(We must not forget the date – January 25, 2015 - a day of tragedy when 15 Cordillera warriors under the Special Action Force of the Philippine National Police fell in the Mamasapano Massacre. This piece revisited was written after the remains of the SAF heroes were returned home through Camp Dangwa. The final homecoming haunts us still, as it should, for the gallantry and heroism of the native Cordillerans and other Filipino police officers who perished in the massacre should be part of Cordillera memory. – RD)
MANY in the early morning crowd a-forming at Camp Dangwa felt no need for them to say a word. All they needed to do-and did after getting wind of the arrival of the heroes - was to be there in silence - in and around the chapel of the regional police headquarters. All they wanted was to witness, in their anonymity, the solemn, final arrival home of the fallen warriors of the Cordillera. They believed their presence would somehow ease the pain of the fallen warriors’ kin.
Less is more, we, verbose journalists are reminded now and then. The less words there are, the clearer and stronger the message becomes. So the silence of the crowd gathered became a fitting and most powerful expression of the common grief, sense of loss and community of Cordillerans over the violent deaths of 15 of their young warriors. Representing all walks and hardly knowing each other, they kept coming that morning into Camp Dangwa and, in silence, witnessed the dignity of the slow, unhurried, respectful pace with which the mortal remains were borne on the shoulders of the heroes’ fellow officers of the peace.
There were 15, not 13, sons of the Cordillera among the 44 members of the Special Action Force of the Philippine National Police who fell in that ambush in Mamapasano, Maguindano. The biggest number came from this region of warriors, joining the growing roster of Cordillerans who, over the years, made the ultimate sacrifice in the protracted struggle for peace in the troubled Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao. They were warriors, and, as such, they volunteered to join SAF, as can be borne out of the growing roster of police graduates from the Cordillera joining that force because that’s where the warrior is supposed to be.
From their ranks as junior officers (Police Officer 1 to Chief Inspector) and photographs, we presume most – if not all – were in their 20s or early 30s, born after Sept. 13, 1986. That was the month, day and year when rebel priest Conrado Balweg of the Cordillera People’s Liberation Army signed the “sipat” (cessation of hostilities”) with then Philippine revolutionary government President Corazon Aquino.
True to that truce, the Cordillera Administrative Region that was formed stood faithful to the pact for peace forged in Mt. Data. Still, the date, despite being termed “historic” then, now hardly comes to memory. (The only and most feeble attempt I remember to mark its significance was when retired regional director Henry Aliten of the Department of Agrarian Reform mounted a “sipat” anniversary chess tournament a few years ago.)
Given our wanting of a sense of history, chances are the gallantry and heroism of the 15 SAF members from the Cordillera and those of the rest from various parts of the archipelago, would soon be forgotten, slowly erased, yet as brutally as some of their identities were mangled by the overkill with which they were peppered with bullets after they had fallen.
What happened was a “pintakasi”, as an ARMM official said it, with several rebel forces coming in to fight a common enemy, in this case the SAF officers and men.
The prayer, the hope is that the sense of community at Camp Dangwa that week-end when the heroes’ remains were brought home would transform into action so that this part of the history of this region of warriors, gory as it was, would be told our children. The fear is that it would be lost and unlamented, as many of us lost, or never knew of the heroism of our forebears against foreign intrusion and domination. For one, only a few of the succeeding generations are aware of the first resistance of our Ibaloy ancestors in the un-remembered Battle of Tonglo, Tuba, the exact site of which remains unknown today.
Two of the 15 Cordillera heroes who fell in Mamapasano were not officially listed as from the Cordillera as their addresses were in Region 2: P03 Rodrigo F. Acob Jr. of Kalinga whose address was in Isabela, and P02 Joel B. Dulnuan of Kiangan, Ifugao who was a resident of Barangay Ocapon, Villaverde, Nueva Vizcaya where he was laid to rest.
Baguio Mayor Mauricio Domogan found it only proper their inclusion in that week-end’s news obituary page tribute of the city government to the fallen Cordillera warriors.
At the honor rites inside the chapel in Camp Dangwa (named after Maj. Bado Dangwa, the Igorot warrior and guerrilla fighter from Kapangan, Benguet), Cordilleran regional police chief, Chief Supt. Isagani Neres called out the names of his fallen comrades: Chief Inspector Gednat Garambas Tabdi of La Trinidad, Benguet; Senior Inspector Cyrus Paleyan Anniban of Tabuk, Kalinga; PO3 Robert Domollog Allaga of Banaue, Ifugao; PO3 Noel Onangey Golocan of Baguio City; P02 Peter Indongsan Carap of Kabayan, Benguet; PO2 Walner Faustino Danao of Baguio City; P02 Franklin Canap Danao of Tinoc, Ifugao; P02 Jerry Dailay Kayob of La Trinidad, Benguet; P02 Noble Sungay Kiangan of Mankayan, Benguet; P02 Nicky de Castro Nacino Jr. of Baguio City; P01 Russel Bawaan Bilog of Baguio City; P01 Gringo Charag Cayang-o of Sadanga, Mt. Province; and P01 Angel Chocowen Kodiamat of Mankayan, Benguet.
Fighting off tears, Benguet Gov. Nestor Fongwan narrated how Chief Insp. Tabdi was brought home to La Trinidad, Benguet for an overnight vigil, after which his remains were transported to Zamboanga where his wife, Leah Mefranum, a nurse from Basilan who was six months pregnant, waited for him to finally come home.
Three other sons of Ibaloy couple Garcia and Edna Tabdi are in the police force. One is assigned in Laguna, another in Pampanga, and still another is under training with the SAF.
The firefight was termed a “mis-encounter”. It could have been, if only it had lasted far short of the 10 hours that it actually raged, against combined forces of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, its break-away Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and other forces only known to but repeatedly disowned in the aftermath by the MILF rebels.
Also termed as a “carnage”, the firefight drew lingering suggestions, demands and questions needing answers. On top of these is the cry for justice from the relatives and fellow officers of the slain police officers that ranking SAF officer, Superintendent Jonathan Calixto pointed out at the honor rites in Camp Dangwa.
In the wake of this latest carnage in Maguindanao, Mayor Domogan, a leading advocate of autonomy for the Cordillera who admits the bill seeking self-rule here pales compared to the new one being pushed by the national leadership and the MILF in the ARMM, strongly suggested a review of the Bangsamoro Basic Law being rushed for passage in Congress.
Baguio Rep. Nicasio Aliping Jr. had enough reason to say he and Benguet Rep. Ronald Cosalan wouldn’t push for the passage of the BBL until justice for the fallen soldiers is served.
Noting the huge crowd of mourners, then La Trinidad Mayor Edna Tabanda found consolation in the sense of community of Cordillerans who feel the need to be there in wakes and funerals, even for “kailians” they had never met until the final rites.
Such is the soothing, consoling and healing power of presence, of ordinary people being there when grief strikes a fellow Cordilleran’s family and kin. As someone once observed, there are moments when a sudden connection is made somewhere in this world, powerful and undeniable.
This was one of those moments. (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)