In memory of two fallen heroes

Grace Melanie I. Lacamiento and May B. Miasco/JMO (The Freeman) - February 9, 2015 - 12:00am

CEBU, Philippines - “He was my greatest teacher before he became a hero for everybody. He is my personal hero.”

So said Dr. Christine Cempron of her husband, PO1 Romeo Cempron, one of the 44 Special Action Force members who were killed in Mamasapano, Maguindanao last month. Romeo was laid to rest yesterday in Tayud, Consolacion where he hails.

Romeo’s fellow fallen comrade, PO2 Windel Candano, was also laid to rest yesterday in Talisay City.

Windel’s childhood friend, Ulysses Llano, only had kind words for the policeman.

“Dali maluoy. Matinabangon nga klase sa tawo,” Ulysses said.

He and Windel went to the same school in grade school and high school. “Nagdako siya nga gasunod nako…makaingon ko nga niadtong bata pa mi, wala jud na niya gihunahuna nga mahimo siyang usa sa member sa SAF,” Ulysses said.

Watching his friend’s coffin descend to the ground, Ulysses said his only hope is for the government to honor Windel’s sacrifice by making sure justice will prevail eventually.

“Akong ikasulti lang nga dili unta malimtan sa gobyerno ang sakripisyo nilang gibuhat, unsay dapat para niya, unta mahatag sa gobyerno, hustisya,” he said.

Christine, too, hopes for justice not just for her husband but for the other SAF members who placed their lives on the line to uphold the duties they have sworn themselves to.

“Most of the people don’t know that SAF existed and only today that they know what it is,” she said.

A visit to Zamboanga  in 2013 gave her a chance to meet and know Romeo’s comrades in SAF.

“That’s why, I am not just grieving for the loss of my husband but also for the loss of my friends,” she said.

Holding back tears, Christine could not help but express frustration over those who tarnish the reputation of the Philippine National Police as an institution.

“See? Kinsa ang nagbuling-buling sa name sa institution? Those who are up (there). But kinsa man ang nagbangon sa name sa PNP? Those are the PO1s, PO2s and few other officials who are not even that high-ranking,” she said.

Passion for work

Christine said she knew of the dangers that came along her husband’s job but she has learned to accept them eventually because she saw how passionate and dedicated he was in his chosen career.

Christine shared that she once tried to convince him to look for another job but stepped back when Romeo told him it was what he was excellent at.

“When you see that dedication from him, it is difficult for you to discourage him. Seldom ra moabot sa imoha ang job nga you are so passionate about,” she said.

Slowly, Romeo explained to her what SAF is and how they work in the team. Eventually, she was able to get a glimpse of the difficulties SAF members encounter at work that she took it upon herself to share with others the role SAF plays in the PNP and the country at large.

She said she is naturally shy but will continue to share her husband’s story with others.

“Maulawon man gyud ko pero para niya ako ning buhaton,” she said.

 Her husband’s story, she said, is what keeps her strong in dealing with the loss, pointing out that one’s strength cannot be measured by tears shed.

Even interior secretary Mar Roxas who paid Romeo’s wake a visit was surprised to realize it was Christine who was comforting others rather than the one being comforted.

“I told him (Roxas) my greatest teacher is there, right there. I learned from my greatest teacher,” she said.

She admits having frustrations over the ill-fated operation, but she chooses to set them aside because wallowing in pain will not help.

“The more lang nga excess baggage na niya nga iyang dalhon so I do not entertain it,” she said, adding, that faith will eventually heal all wounds.

“Wa na’y lain pang mas lig-on sa imong faith. Mao na ang mopatay sa tanan, sa kalagot, sa hatred. And through faith, we also have love and strength,” she said.

Second chance

 Christine shared that the Mamasapano operation was not the first that placed Romeo’s life on the line. The high profile siege in Zamboanga in 2013 could have killed him, had it not for a twist of fate.

Christine went to Zamboanga on September 8, 2013 to visit Romeo but she got stranded there so Romeo stayed with her the following day, the day the bloody encounter killed several policemen.

Since Romeo had to keep her company, another cop took his place and, unfortunately, lost his life.

“Sabi nga ni Director Carmelo Valmoria sa kanya (Romeo) na ‘pasalamat ka sa asawa mo. Nag-aanghel yan para sayo. Kung wala sana asawa mo dito, ikaw sana yun’,” Christine recalled.

 Looking back, Christine said it felt like they were given a chance to spend more time together before Romeo would pass away eventually in the Mamasapano operation.

Life partner

Christine also shared that she did not know what life was in store for her until Romeo arrived.

“We did not start with a sweet love story. Rather, a practical one. He’s my best friend, he’s my company, he’s my boyfriend, my fan, my everything. Seldom ra ta tagaan og chance in a lifetime nga ang imong partner, mao na ang tanan,” she said.

 She said they were lovers for six months before they tied the knot two years ago. All through these, Romeo never wanted her to worry about him.

He was fond of cracking jokes, she said, if only to appease her of his conditions during training and operations.

“Moingon ra pud ko na “ikaw nama. Hindi ka kasi nagsasabi ng totoo eh,” Christine shared fondly. She admits it would be difficult for anyone else to level up to her husband’s sacrifices.

“Kinsa na man ang mo-meet sa akong qualifications karon? Willing mo magpakamatay kay ipa-test mission na nato ron? Grabe ko niya ka-pinangga gyud. Buotan kaayo siya,” she said.

 Yesterday, she asked Romeo to be at peace.

“We just hope nga, Hon, kon asa man gani ka karon, if you’re angry, don’t be. Just have peace because you have trained me well to be brave, to be strong,” Christine said between tears.

She said the real battle begins with a new day but Christine knows that for her husband’s sake and for those who died with him, she will gather the strength to move forward. After all, “not everyone has the chance to live with a hero, to be with a hero. He trained me so well and I learned so well,” she said.  (FREEMAN)

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