Justice for SAF 44 no longer forthcoming

TO THE QUICK - Jerry Tundag - The Freeman

Last January 25, only a few people remembered, or cared enough to remember, the sixth anniversary of the Mamasapano Massacre, in which 44 members of the Philippine National Police's elite Special Action Force perished in a top-secret operation to get foreign terrorist Marwan from his lair in Maguindanao among a breakaway faction of the main Muslim rebel group.

Worse, those who did remember and to this day continue to seek justice for those who many consider to have been betrayed by their own country, are bound to be frustrated in their quest. Six years on from that ignominious day and, from all indications available to the public, no justice appears forthcoming for the SAF 44.

The only three people who knew inside out the top-secret operation, covertly backed and coordinated by the US, have since been exonerated, their cases dismissed. With then president Noynoy Aquino, then suspended PNP chief Alan Purisima, and then SAF director Getulio Napenas now all out of the picture, who else is there to go after?

The three hatched the plot and carried it out from the highest levels of government. There was reason why the plot was so secret other than the usual need to preserve the element of surprise. The raid to get Marwan was to occur deep inside ceasefire territory. If government troops had to go in on a law enforcement operation, coordination and consent had to be secured from the main Muslim rebel group MILF.

But the window to get Marwan only cracked a little. Getting the MILF on board takes time and risks blowing the secret. So the decision was made to go in and tell later, which banked on the hope that everything goes well. Success, after all, has many fathers. Even the MILF, wanting to be on the good side of government, would want to put a public face of acquiescence, even if to be blindsided was insulting and hurt.

But for one reason or another, the operation did not go well, even if it was confirmed later that international terrorist Marwan had indeed been killed in the encounter. During the extraction, a SAF unit got bogged down in the marshes and after fighting gallantly for an entire day expecting to be saved by reinforcements, was finally overrun and massacred by the Muslim splinter group.

Nobody could or was willing to talk straight in the ensuing investigation, leaving the facts to talk for themselves. And the most damning fact of all was that no reinforcements came, or came too late, because either no order was given or the order came as mixed signals. It is always an interesting footnote that the day happened to be Cory Aquino's birthday and her son the president just happened to be in the vicinity.

Curiously, the charges against Aquino, Purisima, and Napenas all involved graft and usurption of authoritity, as if never meant to set the truth free. With the three out of the picture nobody is left to seek accountability. If it is any consolation, those the SAF 44 left behind can take comfort in the thought that the nation for whom they made the ultimate sacrifice is forever indebted to their memory, even if the guilty never got to pay.

SAF 44

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