Fallen SAF commandos receive medals for gallantry, heroism

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(File photo) The Mamasapano encounter between government troops and Moro rebels ended with 44 police commandos, 18 rebels, and four civilians dead.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — As the nation remembered the bloody Mamasapano encounter exactly a year ago, President Benigno Aquino III thanked the Special Action Force (SAF) commandos who died for their service to the country and their families for their sacrifices.

The 44 Special Action Force (SAF) commandos who got killed in the Mamasapano operation last year to capture two top terror suspects, were given decorations for their gallantry.

President Aquino on Monday (January 25) led the awarding of the Medal of Valor or Medalya ng Kagitingan to Chief Inspector Gednat Tabdi and PO2 Romeo Cempron.

The Medal of Valor is the highest decoration awarded to policemen.

Tabdi was the team leader of the 84th Special Action Company and served as the navigator and point main in the assault on the hut of the Malaysian terrorist known as Marwan. He had sliced off one of Marwan's fingers where DNA was obtained to confirm the terrorist's identity.

Related: FBI confirms death of Marwan with DNA from severed finger

PO2 Cempron was the lead gunner of the 55th Special Action Company and secured the arresting teams. He also helped PO2 Christopher Lalan escape.

The other 42 commandos were awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal or Medalya ng Kabayanihan, the second highest award given to police officers.

Supt. Raymund Train was among the recipients. He was the leader of the team that served the warrants of arrest against Zulkifli Bin Hir alias Marwan and Basit Usman under Oplan Exodus.

Usman escaped but was later allegedly killed by members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Related: It's official: MILF killed Usman

PO1 Christopher Lalan, a survivor, is under investigation for allegedly killing some civilians in his escape.

Becoming impatient for justice

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Although critics blame Aquino for the botched Mamasapano operation, the president said he understands those sentiments—especially from family members.

Ang tanong nga, bakit hanggang ngayon, hindi pa rin napapanagot ang mga dapat managot," the president said.

[Translation: The question is, why is it until now, those responsible are not being brought to justice?]

During the Awarding Ceremony for the gallant 44 in Camp Crame, Aquino said the government is doing all its best to give justice to the fallen SAF commandos.

But President Aquino also admits, he is now becoming impatient about the delayed attainment of justice.

"Gaya ninyo, ako man po ay naiinip sa bagal ng pag-usad ng sistemang pangkatarungan sa ating bansa. Ika nga, justice delayed is justice denied," Aquino said.

[Translation: Like you, I am becoming impatient with how slow the justice system in our country works. As the saying goes, justice delayed is justice denied.]

The president had lunch with the families of the fallen commandos in Camp Crame.

PNP chief Dir. Gen. Ricardo Marquez said he heard rumors that some groups were persuading some family members of the SAF44 not to attend the awarding ceremonies.

The president advised those who will use the death of the police commandos for their personal interests to “do what's right and honorable.”

Later in the afternoon, Aquino met with the families of the fallen troopers.

According to Communications Sec. Sonny Coloma, they discussed the implementation of various forms of assistance extended by the government such as housing, education, employment and livelihood assistance.

Coloma added the president has instructed concerned government officials to exert all efforts to extend the needed assistance to the families.

Aquino also urged congress to review the PNP law to immediately penalize those high-ranking police officers who would commit violations.

MILF: Justice should be applied to all

MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal said they respect public sentiments, especially the families of the SAF commandos killed in Mamasapano.

But Iqbal also stressed the quest for justice over the bloody encounter should not be limited to government forces.

Aside from the slain MILF combatants, Iqbal said, the families of the four civilians killed in the crossfire also deserve to be compensated by law.

Among the civilians killed was an 8-year-old girl.

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Iqbal said the MILF has accepted the death of their combatants since they consider them as casualties of war.

Iqbal added, it is important that engagements between the government and the MILF should continue to avoid a similar incident from happening again.

CNN Philippines’ Patricia de Leon and David Santos contributed to this report.