A tale of two widows: Remembering PO2 Cempron and PO1 Candano
(The Freeman) - January 24, 2016 - 9:00am

CEBU, Philippines - Today, the families of the 44 Philippine National Police-Special Action Force (PNP-SAF) commandos who were killed during an encounter with the members of of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) will commemorate the first death anniversary of their loved ones.

The 44 PNP-SAF commandos, an elite group of policemen, were part of an operation codenamed Oplan Exodus and were on their way to serve arrest warrants for Malaysian terrorist and bomb-maker Zulkifli Abdhir, also known as Marwan, and other high-ranking members of the BIFF.

Although a year has passed, the wives of Cebuano troopers Police Officer 2 Romeo Cempron from Tayud, Consolacion and Police Officer 1 Windel Candano from Dumanjug, Cebu, shared that the pain of losing their loved ones is still as fresh as when they first found out about their deaths.

Dr. Christine Cempron:

Living with the pain

Cempron’s wife Christine admitted that although she does not cry as much as before, the pain is still the same.

“Di ko kahibawo sa gauge in moving on. But every time ang kamingaw mo-set in, makaingon ka nga mura’g dili one year ang nilabay. Just the same feeling,” she said.

Christine said she can still vividly remember how she felt seeing her lifeless husband lying on the morgue table. “If naay makapakatulo sa akong luha, it will always be that scene,” she said.

Police Officer 2 Cempron was shot in his left chest but it was the gunshot to his right side, which went through his lungs and liver that killed him.

Christine said she did not know how critical the operation was since Cempron and his colleagues do not usually share the details of their missions to her.

Her husband, however, sent her a text message at 1a.m. of January 25, informing her that they already arrived in Cotabato. In her reply, she reminded him of keeping himself safe.

Christine had no idea that would be their last conversation.

She recalls being busy that day and she wondered why he never texted again. Christine eventually texted her husband to ask how he was doing. At around 11p.m. that day, she received a reply that informed her that her husband was dead. She thought it was a bad joke since Cempron used to joke around. She immediately dialed her husband’s number and, thinking that she was talking to her husband, began scolding him. When she realized that she was not talking to her husband, she started to tremble. Christine then called the battalion to check on her husband and did not get any update.

In the morning of the following day, she read from the Philippine Star about the death of the PNP-SAF members and called the battalion again to ask if her husband was among the fatalities. She knew that her husband, who was a mission gunner, had lesser chances of survival but she remained hopeful he was still alive.

It was only in the afternoon of January 26 that the battalion confirmed Cempron’s death. When she heard the confirmation, she broke down. She then immediately packed her things, determined to fly to Cotabato at once, despite being unsure if there was an available flight.

“Lutaw kaayo ko. Basta nga molarga ko kay wa siya’y kuyog didto. Siya ra usa didto, wa ko sa iyang tapad, dapat naa ko sa iyang tapad,” she shared. But the battalion did not allow her to fly for security reasons.

It was only on January 29 that she finally saw the remains of her husband during the arrival honors at Villamor Airbase.

“Between 25 to 29, kahibawo ka wala na siya pero on that first night nga nakahibawo ko, ganahan nako matulog kay feel nako this is just a bad dream and hoped that everything will be back to normal when you wake up. But the following day, tinuod gyud diay siya no matter how I deny it,” she said.

Upon seeing Cempron’s remains, Christine immediately went out of the room, in an attempt to erase the painful image.

“Dako na siya nga tawo daan but ni-double ang iyang size kay bloated man siya tungod naa siya sa tubig. Wa man lang ko’y chance to hug him for the last time kay di na nako siya mahikap kay matuklap na iyang panit,” she said.

Police Officer 2 Cempron and Christine would have been married for three years this June.

“Dako kaayong kawalan. I’ve never been this lost. There were things before that you were so sure of but now you are unsure of. So many things you used to like but you don’t like anymore,” she said, adding that her husband was her everything.

She shared that if only they have a child, she will have a reason to wake up every day. “Nganong mangambisyon pa man ko? What for? What’s the money for? I can manage on my own so why bother,” she said.

To deal with the grief of the loss of her husband, Christine started to write down her feelings and memories with her husband. She was surprised she can write that much and that often. Since then, writing has been her outlet to cope with grief.

Christine also keeps herself busy at work to divert her attention. Christine is a pediatrician in a private hospital in Consolacion. She also has a clinic but has stopped accepting patients for a while. She is planning to resume her private practice next month.

Michelle Candano:

My husband, my hero

For someone who is used to communicating with her husband all the time, no matter the distance, the past year has been different and quiet for Police Officer 1 Candano’s widow, Michelle.

“Bisa’g duty mi, magtextsanay mi, magtinawganay. Maabtan pa mi og binuntagay. Siya pa mouna’g tawag or text,” she said.

Michelle said that although her husband would be away from home most of the time, she never felt she was on a long-distance relationship because her husband never let her feel that way.

She said that after her husband’s death, she tries to keep herself preoccupied during the day so that she would be so tired at night and she would easily fall asleep. She admits that it is during night time, when everything is quiet and people have settled, that she feels the pain the most.

She used to cry each night over the loss of her husband but she realized she has no other choice but to move on.

“Unsa na lang kun wa ko gatrabaho, ako ra isa sa balay, naghikog na ko,” said Michelle, who works at the Cebu Central Post Office.

Michelle visits her husband’s grave every Sunday at the Cebu South Memorial Garden in Talisay City. Michelle and Police Officer  Candano would have celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary on June 23.

Though she is grieving over the loss of a partner, Michelle said that it is their son, Sian Gabrielle, who is deeply affected by the death of his father.

