Flags of honor

TO THE QUICK - Jerry Tundag - The Freeman

Early morning last Friday, a small group of people left 44 flags at the People Power Monument in Quezon City, along with photos of the 44 police Special Action Force commandos left to die in the hands of MILF and BIFF rebels in Maguindanao by their own government because the government did not want to sacrifice the peace deal it was trying to strike with the MILF.

The presence of the 44 flags at the People Power Monument aroused the curiosity of passersby and subsequent news reports tried to ask who might have left them there. The caretaker of the monument could only provide a cryptic answer -- it was just a small group of men who left the flags and they did not say who they were when asked.

But is there really a need to know who left the flags? It could have been any of the millions of Filipinos who wept in anger that fateful January 25 over the betrayal of these 44 brave souls by their own government. I certainly would have wanted to be one of those who put the flags there, if not as a gesture of the search for justice that continues to elude them, at least as a gesture of respect for the memory they left behind.

The SAF 44, as they have come to be known, were part of a mission to capture two wanted international terrorists being harbored by a community of MILF and BIFF rebels in Tukanalipao, Mamasapano, Maguindanao. The reason they were sent there and not the Army was because it was clearly a police operation to capture criminals who were wanted by the law.

It is not the job of the Army to go after criminals, although it can provide assistance under certain conditions. Besides, it would not look good if the Army went because the government was in peace talks with the MILF and a ceasefire was in effect. The government so desperately needed to strike the peace deal it had been willing to overlook the fact that it was the MILF that provided safe haven for the two terrorists.

The MILF, for its part, rejects the notion it was coddling the terrorists and points to the BIFF as the ones actually doing so. That is, of course, a lot of mumbo jumbo. The MILF and the BIFF are one and the same. The MILF does the above-ground smooth talking with government, the BIFF the dirty work. When the inevitable clash erupted as the SAF mission progressed, the MILF and BIFF seamlessly came together for the massacre.

But the SAF 44 would not come down without a fight, and so the battle raged throughout the day and into the night. All the time, hemmed in on all sides and running low on ammunition, the slowly being decimated SAF commandos fought on, never losing hope that their government would send in help. But the armed might of the government held back and stood down.

In the eyes of its leaders, there were politically loftier goals that could not be compromised. There were legacies to be desired whose value, in the eyes of those who wielded power over life or death, proved more precious than the lives of a few dozen policemen, none of whose names were probably even known to the leaders in whose name and authority they were sent to make the supreme sacrifice with their lives, and who did not even come to meet them when they came back in coffins.

But if their government and their leaders forget, their grateful countrymen won't. And so, here are their names, in memoriam: Ryan Pabalinas, John Garry Erana, Max Jim Tria, Cyrus Anniban, Gednat Tabdi, Joey Gamutan, Rennie Tayrus, Lover Inocencio, Rodrigo Acob, Virgel Villanueva, Andres Duque, Victoriano Acain, Noel Golocan, Junrel Kibete, JedzIn Asjali, Robert Allaga, John Lloyd Sumbilla, Amman Esmula, Peterson Carap, Roger Cordero, Nicky Nacino, Glenn Bedua, Chum Agabon, Richelle Baluga;

Noel Balaca, Joel Dulnuan, Godofredo Cabanlet, Franklin Danao, Walner Danao, Jerry Kayob, Noble Kiangan, Ephraim Mejia, Omar Nacionales, Rodel Ramacula, Romeo Senin, Russel Bilog, Angel Kodiamat, Windell Candano, Loreto Capinding, Gringo Cayang-o, Romeo Cempron, Mark Lory Clemencio, Joseph Sagonoy, and Oliebeth Viernes. May the flag of your country proudly wave always in your honor.

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