Aquino to SAF troopers: 'We're like family here'
MANILA, Philippines – “Cordial, truthful, honest and very brotherly” was how Philippine National Police officer-in-charge Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina described an almost 4-hour “dialogue” between President Benigno Aquino III and members of the Special Action Force (SAF) on Wednesday, March 4.
Aquino met with SAF troopers more than a month after a controversial police operation that killed at least 65 people, including 44 SAF commandos. The meeting also took place on the day SAF's new director, Chief Superintendent Moro Lazo, assumed command.
Wednesday's dialogue was in stark contrast with Aquino and the SAF’s interaction more than a month ago on January 30, barely a week after “Oplan Exodus,” a bloody operation that saw at least 65 individuals, including 44 SAF troopers, dead.
After delivering a speech then, Aquino asked SAF troopers if they had any questions. He was met with deafening silence.
This time around, the March 4 dialogue took place at the National Capital Region Police Offie (NCRPO) headquarters in Camp Bagong Diwa, before Aquino witnessed the formal installation of Lazo at the SAF headquarters in the same camp.
The President does not usually attend installation ceremonies of SAF directors.
“The dialogue was closed door, it was just a conversation. The President told them: we’re like family here,” said Espina in a mix of English and Filipino.
Lazo admitted his was a “daunting task” ahead. “These are intelligence people that you can’t just… it’s hard. You will have to motivate and encourage them to do their mission,” said Lazo, who himself was a SAF trooper.
Present during the meeting were SAF commanders and some members of the 84th Seaborne Company, which had served as the “main effort” during “Oplan Exodus.” Nine from the elite Seaborne Company died in Mamasapano.
Aquino has been criticized over his involvement in "Oplan Exodus" and his percieved lack of concern for the families of the slain SAF commandors. The President's relationship with resigned PNP chief Director General Alan Purisima, has also been criticized after it was revealed that the suspended general played a key role in the operation.
Espina explained the meeting was part of “continuing talks” with SAF commandos.
Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II said the discussion was focused on moving forward, and issues such as SAF training, equipment, ang hazard pay. Roxas said the President instructed the PNP and the Presidential Management Staff to “study” the concerns of the SAF troopers.
“Yung atas naman ng Pangulo ay palakasin yung SAF, ihilom lahat itong mga sugat na ito, sa morale kung meron man… Idiniin ng mga SAF troopers that we got our man, we accomplished out mission. Sabi naman ng Pangulo, walang nagquequestion doon,” said Roxas.
(The President wants a reinvigorated SAF, for the wounds, low morale – should they exist – to be healed. The SAF troopers said they got Marwan, we accomplished out mission. The President told them that nobody is questioning that.)
The discussion also touched on improving the working conditions of the elite force, which unlike most PNP units, are always on call. Rotations schemes, Roxas explained, would allow SAF units precious rest time even as other troopers are undergoing training or are deployed.
“Ang SAF ay kakaiba sa PNP. If the PNP has a blue status na halos 25 to 50% lang naka-alert, ang SAF is 100% alert all the time. Ibig sabihin walang leave, walang vacation, walang standown,” said Roxas of SAF, the PNP’s elite striking force.
(The SAF is unique even within the PNP. If the PNP has a blue status where only 25 to 50% of units are on alert, the SAF is 100% alert all the time. That means they aren’t allowed leaves, vacations, they cannot stand down.)
PNP and Napolcom officials have 30 days to submit their proposals to the President. – Rappler.com