MANILA (UPDATE 1) - President Benigno Aquino III on Monday conferred the highest award of the Philippine National Police on two Special Action Force (SAF) troopers who died in the Mamasapano clash exactly a year ago.
Aquino conferred the PNP Medal of Valor (Medalya ng Kagitingan) on Senior Insp. Gednat Tabdi and Police Officer 2 Romeo Cempron, who were part of the team of SAF troopers tasked to neutralize Malaysian bomb maker Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan, and his Filipino Abdul Basit Usman.
Tabdi, the leader of Team 1 of 84th Special Action Company - also called the main effort - was cited for "ably leading his team to their target despite extreme odds, including unfamiliar terrain, explosion of IED that compromised their mission, and sustained fire from enemy who detected their presence."
The PNP said Tabdi, "through effective leadership, employment of sound tactics and sheer force of personality, ably led his men in defending his position against a very determine enemy despite numerous casualties."
Overwhelmed by the enemies' firepower, Tabdi led a counter-attack to extricate his comrades from the killing zone by acting as point man despite his wounds until he was fatally hit by a sniper fire, the PNP said.
Cemrpon, who belonged to 55th SAC which served as the blocking force that supported the assault team, on the other hand, was cited for his bravery that saved the life of PO2 Christopher Lalan, the lone survivor in the clash.
"His (Cempron) team was ferociously attacked by overwhelming number of enemies from different directions. Despite the absence of cover, PO2 Cempron and his group repelled waves of enemy attacks for 9 hours, notwithstanding the fact that only a few of them were still alive," the PNP said.
"Cempron never lost his nerve and instead continued to engage the enemy with even more vigor, thereby preventing the enemy from overrunning their positions. Later when his ammunition was depleted, and suffering from numerous wounds in disregard of his own safety, he stood up and drew enemy fire, to give PO2 Lalan, the only survivor, the chance to escape.
"Hit several times, he fell to the ground but again stood up, only to be hit again by enemy fire, until he succumbed to his wounds."
PNOY WARNS PNP VS OPPORTUNISTS
Meanwhile, President Aquino warned the PNP against entities who want to sow disunity in the institution even as he assured the families of the SAF troopers continued assistance.
''May ilan pa ring sasamantalahin ang kontroberysa sa inyong hanay para buwagin ang ating pagkakaisa, silang mga gagamitin ang trahedya para sa pansariling agenda,'' Aquino said.
''Tiwala akong patuloy ninyong tatahakin ang landas na tama at makatwiran, patuloy niyong ipagtatanggol ang ating mga boss. Makakaasa kayo na nasa likod ninyo ang gobyerno."
Still recovering from perhaps his worst political crisis as president, Aquino is again under pressure as the Senate is set to reopen its investigation on the Mamasapano clash on Wednesday, January 27.
Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile has claimed that he has evidence that will ultimately pin down the president.
A retired police official has also surfaced, claiming he has "critical evidence" of an attempt to cover up the events surrounding the encounter.
Retired Chief Superintendent Diosdado Valeroso described the evidence as a digital audio recording of a conversation between a high-ranking government official and a legislator that occurred a day or two after the clash.
Valeroso, former district regional director for administration of the National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO), refused to disclose what the conversation was about.
But he told reporters that during the conversation, one of them was telling the other not to mind what happened in Mamasapano as it may delay the ongoing peace talks between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
"Sa buod nung conversation, nag-usap yung dalawa at sinasabing huwag muna nating pansinin yan dahil nalalagay sa alanganin yung usaping pang-kapayapaan o yung peace talks," said Valeroso.
MEDAL OF VALOR
According to the PNP, the Medal of Valor is "awarded to any member of the PNP who have performed in action a deed of personal bravery and self-sacrifice above and beyond the call of duty so conspicuous as to distinguish himself clearly above his comrades in the performance of more than ordinary hazardous service. This award may be given only if the enemy force is so overwhelming as compared to the government troops."
Aside from the two, the rest of the 44 SAF troopers who died were conferred with the PNP Distinguished Conduct Medal (Medalya ng Kabayanihan). Five surviving SAF troopers will also receive the said award.
The PNP Distinguished Conduct Medal "is awarded to uniformed members of the Philippine National Police for acts of conspicuous courage and gallantry in the face of an armed enemy or act of heroism so notable and involving a risk of life so extraordinary as to set him apart from his comrades."
The medals for the 39 of the 42 recipients of the PNP Distinguished Conduct Medal were received either by the relatives or classmates of the slain SAF commandos.
No one was around to get the medals of Insp. Rennie Tayrus, SPO1 Lover Inocencio, and PO2 Nicky Nacino Jr.
READ: SAF 44 kin 'pressured' to attend awarding of medals?
WHY ONLY 2 SAF COMMANDOS GOT HIGHEST HONOR
National Police Commission (Napolcom) Napolcom vice chairman Atty. Eduardo Escueta, meanwhile, defended the decision to confer the PNP's highest award to only two of the 44 SAF troopers.
Speaking to dzMM, Escueta said they recommended the posthumous award to Tabdi and Cempron after a careful deliberation of their exemplary service.
Escueta said the higher distinction given to Tabdi and Cempron in no way belittles the sacrifice of their slain comrades.
"Sana ay ating bigyan naman ng puwang iyung ginawang pagtitimbang-timbang ng ating mga awtoridad sa mga isinagawang misyon ng ating mga kasamahan. Hindi po ito isang pangmamaliit sa ginawa ng iba kundi mayroon lang pong mas matindi ang ginawa," he said.
"Lahat po sila ay mahalaga ang ginawa at maganda ang halimbawang ipinakita sa ating bansa subalit iyung dalawang nabigyan ng Honor of Valor na iyun ay nakita nilang may talagang mas kakaiba, kahanga-hangang kabayanihang nagawa.''