CEBU -- PO2 Romeo Cempron, 33, was laid to rest Sunday afternoon in a public cemetery in his hometown of Consolacion, Cebu.
About four hours before that, on the other side of Metro Cebu, family, friends and colleagues gathered in the Cebu South Memorial Garden in Talisay to say their final goodbyes to PO1 Windel Candano.
Cempron and Candano were buried exactly two Sundays after their final mission in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, where 44 elite policemen in the Special Action Force (SAF) died after pursuing international terrorists, then finding themselves surrounded by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters.
In his eulogy, Senior Superintendent Prudencio Tom Bañas, chief of the Police Regional Office (PRO)-Central Visayas, told the grieving family to take comfort in the fact that Cempron’s service to the country will always be remembered.
“Today, as we bid farewell to one of our fallen comrades, we honor their commitment, their service and their dedication,” he said.
He said Cempron and all the fallen SAF troopers “were special not only because of the way they died but because of how they lived, ready to put their lives on the line so that our community will be safe.”
He ended his eulogy by giving Cempron “my snappiest salute.”
Hundreds turned up, many wearing white and black T-shirts printed with calls for justice.
Police officers executed a 21-gun salute while Cempron’s colleagues in the SAF shouted their battle cry before Cempron was buried past 4 p.m.
Holding a folded Philippine flag, her husband’s black SAF beret and an empty bottle of water against her chest, Dr. Christine Abucay-Cempron, 33, watched calmly as police officers pushed her husband’s white casket into a tomb surrounded by flowers sent by friends and strangers.
In her eulogy at the St. Joseph Church in Barangay Tayud, the pediatrician thanked the people who gave their sympathy and support.
She also recalled the day she learned of her husband’s death. “Gusto ko matog dayon pagkagabii (I wanted to sleep early that night) hoping I would wake up the following day realizing it was just a bad dream,” she said.
Christine said she was honored to have been a friend to other SAF troopers who died in the gunbattle in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.
“I did not only lose a very good partner. We also lost a lot of good troopers,” she said.
She ended her eulogy by asking for prayers. “Please pray for me as well because if I’m not at peace, my husband will also not be at peace,” she said.
Aside from Bañas, Senior Superintendent Conrad Capa, PRO-Central Visayas deputy director for operations and Senior Superintendent Noel Gillamac, chief of the Cebu Provincial Police Office, were also present.
Interviewed by reporters after the burial, Capa said he hopes justice will soon be served for Cempron and the rest of the fallen elite policemen.
“We will let the nine investigating bodies find out the truth about this. There should be justice,” he said.
“Merong kailangang managot sa nangyaring ito (Someone should be held responsible for what happened),” added Capa.
Cempron’s mother and three brothers were present during the burial.
Cempron’s older brother, Brecio, an inmate in the Cebu Provincial Detention Center, also called on President Benigno Aquino III to make sure the persons behind the deaths of 44 SAF troopers are held accountable.
“Akong mensahe sa atong presidente hustisya sa akong manghud. Hinaot ko nga inyong tagaan ug katarungan ang 44 SAF troopers, para mugaan-gaan among gibati (My message to the President is to deliver justice for my younger brother. I hope all the 44 SAF troopers will be given justice to ease our pain),” he said.
Across Metro Cebu, about four hours earlier, the family and colleagues of PO2 Candano bade him goodbye.
The requiem for Candano, a 32-year-old native of Dumanjug town, was held inside the St. Ignatius Chapel of the PRO-Central Visayas on Osmena Blvd., Cebu City.
His family wore white shirts printed with a picture of Candano in his SAF uniform. Written on the shirt was “OUR HERO. JUSTICE FOR WINDEL.”
During the mass, Superintendent Arnulfo Castillo, PRO-Central Visayas’s chaplain, told the crowd what SAF officers had to undergo to protect everyone.
“I’ve seen their suffering but they’re chosen for a reason, in the pursuit of peace,” he said.
Before the hearse proceeded to the Cebu South Memorial Garden in Talisay City, Senior Superintendent Orlando Ualat, on behalf of the men and women in uniform of PRO-Central Visayas, told the family that Candano’s heroism will always be remembered.
“They have sacrificed their lives to save millions of Filipinos. To Candano, goodbye. Goodbye to our hero,” said Ualat, PRO-Central Visayas' deputy regional director for administration.
The pallbearers, who were former SAF members, then lifted the casket, draped in the Philippine flag. The hearse proceeded to Talisay City.
Members of the PNP-SAF also went to the cemetery in Barangay Mohon to honor their fallen comrade at noon Sunday.
Senior Superintendent Edward Carranza, PRO-Central Visayas directorial staff chief and a SAF member, was emotional when reporters interviewed him after the funeral.
“Masakit kasi po parang kapatid, eh (This pains me; it’s as if I’ve lost a brother). But I believe that the sacrifices they made in their lives will live on,” Carranza added.
Carranza assured the surviving families of Candano and Cempron that the PRO-Central Visayas will continue to support them.
Carranza added that in today’s (February 9) flag ceremony at Camp Sergio Osmeña, they will hold a short ceremony in honor of Candano and Cempron. (RSB/DSM/JKV/Sun.Star Cebu)