By Mike Navallo

ABS-CBN News

Photos by Jonathan Cellona

ABS-CBN News Digital Media

IT WAS A message she didn’t want to receive.

In the wee hours of September 16, 2016, a chatbox popped up on the screen of Aidilee Mandapat’s phone. It was a message from the head of the Caloocan City Police asking for her phone number.

When the call arrived, she dreaded the words she heard.

“Ma’am, huwag po kayong mabibigla,” she recalled being told. Instinctively, she knew something had gone wrong to her husband, PO1 Romeo Mandapat. “Paano po nangyari?” was all she could ask.

PO1 Mandapat was part of a 50-man team that conducted a police operation in Camarin, Caloocan. Dubbed Oplan Sama-Sama, the operation was an extensive crackdown on drug suspects in the area.

Team leader

PO1 Mandapat led a team of policemen serving an arrest warrant against a drug suspect.

His batchmate, PO1 Florencio Petang, recalled him and P01 Mandapat and other colleagues entering a dark alley. As they were to open a door, they heard some shots.

“Unang putok, walang tinamaan. Pangalawa yung tumama kay PO1 Mandapat,” he said.

The bullet hit Mandapat on the side that tore through his chest. He was rushed to the Commonwealth Hospital and Medical Center by some of his colleagues but he died upon arrival.

Gunman shot dead

The rest of the police team zeroed in on the gunman. He tried to escape, but was eventually cornered by the police, and gunned down when he resisted arrest.

Mandapat’s death left PO1 Petang shaken. Like Mandapat, Petang has only been a policeman for two years. It was the first time he got involved in a shootout and the first time he lost a batchmate.

“Masakit sa amin, namatayan kami. Ginagawa lang naman namin trabaho namin,” he said.

Diligent policeman

Mandapat’s immediate superior, Police Senior Inspector Alan Apa, said Mandapat was a diligent and dedicated policeman.

“’Di ako makapaniwala, ‘yung gusto ko paggising ko iba. Ayoko pa ring paniwalaan hanggang ngayon kahit hindi na ako masyado umiiyak kasi naiisip ko lalaki ang mga bata walang ama ang hirap paniwalaan. Parang kahapon lang kasama namin mga bata nagse-celebrate, birthday ng second baby namin, ‘yun pala ‘yun na last video namin, last bonding namin.”
- Aidilee Mandapat, wife of PO1 Romeo Mandapat who was killed in an encounter with drug suspects in Caloocan City on Sept. 16, 2016

“Nandun talaga sa kanya ang potensyal bilang intelligence officer,” Apa said.

Apa handpicked Mandapat from the Mobile Patrol team to lead the operation.

Mandapat’s death was a huge loss not only for the Caloocan Police, said Apa, adding it was the first time he lost one of his men in his 17 years in service.

Father of two

But the loss was more painful to Mandapat’s wife, Aidilee. They were sweethearts since college. They have two children–a three-year-old boy and a girl who turned two last month.

Aidilee said the boy quipped when he saw his father the first time inside a coffin: “Sleep si daddy, mommy?” She replied: “‘Oo, ‘wag mong gisingin kasi masakit ang ulo. So naiiyak ako kasi di ko alam kung paano i - explain sa kanila na wala na silang tatay paglaki nila.”

Aidilee said her husband had long wanted to join the police force.

“Sabi nya: ‘PNP, hindi nag- i-istand ng Philippine National Police kundi Pulis Ng Panginoon. Hindi matitigil ang karahasan kung puro barilan, kailangan may isa doon na magsasabi kung papaano sila maliligtas para matigil lahat,” she said.

13 cops killed

Mandapat was one of the 13 police killed during anti-drug police operation, according to data from the PNP.

Thirty-six others were wounded from July 1 to September 29.

All these could have been prevented if they were each issued a protective gear.

“Kung armado s’ya ng baril, s’yempre pangontra mo, baril. Kung baril na ‘yan, ‘wag mo na antayin na kakalabitin pa ‘yan. Kasi ‘pag tinamaan ka, wala namang take 2. You have to defend your life. Ilan na sa aming kasamahan ang nadisgrasya, nagbuwis ng buhay dahil sa police operations. So ‘pag nakita mong there’s a clear and present danger on your life at ‘yung other officers who are with you, then you have to do what is right. And that is to defend yourself.”
- PSSupt. Lorenzo Holanday Jr., Chief of Police, Marikina City

No bullet-proof vest

When Mandapat was killed, Aidilee said he was not wearing a bullet-proof vest.

PNP Spokesperson Dionardo Carlos said the PNP Chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa has acknowledged the need to provide protective gear to police officers. Only SWAT and special units, he said, were issued one, with each unit costing not less than P20,000, he said.

The government’s intensified campaign against drugs has led to more and more anti-drug operations.

Said Petang: “Di maiwasan ang takot. Parang naalala ko ang nangyari sa kaibigan ko.”

“If you’re shooting at me and you’re trying to kill me, how do you want me to apply my commensurate force? If one is shooting at you, they will fire back. Commensurate ‘yun eh. Hindi na…binabaril ako ng adik at ako ay sisigaw lang, ‘Tama na! Tama na!’ That’s not a commensurate force. We may ask him to stop but we will apply a commensurate force. We use the use of force continuum. When a little force is used against the police officer, a little force will be used against the criminals.”
- PSSupt. Dionardo Carlos, Chief PIO and PNP spokesperson

More police operations

Still, Petang and his colleagues would like to join more anti-drug operations.

“Ipagpapatuloy namin laban sa krimen at trabaho.”

Said Apa: “Huwag tayong ma-low morale, huwag tayong panghinaan ng loob.”

Mandapat’s wife also wanted to continue what her husband has started. “Kay General Bato, tuloy lang, di natin kailangan matakot sa mga kriminal.”

Wife wants to join police

She planned to take the criminology board exams this October. “Parehas kami ng sinimulan, natapos na yung sa kanya, ako magpapatuloy pa lang,” she said.

After PO1 Mandapat was laid to rest on September 25, those he left behind hope he would be the last policeman to die in the war against drugs.

“Trabaho namin ‘to. We do our job without rewards. The country needs to get rid of drugs and drug dependents so gagawin namin ang aming trabaho.”
- PSSupt. Lorenzo Holanday Jr., Chief of Police, Marikina City