Palace honors SAF 44; calls for faster action from Ombudsman

By EJ Roque

January 25, 2019, 5:13 pm

MANILA -- Malacañang on Friday paid tribute to the gallantry of the 44 Special Action Force (SAF) troopers who were slain in a botched operation against local and foreign terrorists in Mamasapano, Maguindanao four years ago.

"We pay homage to the bravery and heroism of the 44 uniformed personnel of the Special Action Force known as the Fallen SAF 44. They offered and gave their lives for the country and the people," Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said in a statement.

Panelo also urged the Office of the Ombudsman to fast-track the cases in relation to the death of 44 SAF commandos.

"We urge the Office of the Ombudsman to resolve with dispatch the case filed against those who recklessly placed them in mortal peril. The nation demands justice for them, as well as the prosecution of those responsible for the botched police operation," he said.

Panelo vowed the incident would never happen again under the administration of President Rodrigo R. Duterte.

"Never again will we allow a recurrence of such tragic event. Those in authority must learn from the mistakes of the past, otherwise those valorous men in uniform would have died in vain," he said.

Running after those liable

Meanwhile, an anti-crime group called on the government to stop the arraignment of former president Benigno Aquino III on downgraded charges in connection with the SAF 44's death.

In a demonstration held in line with the Day of National Remembrance in honor of the SAF 44 in Manila, lawyer Ferdinand Topacio, along with members of the Volunteers against Crime and Corruption (VACC) representing parents of the slain lawmen, said they are still awaiting Supreme Court (SC) action on a petition they filed to stop the arraignment of Aquino on lesser charges of graft and usurpation of authority.

The group wants the Ombudsman to have Aquino and his co-accused charged with reckless imprudence resulting in multiple homicide, a position echoed by the Office of the Solicitor General in a manifestation last year before the high court.

"We are waiting for an order by the SC for us to file a memorandum on the case. It is a question of law. We laud that under the law, the OSG, which is tasked to represent the government, including the Ombudsman, has ruled that in this case they could not take up the position of the Ombudsman and said we, petitioners, are correct in demanding that the 44 counts of homicide are proper," Topacio said in Filipino.

He also expressed hope that the Supreme Court, under Chief Justice Lucas Bersamin, will look into the case and move it along.

"We are not coercing or browbeating anyone. We are respectfully urging for the case to proceed," Topacio said, adding that they will no longer file a motion to expedite the case and reiterated their trust in the judiciary.

"The quest for justice is always impressed with a certain sense of urgency," he said.

On Jan. 25, 2015, the 44 SAF troopers died in an operation to neutralize wanted terrorists Zulkifli Bin Hir, alias "Marwan", and Abdul Basit Usman. (With reports from Benjamin Pulta/PNA)