SAF-44 sacrifice not in vain
COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - January 23, 2019 - 12:00am

Today marks the fourth anniversary of the infamous   massacre that took place in the town of Mamasapano in Maguindanao where 44 members of the Philippine National Police (PNP)’s Special Action Force, or SAF, were killed in action. After undertaking a successful mission dubbed Oplan Exodus – to arrest Islamic terrorists Marwan and Usman, their heroic acts are remembered today by their loved ones, families, relatives, friends and colleagues at the PNP and SAF.

The botched extraction and subsequent rescue operations sealed the fate of the elite troopers in most horrific execution-style by supposed Muslim rebels belonging to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). It was ironic that it took place at a time when the MILF leadership had already sealed the Framework Agreement for Bangsa-moro (FAB) with the government then headed by former President Benigno Simeon “PNoy” Aquino III.

The ensuing national rage over the Maguindanao massacre sent into haywire all efforts that sealed the FAB. Thankfully, the ruined peace deal got back into mainstream after the election into office of former Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte. The FAB got a new lease on life and went into high gear with no less than President Duterte endorsing to the 17th Congress the immediate passage into law of the proposed Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL).

Now collectively called SAF-44, their heroism comes to mind when the people of Maguindanao were among those who trooped to polling places last Monday in a plebiscite to ratify the BOL.

An inquiry conducted on the incident by the Senate committee on public safety chaired then by Sen. Grace Poe declared in no uncertain terms that PNoy was “ultimately responsible for the success or failure of the mission” as the commander-in-chief who personally saw through the ground operations. With PNoy’s tacit approval of Oplan Exodus and full knowledge of its operational details, the Senate inquiry established the command responsibility all the way to Malacañang Palace on that fateful day, Jan. 25, 2016.

Almost the same findings were reflected in a separate inquiry done by the PNP on its own  “Mamasapano Report,” especially on the fact that former Police Director General (PDG) Alan Purisima “was already suspended” but was personally involved in carrying out  “Oplan Exodus.”

Since the approval came direct from the commander-in-chief himself, the report concluded that – in effect – the President should be held accountable “under the principle of command responsibility that goes with the principle of chain of command.”

Poor Gen. Benjamin Magalong, who chaired the PNP investigating committee that penned the report. It probably destroyed his chance of becoming Director-General by publicly laying the blame for Mamasapano squarely at the feet of his erstwhile superior officer.

Subsequently, the SAF-44 massacre became the subject of a criminal lawsuit filed on July 1, 2016 – less than 24 hours after PNoy stepped down from his office at Malacañang. The lawsuit was filed by the anti-crime watchdog Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) through their lead counsel Ferdinand Topacio. Assisting the parents of the SAF 44, VACC filed before the Ombudsman 44 counts of “reckless imprudence resulting to homicide.”

Naturally, the VACC drew the ire of Mr. Aquino who lashed at them, accusing the high-profile anti-crime group of being “pro-Duterte publicity hounds.” PNoy’s lawyers, however, were able to downgrade the charges. Before she retired, then Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales – an Aquino appointee – reduced the charges to only two criminal raps: one count each for graft and another for “usurpation of authority.”

Being a former fiscal for several years, President Duterte called the downgraded charges “silly” to say the least. In a public statement, President Duterte noted with concern “they are there to ensure its failure,” but stopped short to identify the “they.”

As far as the parents are concerned, it was a minor victory to learn PNoy being fingerprinted and his mug shots taken after the criminal information were filed before the Sandiganbayan.

But the legal eagles of the VACC saw through the disingenuous ruse of having the former President plead to the much-reduced charges to inoculate him against graver charges in the future on the ground of double jeopardy. The parents took what laymen call as suntok sa buwan course of action. Through the VACC, they filed a petition that may have little chance, if any at all, to be given due course.

The VACC asked the Supreme Court (SC) to stop the arraignment of Mr. Aquino, et al., via a temporary restraining order (TRO) on the downgraded criminal charges. The parents of the SAF-44 found ally in the Office of the Solicitor-General who sided with their petition and supported their appeal that a TRO should be issued “to prevent a gross miscarriage of justice.”

Unexpectedly, there was a miracle of sorts. SC quickly issued a TRO against the Ombudsman and the Sandiganbayan.

The injunction effectively stopped all further proceedings until after the High Court can determine the propriety of the Ombudsman practically handing Mr. Aquino and his co-accused a “get-out-of-jail” pass.

After four years, the parents of the fallen SAF 44 troopers are still fighting for justice. On the SC now rests the issue of whether or not the deaths of the slain troopers were for naught at the hands of enemies of the State.

It brings to mind also a famous quote of American fiction writer Lois McMaster Bujold: “The dead cannot cry out for justice. It is the duty of the living to do so for them.”

The sacrifice of SAF-44 are thus not in vain with the enduring peace that BOL promises to usher in for Mindanao.

As of this writing though, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) national board of canvassers has yet to come out with at least an official, partial outcome of the BOL plebiscite. Pardon the pun but the ball is on the court of the Comelec.

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