Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro - - Opinion - BENCHWARMER

WE CAN­NOT and must not miss the an­niver­sary date – Jan­uary 25, 2015 - a day of tragedy when many Cordillera warriors un­der the Spe­cial Ac­tion Force (SAF) of the Philip­pine Na­tional Po­lice (PNP) fell in the Ma­mas­apano.

This piece re­vis­ited was writ­ten af­ter the SAF he­roes’ re­mains were re­turned home through Camp Dangwa. The fi­nal home­com­ing haunts us still, as it should, for the gal­lantry and hero­ism of the na­tive Cordiller­ans who per­ished in the mas­sacre should be part of Cordillera mem­ory. – RD)

Many in the early morn­ing crowd a-form­ing at Camp Dangwa felt no need for them to say a word. All they needed to do-and did - was to be there in si­lence - in and around the chapel of the re­gional po­lice head­quar­ters. All they wanted was to wit­ness, in their anonymity, the solemn, fi­nal ar­rival home of the fallen warriors of the Cordillera.

Less is more, we, ver­bose jour­nal­ists are re­minded now and then. The less words there are, the clearer and stronger the mes­sage be­comes. So was the si­lence of the crowd gath­ered a fit­ting and most pow­er­ful ex­pres­sion of the com­mon grief and sense of com­mu­nity- and loss - of this re­gion’s peo­ple trig­gered by the vi­o­lent deaths of 15 of their young warriors. Com­ing from all walks and hardly know­ing each other, they kept com­ing that morn­ing into Camp Dangwa, to wit­ness the dig­nity of the slow, un­hur­ried, re­spect­ful pace with which the mor­tal re­mains were borne on the shoul­ders of the he­roes’ fel­low of­fi­cers of the peace.

There were 15, not 13, sons of the Cordillera among the 44 mem­bers of the Spe­cial Ac­tion Force of the Philip­pine Na­tional Po­lice who fell in that bat­tle in Mama­pasano, Maguin­dano. The big­gest num­ber com­ing from this re­gion, they were the lat­est in a grow­ing ros­ter of Cordiller­ans who, over the years, made the ul­ti­mate sac­ri­fice in the pro­tracted strug­gle for peace in the trou­bled Au­ton­o­mous Re­gion of Mus­lim Min­danao. They were warriors, and, as such, they vol­un­teered to join SAF, as can be borne out of the grow­ing ros­ter of po­lice grad­u­ates from the Cordillera join­ing that force be­cause that’s where the war­rior is sup­posed to be.

From their ranks as ju­nior of­fi­cers (Po­lice Of­fi­cer 1 to Chief In­spec­tor) and pho­to­graphs, we pre­sume most – if not all – were in their 20s or early 30s, born af­ter Sept. 13, 1986. That was the month, day and year when rebel priest Con­rado Bal­weg of the Cordillera Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army signed the “sipat” (ces­sa­tion of hos­til­i­ties”) with then Philip­pine revo­lu­tion­ary govern­ment Pres­i­dent Co­ra­zon Aquino.

True to that truce, the Cordillera Ad­min­is­tra­tive Re­gion that was formed stood faith­ful to the pact for peace forged in Mt. Data. Still, the date, de­spite be­ing termed “his­toric” then, now hardly comes to mem­ory. (The only and most fee­ble at­tempt I re­mem­ber to mark its sig­nif­i­cance was when re­tired re­gional di­rec­tor Henry Aliten of the Depart­ment of Agrar­ian Re­form mounted a “sipat” an­niver­sary chess tour­na­ment a few years ago.)

Given our want­ing of a sense of his­tory, chances are the gal­lantry and hero­ism of the 15 SAF mem­bers from the Cordillera and those of the rest from var­i­ous parts of the ar­chi­pel­ago, would soon be forgotten, slowly erased, yet as bru­tally as some of their iden­ti­ties were man­gled by the overkill with which they were pep­pered with bullets af­ter they had fallen.

What hap­pened was a “pin­takasi”, as an ARMM of­fi­cial said it, with sev­eral forces com­ing in to fight a com­mon en­emy, in this case the SAF of­fi­cers and men.

