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Rescue of SAF troops losing hope recounted

_: It was the first time information emerged about the condition of the Special Action Force (SAF) commandos who were rescued from the site of the daylong clash that left 44 SAF troopers, 17 Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels and three civilians dead.

“They did not want to move anymore, like they were just waiting to die. They had dead and wounded they could not leave behind,” said 2nd Lt. Gabriel Bannoya Jr., executive officer of the 61st Division Reconnaissance Company (DRC) of the Philippine Army.

“We had to keep picking up after them,” said 2nd Lt. Jeymark Mateo, leader of the platoon that rescued or retrieved the eight dead, 11 wounded and 17 uninjured members of the 84th Special Action Company (SAC).

In their riveting account, Mateo and Bannoya recalled how they extricated the 84th SAC troopers before the joint committee investigating the Jan. 25 Mamasapano clash at the House of Representatives on Wednesday.

The corpses were so heavy each one had to be carried by four Army soldiers, sometimes by just two, who had to drag the bodies during the dangerous trek through a cornfield and across a river.

It was on the evening of Jan. 25 when the Army soldiers finally reached the “battle-stressed” commandos from 84th SAC in Pidsandawan village in Mamasapano, Maguindanao province, several hours after the commandos had killed Zulkifli bin Hir, a Malaysian-born terrorist also known as Marwan.

They found the commandos exhausted, hungry and fast losing hope.

As they ran for their lives, the commandos were so disoriented they were dropping their weapons and equipment on the ground. The dead were being left behind. One of the commandos was found sleeping under a tree and had to be shaken awake.

The two Army officers’ story gave rise to new questions about Mamasapano: Were the parties honoring the ceasefire, which should already have been in place at that point? What was the exit strategy of the SAF units executing “Oplan Exodus,” the covert operation to capture Marwan, Malaysian terrorist Amin Baco and their Filipino associate Basit Usman?

Shortcomings of SAF unit

On the other hand, the testimony of the four Army officers at the House hearing also showed there might have been shortcomings on the part of the third SAF unit assigned to support the 84th and the 55th.

Staff Sgt. Whilmer Jaranilla, team leader of the 61st DRC, said his unit spotted members of the 45th SAC resting “under the shade of banana trees” some 700 meters away from where the 55th SAC was engaged in a gun battle with enemy forces.

Bannoya corroborated the information, saying he also saw the 45th “just lying around.”

He recalled telling the 45th troopers to move to a better defensive position, and gave them food and water.

In the evening, the signal finally came to enter the area where the 84th SAC troopers were trapped.

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