SAF commando's wife talks to killer's spouse

By Roel Pareño, The Philippine Star

Posted at Jan 28 2015 07:47 AM | Updated as of Jan 28 2015 03:47 PM

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines – The family of one of the 44 members of the elite police Special Action Force (SAF) slain last Sunday learned about his death through the wife of his killer.

“My husband killed the owner of this phone,” a woman told the family of Police Officer 2 Jed-in Asjali when they called his mobile phone.

The family said they tried to contact Asjali’s phone in the hope that he was not among the policemen involved in the clashes with the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), later joined by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), in Barangay Tukanalipao in the remote town of Mamasapano in Maguindanao.

One family member said anguish and pain befell their clan as the woman on the other line boasted that it was her husband who killed the police officer and took his cell phone.

“It was a painful way of learning about the death of our loved one,” another family member said.

Asjali, a Tausug, was the breadwinner of the family, said his 59-year-old widowed mother Rohimina, whose husband, a retired army captain, died of sickness years ago.

Rohimina had not thought the hug she received last week from her son would be their last. She said Asjali informed them he would be going to General Santos City after retrieving some ammunition.

“I have accepted my son’s death because of the nature of his work, but the manner of the killing I could not accept because he was killed by a fellow Muslim,” Rohimina said.

Ibrahim, Asjali’s younger brother who also wanted to be part of the SAF, believed that Asjali and his group were victims of the treacherous act of the BIFF and the MILF.

He said if he could have the chance to talk to either President Aquino or Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II, he would request that his application for SAF be reconsidered.

Ibrahim would have joined his brother in the elite force but his application was put on hold as it was affected by an order from the National Police Commission (Napolcom) in 2012 following alleged massive cheating.

‘Peace talks must be ironed out’

The victim’s family called on the government to iron out its peace agreement with the MILF to ensure the safety not just of security forces but also of the public.

“If there was a ceasefire agreement, then no one should shoot. This means that if (rebels) see government troops, they cannot fire, and the same must be true with the military. But they already saw the forces, why did they fire at them?” Ibrahim asked.

He also rebuffed claims that the carnage was a mere “misencounter” – the word used by Roxas to describe the clash.

“From what we learned, my brother and his company have already reached the area, they had accomplished their objective, and they passed by the BIFF camp. However, upon their return, they were attacked. It looked as if they were placed in a trap,” he said.

“There was a clear trap set by the rebels,” he stressed.

Ibrahim also believed the BIFF and the MILF connived in the attack and that the government must be careful with the peace agreement it is offering.

“It only means the government was fooled because all the while (the MILF) still have control over the BIFF and (both) are staying in just one camp,” he said.

Ibrahim also dispelled rumors that his brother and his comrades were sacrificed to discredit the peace agreement and that the SAF commander was interested in the $5-million bounty on the head of Malaysian bomb maker Zulkifli bin Hir, also known as “Marwan,” whom the team was pursuing, alongside his Maguindanaoan cohort Basit Usman.

Marwan, reportedly killed in the operation, belonged to al-Qaeda’s Asian cell, the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI). Meanwhile, Usman was said to have undergone training in handling and fabrication of explosives in Peshawar, Pakistan and in Kandahar, Afghanistan in the late 1980s.

Ibrahim said while in mourning, their family is also seeking justice for the death of his brother and the rest of those brutally killed by the Moro rebels.

He said the remains of his slain brother would arrive Tuesday night, as his other brother in the military service had made arrangements so the body can be brought back to their home and buried in Muslim rites.

Stories of other fatalities

One of the police officers who died in fierce firefights with Moro rebels on Sunday was a newly wed expectant father, another was to be married next year, and two others were “ideal husbands.”

Inspector Gednat Tabde was among the SAF police commandos killed in Maguindanao on Sunday.

Tabde, who hails from Mountain Province in the far north, left behind his six-months pregnant wife Leah.

Leah, a registered nurse working as a casual employee in the Lamitan city government in Basilan, married Tabde in 2014.

“(Tabde) was very happy when the medical ultrasound reading showed that his unborn child is a boy. He would always say with certainty that the child would be his look-alike,” a cousin of Tabde’s wife, Ryan Uy, said in Chavacano dialect.

Tabde’s in-laws said that he believed his son would bring him good luck and that he was so excited to see him delivered safely.

“He was in fact saving money for his child’s delivery. He was preparing for it and was so excited about having a son,” Tabde’s in-law said.

Surviving companions guarding the morgue of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division in Camp Siongco in Datu Odin Sinsuat, Maguindanao where his remains are being embalmed, said Tabde was a polite and cheerful man.

Senior Inspector Garry Erana was to be wed in 2016 to his lawyer-fiancée, who is enrolled in a business course abroad.

Erana helped finance his girlfriend’s studies in New Zealand.

Lawyer Suzette Tucay, a former employee of the Civil Service Commission regional office in Zamboanga City, said she and Erana last exchanged text messages on Saturday, while he and his men were on their way to Mamasapano town in the second district of Maguindanao.

“He told me in one of his text messages that he loves me so much and that we shall see each other soon,” said Tucay, who hails from Barangay Sta. Clara in Lamitan City, capital of the island province of Basilan.

Tucay is set to return from Auckland on the first available flight to see the remains of her fiancé.

Tucay said she met Erana, whom she described as “a very fine man,” during the wake of her brother, also a member of SAF, who was killed in a police operation more than three years ago.

“After some time we started dating, became lovers and eventually got engaged in 2013,” she said.

She said Erana was a “forward-looking man,” who dreamed of good and professional careers for both of them and their would-be children.

Erana graduated as baron of class 2009 of the Philippine National Police Academy.

He was taking a doctorate related to the police service at the time of his death. According to relatives, he was due for a special law enforcement course in the United States this year.

Tucay said while she is saddened by her boyfriend’s demise, she draws courage to overcome the ordeal by keeping in mind “his great example” of utmost devotion to public service, to the point of dying in line of duty.

‘Ideal husbands’

Slain Inspectors Joey Gamutan and Ryan Pabalinas were known to neighbors and relatives as good husbands to their respective wives and fathers to their children.

Gamutan is survived by his wife Marilyn and their two children, who are residing in Zamboanga City.

Marilyn said Gamutan was a “responsible father who would always check on the condition of our children whenever he is away.”

Gamutan, who was from Barangay Begang in Isabela City in Basilan, was also described as “a good, polite man” and “a fine man (who) is loved by neighbors” by his childhood friend Luzette Narciso.

Pabalinas – whose wife Erica is also from Basilan’s seaport capital Isabela – was known for being good and respectful of his in-laws. – John Unson