Michelle recalls that there were even times when she had to accompany her son in school, during class hours, because the boy did not want to be left alone. She presumes that Sian was afraid of being left again, just like what happened to his father.

Michelle said she had to seek help from the Department of Social Welfare and Development to provide counseling to her son.

“Kanang ma-busy siya og duwa unya makakita sa TV bahin sa nahitabo sa mga SAF, mohunong gyud siya kay motan-aw siya. Mao bitaw di na ko magpa-TV labi na balita kay samot siya di ka-move on,” she said.  

Police Officer 1 Candano’s son turned eight yesterday but instead of toys and parties, the boy only had one wish – to celebrate his birthday at the cemetery with his father. 

Michelle said her son wants to follow the footsteps of his father and become a policeman but she won’t allow her child to fight the same battle as Candano’s.

The cop’s widow said that it seemed that her husband knew that his time on earth was about to end.

She said that her husband was home for Christmas in 2014 and attended his youngest sister’s birthday on December 30. He looked sad during the celebration, though.

“Malipayon man unta siya labi na manguli mi sa ila ug naa na iyang mga ig-agaw pero that time, nahibong mi kay pirmi naghinuktok unya magul-anon siya,” Michelle said.

It was only after the Mamasapano tragedy when they realized that the police officer was already saying goodbye when he went home in December 2014.

Michelle recalled that her husband told her not to hesitate in asking help from his brothers. He also reminded their mother and their other sister to attend to the needs of Michelle and send their son to school.

While celebrating the birthday of their son on January 24, 2014, PO1 Candano called her to tell her they were on their way to a dangerous mission.

Michelle recalled that on the evening of January 25, she fell asleep and was not able to answer the call of her husband. She only noticed the missed calls at dawn and started to worry.

“That was the first time nalayo akong cellphone sa akoa. Akong gi-charge sa among kwarto unya nakatug ko sa silong. Nitawag ko niya but di na siya ma-contact. Daghan pa unta mi nastoryahan kon natubag pa to nako,” she said.

When she called her husband the following morning, someone else picked up the phone and told her, in an unfamiliar dialect, that the owner of the phone was already dead.

Michelle knew about the Mamasapano operation, saying her husband informed her that their engine broke four times while on their way to the area.  PO1 Candano was the driver and medic of the PNP-SAF commandos.

“Kato diay signos na to nga mura’g di sila padayonon,” she said.

Survivors of the Mamasapano encounter told Michelle that her husband could have been spared had he not chosen to stay and treat his wounded comrades.

He could have chosen to save himself amid the heavy gunfire during the encounter in Mamasapano town, Maguindanao province, but he chose to stay and treat the wounded until he himself was fatally shot, the survivors told the widow.

The results of PO1 Candano’s paraffin test also showed he was not able to fire his gun before he was fatally shot in the heart.

 “Siya man daw ang pinakasabaan ato. Sige siya ga-encourage sa iyang mga kauban nga mokalma lang. Nahibong lang iyang mga kauban nga nahilom siya kay diay to naig-an na siya,” she said.

Despite the loss of her husband, Michelle is proud of his bravery.

Posthumous awards and reopening of the case

PO2 Cempron and fellow SAF commando Senior Inspector Gednat Tabdi will be conferred posthumously the highest honor for police and military personnel, the Medalya ng Kagitingan or Medal of Valor, during today’s commemoration of the Mamasapano encounter, which will be led by President Benigno Aquino III.

While she feels proud and happy for her husband, Christine initially had second thoughts of believing the news that her husband would be awarded for his courage.

“Lipay man pero unya na ko motuo kon naa na ang ticket padung didto basin pareho na sad ni sa una. Di nako mahelp kay in-ani gyud to sa una. Three days before that event, gitawgan ko nga di madayon ang award,” she said.

PO2 Cempron was supposed to receive the Medal of Valor and his fellow SAF officer Superintendent Raymund Train was supposed to receive the Distinguished Conduct Medal during the 114th anniversary of PNP in August 2015. They were, however, removed from the roster of awardees at the last minute.

Christine, together with her mother and sister, left for Manila yesterday afternoon to attend the awarding ceremonies today. She said she will stay until the 27th to attend the hearing on the reinvestigation of the Mamasapano case.

Christine said they could not afford to miss today’s awarding of the Medal of Valor to her husband.

“This is a once in a lifetime experience maong sakrispisyohan gyud. My husband deserves this,” she said.

PO1 Candano’s widow, Michelle, will not be attending today’s commemoration though. She chose not to attend today’s event in Manila, saying she prefers to remember the death of her husband at the cemetery.

“Moadto gyud diay mi nga naa man diri among patay? Nganong itumong man gyud og 25 nga kahibawo man sila nga di puede? Di nako biyaan akong bana,” she said.

Both SAF widows agree that that the reopening of the Mamasapano clash case is ill-timed, especially since it is election time.

“Sa kadaghang inquiry sa una, klaro na man kinsa dapat ang papanaguton. Aksyon na man lang kulang,” Christine said.

She said it is frustrating to note that a year has already passed since the death of the PNP-SAF troopers but those who should be held accountable for had not been punished.

Chrsitine said that the proper time to reinvestigate the Mamasapano case would be after the Aquino administration.

“Maayo unta matutokan ang kaso. Ipakita pud nila sa amo nga naa sila’y pakabana sa kaso,” said Michelle.

But just like Christine, Michelle thinks that the reinvestigation was partly motivated by the upcoming elections.

“Kon wa pa ang eleksyon, kanang kasoha gikatulgan ra nila. Until now, ang mga responsible sa nahitabo, naa pa man, sige pa og laroy-laroy,” she said. -/QSB (FREEMAN)



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