MANILA Saying better late than never, President Rodrigo R. Duterte on Tuesday conferred the highest Philippine National Police (PNP) awards to the remaining 42 of 44 Special Action Force (SAF) troopers who died in the botched Mamasapano operation in 2015.
In an awarding ceremony held in Malacanang Palace, the Commander-in-Chief led the presentation of the PNP Medal of Valor and Magalong Medals to the families of the 42 SAF troopers.
In his speech, Duterte said the SAF44 are worthy of being called heroes because of their extraordinary display of bravery despite being outnumbered by enemies.
You know it comes late but better late than never. So I am not attributing anything to anybody except that I am happy that we are able to recognize today the bravery of our police officers, Duterte said.
Duterte said the death of the brave 44 SAF commandos maybe one of the darkest and saddest parts of our nation's history.
Yet, this sad episode just proved that [through their] commitment to their sworn duty to protect our nation from terror and violence, they have successfully neutralized one of the world's most wanted terrorists, he said.
The President said the SAF44 are individuals worthy of emulation and admiration by uniformed men and women of the police and military.
It is my hope that this recognition will further invigorate our police officers and military personnel to perform their duties with utmost dedication, excellence, loyalty and love of country, he said.
Duterte assured the police and the families of the fallen troops that his administration will continue to pursue welfare assistance programs such as housing, scholarships and job opportunities for the families they left.
Most importantly, I assure you that we remain resolute in ensuring that justice no matter how long it takes will be served, Duterte said.
The fate of the SAF 44 in the hands of the enemies will live on in the annals of our nation's history. This will continue to inspire us and the generations after us to pursue genuine peace in our country, he added.
The Magalong Medals, the highest precedence in the Order of Lapu-Lapu, is bestowed on officials and personnel of the government who exhibited extraordinary service to the success of an activity pursuant to a campaign or advocacy of the President.
On the other hand, the PNP Medal of Valor is awarded to any of its members who have executed a deed of personal bravery and self-sacrifice and beyond the call of duty.
The 44 elite forces of the PNP were part of the 55th and 84th Special Action Company tasked to serve the warrant of arrest against Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir alias 'Marwan' and his Filipino cohort Basit Usman in Mamasapano, Maguindanao on Jan. 25, 2015.
Marwan was killed but the operation codenamed "Oplan Exodus" had left 67 people including the 44 SAF commandos killed in an 11-hour encounter with Moro rebels.
The remaining 42 SAF troopers who have been given the highest PNP awards include Chief Inspectors Ryan Pabalinas, Max Jim Tria, John Garry Erana, Cyrus Anniban and Ryan Pabalinas; Senior Inspectors Joey Gamutan and Rennie Lumasag Tayrus; SPO2 Lover Ladao Inocencio; SPO1 Rodrigo Fernandez Acob Jr., Vergel Serion Villanueva, Noel Onangey Golocan, Andres Duque Jr., Junrel Kibete, Victoriano Acain Jr., Robert Allaga, Jedz-in Asjali and John Lloyd Sumbilla.
Also given Medals of Valor were PO3 Amman Esmula, Romeo Senin II, Chum Agabon, Glenn Bedua, Richelle Baluga, Noel Balaca Jr., Joel Dulnuan, Walner Danao, Godofredo Cabanlet, Franklin Danao, Jerry Kayob, Noble Kiangan, Ephraim Mejia, Omar Nacionales, Rodel Ramacula, Roger Cordero, Peterson Indongsan Carap, and Nicky de Castro Nacino Jr; and PO2 Russel Bilog, Windel Candano, Loreto Capinding II, Gringo Cayang-o, Mark Lory Clemencio, Joseph Sagonoy, Oliebeth Viernes, and Angel Chocowen Kodiamat.
Over a year ago, Duterte upgraded the PNP Distinguished Medal (Medalya ng Kabayanihan) of the 42 SAF troopers to the Medal of Valor award.
Former President Benigno Aquino III conferred the Medal of Valor only to two SAF members, Senior Insp. Gednat Tabdi and Police Officer 2 Romeo Cempron, three months after the deadly operation.
Tabdi had been cited for ably leading the Team 1 of the 84th SAC while Cempron, a member of the 55th SAC, was cited for his bravery after saving the life of PO2 Christopher Lalan, the 55th SAC's lone survivor.
Source: Philippine News Agency