The military band kept on playing. The tune sounds painfully sad. The band kept playing for hours because the honor guards walked slower than slow-motion, perhaps fearful of disturbing the fallen comrade-in-arms inside the coffin. It took hours because there were 42 coffins that came home to Camp Bagong Diwa [Update: Why family of slain SAF from Bicol didn’t wait for Aquino]. The 2 other fallen police officers were buried earlier in accordance with Islamic rites. 44 dead. A lot of officers and gentlemen died performing their sworn duty to protect the country.
We cannot go near — we do not want to go near — the caskets. Last night, it was time for the police force and the families to honor their dead. We are civilians. We are not relatives of the fallen heroes. We do not want to intrude into their grief. It’s enough to stay at a quite corner, see the flag-covered coffins pass by, offer a silent prayer, and whisper a “thank you” to these heroes.
We had other plans that day. It was, after all, our 10th wedding anniversary. Yet we found ourselves heading towards Bicutan, searching online for the exact location of the wake. Halfway to Bicutan, someone told us that the public viewing would be today, Friday. But we had to go that night. Something was pushing us to go.
These men knew, right from the start, that their lives are on the line every single time. These men were willing to offer the ultimate sacrifice to achieve the objective. All indications point to the fact that they achieved their objective: they got the international terrorist which is the target of the clandestine operation. Let’s not kid ourselves — certain sectors of the police and military, the MILF even, had to be kept in the dark. The commanders and men knew very well that things could go wrong in any operation, as it did in this one.
Who’s to blame for the massacre, a very important point, was not in our minds during the drive from north to south. We had something else in mind.
We were hoping that the highest person in the chain of command, the Commander-In-Chief who happens to be my President, would say that our brave men did a fine job and a lot of them died performing their sworn duty. I badly wanted him to say that “as your Commander-in-Chief, the buck stops with me, so allow me to express my heartfelt apologies, and allow me to say ‘thank you’ on behalf of a grateful nation, to the families left behind.” He could say what he wanted to say about the peace process, and we all could disagree on how the peace process should be handled, but I badly wanted to hear those words from my President.
We had no plans to go to Bicutan because we were confident that our President, notwithstanding the obviously evasive statements the night before, would show up to personally welcome the boys home. That’s what a father would do. That’s what a Commander-in-Chief is expected to do. But he chose to be somewhere else. I didn’t hear any acceptable explanation why he can’t shorten his trip, or send someone else, to that car event in a nearby province.
The least we can do is to honor their sacrifice. Presence is as important, if not more powerful, than medals or a proclamation of a national day of mourning. I felt so ashamed that my President was not there to embrace the boys back home.
It was guilt that led us to Bicutan. And shame. These men died as heroes, yet my President, their Commander-In-Chief, was not there the very first chance he got. I am so ashamed. And fucking angry. They should not feel abandoned, these 44 heroes. We have to let them know, as they take their place in a favored corner of the afterlife, that we value their sacrifice. We don’t have to hold their caskets or shake the hands of their families. We should not take selfies. We just have to be there.
Thank you, gentlemen, for your sacrifice. Sa inyong mga pamilya, taos-puso po kaming nakikiramay.