The prayer, the hope is that the sense of com­mu­nity at Camp Dangwa that week-end when the he­roes’ re­mains came home would trans­form into ac­tion so that this part of the his­tory of this re­gion of warriors, gory as it was, would be taught to our chil­dren. The fear is that it would be lost and un­la­mented, as many of us lost, or never knew of the hero­ism of our fore­bears against for­eign in­tru­sion and dom­i­na­tion, first marked by the suc­cess­ful re­sis­tance of our Ibaloy an­ces­tors in the un-re­mem­bered Bat­tle of Ton­glo, the ex­act place of which re­mains un­known to­day.

Two of the 15 Cordillera he­roes who fell in Mama­pasano were not of­fi­cially listed as from the Cordillera as their ad­dresses were in Re­gion 2: P03 Ro­drigo F. Acob Jr. of Kalinga whose ad­dress was in Is­abela, and P02 Joel B. Dul­nuan of Kian­gan, Ifu­gao who was a res­i­dent of Barangay Ocapon, Villaverde, Nueva Viz­caya where he was laid to rest last Mon­day.

Baguio Mayor Mauri­cio Do­mo­gan found it only proper their in­clu­sion in this week-end’s obit­u­ary page trib­ute of the city govern­ment to the fallen Cordillera warriors.

At the honor rites inside the chapel in Camp Dangwa (named af­ter Maj. Bado Dangwa, the Igorot war­rior and guer­rilla fighter from Ka­pan­gan, Benguet ), Cordilleran re­gional po­lice chief, Chief Supt. Isagani Neres called out the names of his fallen com­rades: Chief In­spec­tor Ged­nat Garam­bas Tabdi of La Trinidad, Benguet; Se­nior In­spec­tor Cyrus Pa­leyan An­ni­ban of Tabuk, Kalinga; ; PO3 Robert Do­mol­log Al­laga of Banaue, Ifu­gao; PO3 Noel Onangey Golo­can of Baguio City; P02 Peter In­dongsan Carap of Kabayan, Benguet; PO2 Wal­ner Faustino Danao of Baguio City; P02 Franklin Canap Danao of Tinoc, Ifu­gao; P02 Jerry Dailay Kayob of La Trinidad, Benguet; P02 Noble Sun­gay Kian­gan of Mankayan, Benguet; P02 Nicky de Cas­tro Na­cino Jr. of Baguio City; P01 Rus­sel Bawaan Bilog of Baguio City; P01 Gringo Charag Cayang-o of Sadanga, Mt. Prov­ince; and P01 An­gel Cho­cowen Ko­dia­mat of Mankayan, Benguet.

Fight­ing off tears, Benguet Gov. Nestor Fong­wan nar­rated how Chief Insp. Tabdi was brought home to La Trinidad, Benguet for an overnight vigil, af­ter which his re­mains were to be trans­ported to Zam­boanga where his wife, Leah Me­franum, a nurse from Basi­lan who was six months preg­nant, waited for him to fi­nally come home.

Three other sons of Ibaloy cou­ple Gar­cia and Edna Tabdi are in the po­lice force. One is as­signed in La­guna, an­other in Pam­panga, and still an­other is un­der train­ing with the SAF.

The fire­fight was termed a “mis-en­counter”. It could have been, if only it had lasted far short of the 10 hours that it ac­tu­ally raged, against com­bined forces of the Moro Is­lamic Lib­er­a­tion Front, its break-away Bangsamoro Is­lamic Free­dom Fighters and other forces only known to but re­peat­edly dis­owned in the af­ter­math by the MILF rebels.

Also termed as a “car­nage”, the fire­fight drew lin­ger­ing sug­ges­tions, de­mands and ques­tions need­ing an­swers. On top of these is the cry for jus­tice from the rel­a­tives and fel­low of­fi­cers of the slain po­lice of­fi­cers that rank­ing SAF of­fi­cer, Su­per­in­ten­dent Jonathan Calixto pointed out at the honor rites in Camp Dangwa.

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