A CALL for justice continues to reverberate nine years after 44 members of the Philippine National Police’s elite Special Action Force (SAF) were slaughtered in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, following a botched raid against two US-listed terrorists hiding in the Moro extremist-laden region on January 25, 2015.
“Was there a case filed against those people who killed the 44? Until now, not yet,” said former SAF chief Getulio Napeñas, Jr. on January 25, 2024, during the commemoration of the National Remembrance of the Heroic Sacrifice of the SAF 44 in Silang, Cavite.
“I would like to see cases filed against the perpetrators because they killed, that’s murder. They were massacred. Some were still alive, yet they were killed,” Napeñas told reporters during the ceremony.
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who led the wreath-laying ceremony in honor and remembrance of the fallen 44 police officers, urged Filipinos to work together to achieve “the day when swords were pounded into plows.”
“It is now up to us, who lived, who benefitted from their full measure of devotion to duty, to build a kinder and gentler society, wherein those they have left behind can live in peace and prosperity. That is the mission they have left us to pursue when they did not return from their last patrol,” Marcos said in his speech.
“In their last hours, in that place of honor, we can draw many important lessons. The lesson such as to put nation before self. To display courage under fire. To resolve to forge ahead,” the president added.
Marcos maintained that “the defiant stand of the Brave 44 still echoes today, it is a clarion call for unity and action against any challenge that we might face.”
In Eastern Visayas, Police Director Brigadier General Reynaldo Pawid also led a commemorative ceremony for the 44 fallen commandos, where six of them were coming from the region.
“Their lives were far too brief, but they have lived meaningful ones. Rest assured that the entire PNP and the public that they have sworn to serve and protect will continue to remember their gallantry,” said Pawid, as family members of the slain troopers offered wreaths of flowers at the Bantayog ng Bayani, Camp Kangleon in Palo town in Leyte.
“We will continue to rally for peace. In the name of service and love for the country, they have made the greatest sacrifice—fallen but not forgotten,” Pawid said during the event.
The elite force clashed with a motley group of combatants from Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), and other armed rogue groups shortly after they successfully captured and killed Malaysian terrorist and bomb expert Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, during the highly top-secret operation codenamed “Oplan Exodus.”
The U.S. government placed a $5-million bounty on the head of Marwan.
As the commandos retreated from the area, they found themselves engaging in a fierce yet lopsided daylong gunfight against the lawless Moro combatants.
While they were able to neutralize the US-listed terrorist and bomb expert, 44 out of the 45 SAF troopers tragically died during the encounter, as an expected rescue mission did not arrive during the daylong battle.
Aside from Marwan, at least 18 MILF fighters, five Bangsamoro Freedom Fighters combatants, and five other civilians died during the clash.
The second terrorist Abdul Basit Usman was later killed in a separate operation on May 3, 2015, in Maguindanao.
Napeñas was relieved from his position and underwent a trial for charges of usurpation of authority and graft, together with the former PNP chief Alan Purisima.
However, the two were acquitted by the Sandiganbayan, a special court that has jurisdiction over criminal and civil cases against government officials and employees accused of graft and corruption and similar other cases, in 2020.
The late President Benigno Aquino III was also cleared from 44 counts of reckless imprudence resulting in homicide and other Mamasapano-related charges on September 3, 2019. Aquino died on June 24, 2021.
Following the Mamasapano encounter and other armed conflicts with the rebels, the Philippine government soon entered a peace accord with the MILF, leading to the creation of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) in February 2019.
The new region, now home to some four million Filipinos, was established to avoid further hostilities.
For Napeñas, the peace agreement was insufficient to bring justice to the fallen commandos.
“Do you think justice has been served when no case has been filed against them? Is it enough that there was a peace process back then? You be the judge,” Napeñas told the media.