being under preventive suspension.
However, in June 2019, Ombudsman Samuel Martires moved to withdraw the cases filed against Aquino, saying he found no sufficient ground and evidence to charge him for graft and usurpation of official functions. (PNA)