By Ruth Abbey Gita-Carlos

HONORING SAF 44. President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. on Thursday (Jan. 25, 2024) leads the Day of National Remembrance for the Heroic Sacrifice of 44 Special Action Force (SAF) personnel at Camp Castañeda in Silang, Cavite. A wreath was also offered at the Monument of the Fallen Heroes to honor the SAF4’s bravery and heroism. (PCO photo)

MANILA – The heroism of the 44 Special Action Force (SAF) troops of the Philippine National Police (PNP) who died in a firefight in Mamasapano, Maguindanao nine years ago, is a “clarion call for unity” to address the challenges besetting the country, President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. said Thursday.

During the observance of the Day of National Remembrance at Camp General Mariano Castañeda in Silang, Cavite, Marcos called on his fellow Filipinos to emulate the SAF 44 commandos, who he branded as “warriors for peace,” to seek a common goal of “build[ing] a better future for our nation.”

“My countrymen, 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,” Marcos said.

“So, how do we pay homage to these brave men, whose gallantry no memorial can fully capture, whose courage no words can fully extol? It is by working tirelessly to realize their dreams, for their family, for their children, for their comrades, [and] for the people,” he added.

Marcos said Filipinos would be disrespecting the memory and devaluing the valor of the 44 SAF personnel, if they submit to those who terrorize the nation and cede the territory to those who would trespass upon it.

While the country “will never be able to fully pay” the slain troopers for their sacrifices, Marcos said each Filipino has the crucial role in bringing peace and progress to the country.

“In their last hours, in that place of honor, we can draw many important lessons. The lessons such as to put nation before self, to display courage under fire, to resolve to forge ahead, to never give up,” Marcos said.

“It is now up to us who live, who benefitted from their full measure of devotion to duty to build a kinder and gentler society wherein those that they have left behind can live in peace and prosperity. That is the mission that they have left us to pursue when they did not return from their last patrol.”

During the event, there was also a wreath offering at the Monument of the Fallen Heroes to pay tribute to the bravery of the 44 SAF troopers.

Thankful

The SAF, meanwhile, thanked the President and the Filipino people for joining the observance.

In a statement, SAF chief Maj. Gen. Bernard Banac said the valor of the fallen SAF commandos would serve as an inspiration to their ranks.

“Makakaasa ang ating mga mamamayan na sa ilalim ng pamununo ni PNP Chief Gen. Benjamin C Acorda Jr., patuloy na magiging tapat ang ating mga kapulisan at SAF sa kanilang tungkulin at patuloy silang maglilingkod ng buong husay at kagalakan sa ating mga mamamayan para sa kapayapaan at kaayusan ng ating bayan (Rest assured that under the leadership of PNP Chief Gen. Benjamin C. Acorda Jr., the police force and the SAF would remain loyal to their duty and serve the people with excellence and joy to preserve the country’s peace and order),” Banac added.

Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Benjamin Abalos Jr., who joined the observance, said the Marcos administration would ensure that there would be no repeat of such an incident.

“As we remember today the tragedy that befell the brave SAF44, we also learn and reflect on the missteps of this unfortunate incident. We owe it to these heroes and their families to prevent another Mamasapano tragedy from happening again. As such, trust that we would continuously push for initiatives to modernize and improve the capabilities of our police force to make them more efficient and responsive,” he added.

For his part, PNP chief Gen Benjamin Acorda Jr. said the SAF44’s heroism should pave the way for the police’s renewed commitment to strengthening law enforcement.

“May there memory serve as an inspiration for us to continue advocating for justice and peace in our nation. We must recognize the importance of unity, coordination and effective communication in our pursuit of national security. The sacrifices made by our heroes must motivate us to constantly strive for excellence in our duty to protect and serve,” Acorda said.

On Jan. 25, 2015, SAF commandos carried out a law enforcement operation against two high-value targets, Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, and terrorist Abdul Basit Usman.

They were able to kill Marwan but failed to get Usman who was later killed in another operation.

On their way out, a firefight occurred which eventually trapped 45 SAF personnel, with only one surviving after swimming in a creek and hiding in bushes on his way out.

Former president Rodrigo Duterte in February 2017 issued Proclamation 164, declaring Jan. 25 of every year as a day of national remembrance for the heroic sacrifice of SAF 44 members. (with Lloyd Caliwan/PNA)