Philippine President Benigno Aquino yesterday vowed to pursue justice for 44 police officers who were killed in a botched anti-terrorism operation one year ago.
“How can the wounds of the tragedy heal when justice has eluded the victims one year after,” he said in a ceremony to posthumously award medals of valour for those who died in the operation.
“I too am getting impatient with the slow progress of the justice system in our country,” he added.
“As they say, justice delayed is justice denied. But you can be assured that we will fight for justice.”
The January 25, 2015 operation in Mamasapano town in Maguindanao province, 965 kilometres south of Manila, targeted Malaysian terrorist suspect Zulkifli bin Hir and Filipino bomber Abdul Basit Usman.
Zulkifli was confirmed killed in the attack, but Usman got away. Philippine forces killed Usman in a clash in March.
The police officers were already pulling out of the site when they clashed with fighters of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which signed a peace agreement with the government in March 2014.
The clash has derailed efforts to pass a law that would implement the peace deal with the MILF, which calls for the creation of a new autonomous Muslim entity in the southern region of Mindanao.
A Senate inquiry showed lapses in the police and government’s handling of the operation, and recommended administrative or criminal charges against top police and military. State prosecutors have yet to complete their investigation.
Earlier, several  family members of the 44 elite troops from the Special Action Force (SAF) did not show up for the awarding ceremony for the slain police commandos in Camp Crame in Quezon City, the first anniversary of the Mamasapano massacre.
Aquino led the awarding of honours and medals for the police commandos who were killed in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, on January 25, 2015.
When the president was to award the Medalya ng Kabayanihan for Police Officer 2 Ricky Nacino, Senior Police Officer Lover Inocencio and Insp. Rennie Tyrus, no one stood up to receive the medals.
It was also noticeable that the classmates of Senior Insp. Jim Tria and Police Officer 2 Franklin Danao were the ones who received their medals from the president, who is blamed by many for the death of the SAF troops.The wife of Senior Insp. Ryan Pabalinas, Ericka, was also a no-show. Instead, Pabalinas’ father and brother accepted the medals from Aquino.
The immediate family of Insp. John Garry Erania also did not attend the ceremony.
Erania’s uncle went up the stage to receive the Medalya ng Kabayanihan.
In all, 47 SAF members were given the Medalya ng Kabayanihan (Distinguished Conduct Medal), the second highest honour given by the police and military.
Two of the fallen commandos were posthumously awarded the Medal of Valor, the highest honor in the police and military service — Senior Insp. Gednat Tabdi and Police Officer 2 Romeo Cempron.
Tabdi’s wife Leah and brother received the medal while Cempron’s medal was handed to his wife Christine.
Lawmakers earlier urged the Department of Justice (DOJ) to speed up preliminary investigation and file cases against those responsible for the massacre of the SAF 44. Last year, the DOJ filed complaints of direct assault with murder against 90 people supposedly involved in the encounter.
It, however, is yet to rule on whether there is probable cause to file criminal charges against them in court.
In his speech, Aquino lauded the heroic acts of the SAF troops, especially Tabdi and Cempron.
He said Tabdi served as a “source of strength and inspiration” while Cempron showed courage in his attempt to save the lives of his fellow commandos.
“Until the very end he did not give up. He used his own body to block the enemies’ bullets in order to save his comrades,” Aquino added.
He met privately with the families of slain SAF troops after the awarding. But not all of them were represented.
The president reiterated that their families will be taken care of and will benefit from livelihood and employment assistance.