MANILA - It was the 16 longest hours in the life of Special Action Force (SAF) commando SPO4 Bill Fernando Jumalon, one of the few who survived the bloody encounter with Muslim rebels in Maguindanao last month.
Jumalon was part of the SAF team on a mission to capture one of the world’s most wanted terrorists hiding in a remote village in Mamasapano.
The operation went haywire when they figured in separate clashes with the separatist Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and the Moro Islamic Liberation (MILF) in the early hours of Jan. 25.
A total of 44 SAF police commandos were killed and several others wounded.
Several civilians and Muslim rebels were also killed in the firefight, including Malaysian bomber Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan. The other target of the mission, Basit Usman, escaped.
Although they have neutralized Marwan, the SAF policemen came under attack from different directions.
Jumalon was part of the SAF team composed of 41 commandos that assaulted Marwan and Usman’s hideout in Barangay Pidsandawan.
Out of the 41, eight were killed and the rest wounded in the initial attack.
Jumalon and his surviving colleagues were pinned down by automatic gunfire from the rebels, unable to escape.
In nearby Barangay Tukanilipao, the rebels killed 35 out of 36 SAF commandos tasked as a blocking force to help the assault team.
Jumalon said they radioed for help and waited for rescue for several hours.
Jumalon gave his statement before the Cotabato Police on Jan. 27, two days after the carnage. He and his comrades were taken to the hospital for treatment and debriefing after the incident.
He recalled their group, stationed in their base in Sultan Kudarat, left for their mission at around 8 p.m. on Jan. 24.
When they reached their rendezvous area in Mamasapano, they divided themselves into four teams with Superintendent Raymund Train as the overall ground commander of the police operation.
“After a long walk and crossing the river we arrived at our target at around 4 a.m., two hours behind from the given time due to the terrain and high tide,” Jumalon said.
“We converged then to the objective rallying point before executing a final launch to our target.”
After a few minutes, Jumalon said they proceeded with the plan for him and two snipers with a M240 gunner.
He said two teams would do the actual assault while another team would attack the sentries.
Jumalon said gunfire started from the two teams attacking Marwan’s house while he and his colleagues helped in attacking the sentries.
A few minutes after the exchange of gunfire, Jumalon said they returned to the their designated converging area and waited for the assault team to catch up.
“There it was confirmed to us by Train that they have successfully neutralized our target (Marwan). I also noticed that one member of the Team 1, PO2 Lozano, was wounded,” he said.
Jumalon said the team decided to withdraw from the area.
He said they crossed the river in the area to link up with the 55th Special Action Company and the rest of the blocking force stationed in Barangay Tukanalipao.
According to Jumalon, Train made several calls for a support and reinforcements even before the attack came.
“While on our way withdrawing more or less one kilometer, we noticed a small number of houses. Upon checking, it appears to be a small camp/detachment of BIFF/Armed Group,” he recalled. “We then stopped to take cover for an hour and rest.”
But at 8 a.m., Jumalon said their team decided to change their original exit plan to evade the BIFF.
After two hours of walking, they rested. It was then that a young boy spotted them and alerted the BIFF rebels in the area.
“After a few seconds, firing commenced from the BIFF targeting us. Firefight lasted for almost two hours and after which one of our comrades was hit at the elbow,” Jumalon said, identifying the wounded as PO1 Yaumaldin Reneda.
Jumalon said Train again made a frantic call through a cellular phone to the command post for immediate reinforcement.
“We’re already surrounded by the enemies,” Jumalon said, quoting Train.
“Many times I heard our ground commander frantically called for support and reinforcement through his cellular phone, beginning from our extracting point and up to the time that we were surrounded and attacked by the enemy,” he said.
At noon, Jumalon said they decided to hold the line and remain in position since they were already tired from carrying their wounded and from the long walk.
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