2 Cebuanos die with boots on
On the day of the firefight, PO1 Romeo Cempron called his wife in Cebu.
He asked her to pray for him, saying he had a big operation ahead.
“I didn’t know that was the last time we would speak to each other,” said Christine, a doctor in a public hospital in Cebu City.
Married for two years, the couple from Consolacion town had looked forward to starting a family.
Cempron was one of two Cebuanos among the 44 members of the elite police Special Action Force who were killed during a clash with members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters in Maguindanao last Sunday.
P01 Cempron and PO2 Wendell Candano of Dumanjug town were part of a group of almost 400 SAF commandos who were supposed to serve warrants of arrest on BIFF members and suspected Malaysian terrorists when they encountered the MILF forces in Mamasapano town.
The slain policemen belong to the 5th Special Action Battalion based in Camp Abendan in Zamboanga City.
Flags in all police and military installations and offices nationwide were flown at half-staff since Monday to mourn the death of the elite policemen.
Dr. Cempron told CDN she got a call from a SAF official informing him of his death.
“They told me his remains are still in Cotabato awaiting the results of the autopsy. After that, he will be sent to Luzon along with other police officers killed for honorary rites,” she said.
She said family members were invited to go to Manila to claim the remains and attend a ceremony honoring them.
PNP Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina said he has recommended that the slain policemen be given a spot promotion to the next rank and bestowed the highest military honors “similar to the Gold Cross.”
News that Cebuanos were among the dead in Sunday’s clash spread on Monday when names of those who perished were made public.
Supt. Renato Dugan, public information officer of Police Regional Office 7, identified the casualty as PO2 Godofredo Cabanlit Candano. Other reports identified the policeman’s first name as Wendell.
PO1 Cempron’s wife confirmed the report through her Facebook account:
“To those who know my husband… Romeo Cempron…It is a very bad day for all of us. My husband passed away. He was one of the PNP-SAF casualties that you have heard in the news…tnx to all those who sent their condolences.,” Christine posted.
Cempron, fondly called Meo by friends and family, went home to Consolacion town last Dec. 20. He was able to spend Christmas and New Year on extended furlough after he got stranded by typhoon Seniang.
His wife was planning to visit him in Zamboanga and booked a ticket.
Dr. Cempron said she last spoke to her husband on Sunday or hours before the clash.
“Niingon ra siya nako nga mag-pray kay medyo dako ni ang ilahang lakaw, wa ko nakamatngon nga mao na diay to ang last nga magkastorya mi (He asked me to pray for them because they were off to a large-scale operation. I never sensed that that would be the last time I’d talk to him),” she told CDN.
Romeo had served two years in Basilan then three years in Zamboanga.
“I knew the nature of his job and the danger. But now, sobra ra kaayo karon,” she said in between sobs.
Meanwhile P02 Candano called up his mother, Marciana, last Wednesday, and asked her to look after his wife, Michelle, and send their son, Sian Gabrielle, to school. The boy turned 7 years old last Saturday.
According to his cousin, Dumanjug Councilor Meriam Llaño, Candano told his mother, “palihug pa-eskwelaha si Sian, tabangi si Michelle”.
Candano also called his sister, Louelyn, a nurse in the United Kingdom, to make the same request. It was as if her cousin was bidding farewell – or at least preparing for it, said Llano.
Wendell, 33, and his wife Michelle, an employee of the Cebu City Post Office, own a house in Deca Homes in Minglanilla town but stay with Michelle’s parents in barangay Mambaling, Cebu City.
Candano was the eldest of five siblings. He finished a degree in Electrical Engineering, but joined the police force to fulfill his dream.
“His mother tried to stop him from becoming a policeman, but he was insistent. He wanted to help people,” said his cousin.
Llaño said relatives had a difficult time breaking the news to his parents. In the end, it was his mother, Marciana, who sensed trouble and was the one who asked: “Wa na gyod si Wendell? (Is Wendell really gone?)/with Michelle Padayhag and Chito Aragon
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