Friday, February 13, 2015

Glimpses of the lives of the Fallen 44

Note:  This photo-essay was featured in the 06-12 Feb 2015 edition of FilAm Star, the weekly 'newspaper for Filipinos in mainstream America' published in San Francisco, CA. This author/blogger is the Manila-based Special Photo/News Correspondent of the newspaper.

Source: Philippine National Police Webpage

Ms. Erica Pabalinas, widow of Senior Inspector Ryan Ballesteros Pabalinas, expressed it all for the families of the Fallen 44: “My husband gave his life to claim peace. He placed service to the people before anything else. ... It is a clear manifestation that my husband has put duty first before family, and I understand. Slowly, I accept that my husband can't be with us anymore. [I console] myself that he died a hero.  ... For the grieving wives, just like me, let us be strong for our children because behind every brave SAF trooper is a strong wife. Behind every brave SAF trooper is a strong wife!”  She told President Aquino, “... we seek for your help to attain justice. Please, sir president, please help us.” 

Medalya ng Katapangan & citation awarded to the Fallen 44.
Pabalinas was 31, and he has been with the police force since 2006 after graduating from the Philippine National Police Academy (PNPA) with a bachelor’s degree in public safety.  

His was the last voice heard from the battleground. He was the radioman of 55th SAC who had been asking for support since as early as 7 o’clock of the morning of January 25.

In his eulogy, PNP-SAF OIC Noli Taliño recalled that there were efforts “from different approaches, but [they] could not penetrate the bulk of the enemies until about 1 p.m., when that voice was nowhere to be heard. There was a radio silence, very long silence.”  

“I realized,” he said, “that that voice will never be heard again. And I know that voice belonged to Ryan, or Senior Inspector Ryan Pabalinas.”

The last man standing, according to a GMA 7’s 24 Oras news report, was Senior Inspector Max Jim Ramirez Tria, 27, from Catanduates, also a graduate of PNPA, who had been with the PNP since 2005.

Mother of PSI Rennie Tayrus gets comforted by visitors
The Fallen 44 and the survivors were awarded the Medalya ng Katapangan (PNP Bravery Medal), one of the highest decorations of the PNP, “for gallantry in action during an armed encounter with lawless elements/Southern Philippines Terrorists on January 25, 2015 in Brgy. Tukanalipao, Mamasapano, Maguindanao.”

The citation says they were the” 72 personnel of 55th and 84th Special Action Company, SAF who served the warrant of arrest against Zulkifli Bin Hir a.k.a. Marwan and Basit Usman, when they encountered the enemy force numbering more or less 700. Although outnumbered, the SAF troopers held their ground, fought up to their last breath and accomplished their mission. [Their] “exceptional acts of bravery in utter disregard of [their] personal safety and selfless devotion to duty clearly manifest commitment to serve the people worthy of emulation by fellow policemen and a source of pride for the Philippine National Police.”

These young men, 27 to 39 years of age, were college graduates.  Most of them finished criminology. Those who went to PNPA earned a bachelor’s degree in public safety. 

Father of PO2 Joel Dulnuan kept vigil.
They were either still single, getting ready for marriage, or had started building a family. They left behind grieving parents and siblings, or anguished wives left alone to configure the future of their young children.

Mrs. Trinidad Tayrus, 62, mother of Senior Inspector Rennie Lumasag Tayrus recalled that they first received news of the battle early on Monday morning. On Thursday, when there was no more more word about his son, two of his sisters flew to Davao and then proceeded to Cotabato. It was in the morgue there that they were able to identify their brother because of a mole at the bridge of his nose even if his body was mangled.

Tayrus, 28, graduated from PNPA and had been in the service since 2011. He also finished criminology at the Western Mindanao State University in Zamboanga City. Although he learned that he passed the licensure exam for criminologists in October 2014, he never saw his certificate, according to his mother.

He was the second to the youngest of nine siblings, and the only son.  He was the silent type, said his mother:  “matapang sa giyera” but “mahina sa ligawan.”  

The son of PO3 Rodrigo Acob Jr with his father’s medalya
It’s now an all-female family that remains in Ticwas, Dimalinao, Zamboanga del Sur.  The father died five years ago. The couple did not finish elementary schooling but they were able to raise their children through hard work. Mrs. Tayrus said that each of the children took responsibility of the younger one so that each could complete their studies.

From his father, we learned that PO2 Joel Bumidang Dulnuan, 30, from Ocapon, Villaverde, Nueva Vizcaya, had a girlfriend from Zamboanga. They were engaged to get married next month. They already have one child, who is more than a year old. 

Senior Inspector Gednat Garambas Tabdi , 27, from La Trinidad, Benguet, got married last October to a nurse from Basilan province.  He was first brought to his hometown, but, according to reports, he will be buried by his wife in Zamboanga.  She is five months pregnant, and a boy Tabdi is coming.

PO3 Rodrigo Fernandez Acob Jr, 34, and PO3 Andres Viernes Duque Jr., 37, hail from the same town, Aurora in Isabela province. Acob had been with PNP since 2002 while Andres joined four years later.

Honor guard for slain SAF commando
Theirs were young families. Acob left behind two children: a 12-year old boy and a 3-year old girl. Duque’s youngest, a boy,  was born four months ago, and the older ones are both girls, who are now first and second year high school students.  Being close friends, Acod stood as godfather to one of Duque’s children.

PO2 Nicky De Castro Nacino Jr., 30, was from Baler, Aurora. He was the oldest of six children: four girls and two boys. His sister described him as a health buff, “maganda ang katawan”.  He also wanted that he and his wife should look fit and beautiful when they go out together. They have one child, a boy, whose name they plan to change to Nicky III in memory of his father.

These are some of Fallen 44 who went through special trainings such as the Maritime Tactical Operations Course, Tactical Explosive Entry Course, Urban Counter Revolutionary Warfare Course, SAF Commando Course, and PNP Scout to merit their Tagaligtas patch.

As veterans of the Zamboanga Siege of September 2013, they received the Medalya ng Kagalingan “for meritorious and invaluable services rendered as member of the SAF”, or the Medal ya ng Kadakilaan “for courage and gallantry in action during the fierce firefight with members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF)”, or “acts of heroism as member of administrative support during the joint combat operations against members of the MNLF.”

Going home: funeral honors for the fallen trooper.

Oplan Exodus did not turn out victorious like the Zamboanga Siege.  Yes, there could have been a “joyful moment” when the Tactical Command Post received the text message "Mike One, bingo", mission accomplished, but it turned into a long day of despair as the SAF commandos, waiting for extraction, perished in the killing cornfield of Tukanalipao.

President Benigno Aquino III gave a check for Php250,000 to each of the families from the President’s Social Fund before the Fallen 44 were brought home for burial. But the nation remains in mourning, and waits for the truth about the Mamapasano Massacre to come out.  “Thorough investigation! No to justifaction! Justice must be served! ... Give justice to our massacred comrades,” remain urgent pleas from the police force as well as from the Filipino people.

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