Instead of medal, raps for SAF leader

SPECIAL Action Force commando team leader Supt. Raymund Train was slapped with criminal and administrative cases on the same day that he was supposed to be awarded the Medal of Valor for neutralizing international terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan and Filipino bomb expert Basit Usman.

Instead of getting the Medal of Valor, which was withdrawn at the last minute, Train received word that the Ombudsman was finding him responsible for the death of his men, the SAF 44, in Mamasapano, Maguindanao on Jan. 25.

The charges were neglect of duty and grave misconduct.

The Ombudsman also accused Train of violating the chain of command, but spared his commander-in-chief, President Benigno Aquino III, of any liability for assigning the ill-fated covert mission to then suspended police chief Alan Purisima.

The 44 SAF commandos were massacred by Muslim rebels, including those from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which is in peace talks with the government.

Train said he was puzzled that he was being blamed for the death of his men, when the Ombudsman had said it was the Muslim rebels who killed them.

Purisima, who was suspended at the time the President assigned him to supervise the Mamasapano operation, was charged with usurpation of authority or official functions.

Purisima was also charged with graft and grave misconduct, along with PNP Director Getulio Napeñas, then SAF command chief; and Supt. Fernando Mendez Jr. of the intelligence group.

“From the time he was suspended from office, Purisima no longer had authority to participate in the mission planning and execution of Oplan Exodus as he was then barred from performing the functions of his office as PNP chief,” the Ombudsman said.

 “Clearly, Purisima willfully disregarded the preventive suspension order imposed on him by the Ombudsman and violated the PNP chain of command, making him liable for grave misconduct,” the Ombudsman said.

The Ombudsman said Napeñas and Mendez deliberately violated the PNP chain of command and the Ombudsman’s suspension order against Purisima by respectively dealing with, taking orders from and recommending actions to Purisima in connection with the operation despite being aware of his preventive suspension.

“They completely ignored and undermined [Leonardo] Espina’s authority as the OIC PNP in the conduct of the mission planning and preparation for Oplan Exodus. Thus, they must also be held liable for grave misconduct,” the Ombudsman said.

Train was held accountable for neglect of duty for deciding to employ the “time on target” concept of coordination in the mission that was also authorized by Purisima.

“In devising the Oplan Exodus, it was the mission planning group’s duty to ensure not only the successful conduct of the mission but also to observe applicable rules and that protection of troops must always be taken into consideration,” the Ombudsman said.

SAF Police Officer 2 Romeo Cempron, who died in the operation, was also supposed to receive the Medalya ng Kagitingan, equivalent to Medal of Valor, the highest award for police and military personnel but his and Train’s names were removed from the roster of awardees at the last minute.

The Palace denied reports that Aquino ordered the withdrawal of the medals that were originally planned to be given to Train and Cempron during the ceremonies marking the 114th anniversary of the Philippine National Police on Aug. 6.

“The Office of the President has no participation in the selection of police officers and individuals that were given recognition in connection with the 114th anniversary of the PNP,” said Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr.

The President did not mention the fallen SAF commandos in his final State-of-the-Nation Address in July.

The last-minute removal of the two SAF commandos from the roster of medal awardees caused dismay among middle-grade and senior police officers.

Cempron’s award was reportedly contained in a PNP Promotion Awards and Decoration Board resolution, while Train’s was listed in a separate memo.

It was still unclear why their names were removed.

Earlier, reports said Cempron’s widow, Christine, had been informed that her husband would be honored by President Aquino during PNP Day.

The PNP reportedly shouldered the travel expenses for Christine and her family from Leyte to include hotel accommodations during their stay in Manila.

“It was really disappointing for them… They were even excited to attend the ceremony,” one officer said.

Four other SAF personnel were on tap for the Medal of Valor—Senior Inspectors Gednat Tabdi and John Garry Erana (both killed in action) and SPO4 Bill Fernando Jumalon and PO2 Christopher Lalan.

A Medal of Valor entitles the awardee and his children a monthly cash allowance of P20,000.

The awardee’s children are also entitled to scholarships in private universities.

At a July 14 meeting on the PNP anniversary rites, Deputy Director-General Danilo Constantino recommended that the awards for the SAF officers be sped up as the anniversary would be a good venue to highlight the bravery of the SAF men who sacrificed their lives for the country.

But unconfirmed reports said there was a verbal instruction from the Palace not to include the names of the SAF awardees so as not to bring back memories of the Mamasapano massacre.

But PNP spokesman Chief Supt. Wilben Mayor told reporters he was not aware of any change in the program for the PNP anniversary.

The head of the PNP Intelligence Group, Chief Supt. Fernando Mendez Jr., who provided the intelligence packet used in the ill-fated raid on Jan. 25, was also said to be in line for a Distinguished Conduct Award, but was also not included in the program.

Mendez was among those later charged by the Ombudsman.

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