By Apple Ta-as |January 31,2015 - 12:29 AM

Sympathy walk in Cebu city honors  ‘the great 44’
Candlelight tribute in Plaza Independencia for slain SAF troopers

About 700 personnel  walked in the rain,  a gray drizzle in Cebu city that united policemen and civilians in a National Day of Morning for 44 police commandos killed in  a secret anti-terrorist mission in Maguindanao.

They gathered at 4 a.m. at the IT Park in Lahug.  The  “sympathy walk”  started an hour later when  a downpour eased into a light rainshower.

Policemen showed up in uniform, none of them wearing raincoats. The silent five-kilometer march to Camp Sergio Osmeña was a tribute and a call for justice for  slain members of the Special Action  Force (SAF).

“How do we honor the great 44?” said Senior Supt. Conrado Capa, acting Cebu city police chief, who addressed the police after a Mass.

“Bawi nalang tayo sa mga criminals. Wala naman ditong MILF so we can honor the great 44 by going against illegal drugs, criminals, and human traffickers.

(We will get even by going after criminals.  We don’t have any MILF rebels here.)

Capa said this would be their contribution in region 7 in memory  of the slain elite troopers.

For the second time since his restrained but emotion-filled press conference a day earlier when he lamented the “desecration”’ of bodies of fallen policemen on the battle field, Capa, a former SAF member, wiped tears from his eyes

In Manila, President Aquino in a eulogy said the SAF troopers were heroes to whom “the entire nation owes a big debt of gratitude.”

“Number one on the list of things that should be done is the capture of Basit Usman. … I assure you, we will get Usman”, he said, referring to the Filipino terror suspect who escaped the anti-terrorist operation that resulted in the death of

Malaysian bomb expert Zulkifli Bin Hir, also known as Marwan, one of Southeast Asia’s top terror suspects.

At the chapel of St Ignatius of Loyola in the regional police camp in Cebu City, names of the fallen  troopers were recited aloud at the start of a Mass. All seats were occupied; the crowd spilled outside.

Fr. Celso Magbanua said the whole country, not just Cebu, was mourning.

“We pray that God may be merciful to our brothers who died for our country,” he said.

“Unsaon man to ilang kamatayon? We should reflect and learn from this or else their death will be put to waste,” Magbanua said in his homily.

The priest said the tragedy should remind us to stay faithful and not fear death, like the police troopers who were ready to die for their country.

Shortly past 6 p.m., a group of civilians gathered for a candle lighting ceremony at Plaza Independencia to honor the slain troopers.  Red roses were laid out on a tarpaulin banner showing the faces and names of the 44 SAF commandos.

The impromptu ceremony called by the Movement for a Liveable Cebu was later joined by PNP members.

“The PNP sent word that they would forego their prayer service in Camp Sotero Cabahug to join us. Sr. Supt. Conrado Capa cut short his appointment… to join his men,” said MLC convenor Rudy Alix in his Facebook post after inviting friends and the general public to assemble at 6 p.m.

Fr. Carmelo Diola and Rev. Jessie Primacio of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines were among those who attended.

Earlier in the morning, more than 20 police cars tailed the  foot procession to the headquarters of the Police Regional Office.

Policemen  came from units as far as San Remegio town in the north and Ronda town in the south, including cities of Mandaue, Lapu-Lapu and the Regional Public Safety Batallion (RPSB) in Sibonga town.

They were led by Cebu Provincial Police Office director Senior Supt. Noel Gillamac and Senior Supt. Capa, deputy regional director for operations.

“We were expecting 500 personnel but 700 showed up,” said Supt. Rodolfo Albotra Jr., who heads the Philippine National Police Academy Alumni Association Inc.

The chief of the Provincial Intelligence Branch (PIB) said the sympathy walk and Mass was their tribute to the 44 slain SAF troopers.

“This is to show our sympathy .  We are not here to raise grievances. We still believe in the government,  that they will not turn their back on this. We expect  that justice will be served,” said Albotra.

He denied rumors that the police were agitating for anti-government action.

“Our move now is for justice for the SAF troopers, not a political side or any other agenda. We are after a fair investigation…. As president of the PNPA Alumni (Cebu), we will abide by the law. We have sworn duties to serve and protect the community,”he said.

Albotra declined to comment on President Aquino’s absence during arrival honors for the slain troopers at Villamor Airbase the other day.

“We will not be carried away by sentiments. Our sworn duties shall prevail.. There is an ongoing investigation.  I believe higher headquarters will not sleep on this. We know appropriate charges will be filed,” he said.

On the  call of the association’s national president for all police alumni to go on a five-day leave as a sign of protest, Albotra said he is leaving  the choice to individual policemen.

“Everyone is entitled to file a leave of absence…It is one move to show respect but is not to be forced on every member,” he said.

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