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'I FEEL WHAT YOU FEEL' | Aquino tells families of SAF 44 to be strong, recounts loss of own father

President Aquino talks to relatives of one of the fallen SAF personnel at the wake for 42 of the 44 men at Camp Bagong Diwa on Friday. MALACANANG PHOTO BUREAU
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MANILA, Philippines -- (UPDATE 5 - 1:02 p.m.) “Damang-dama ko ang nararamdaman ninyo (I feel what you feel),” President Benigno Aquino III told the families of the Special Action Force commandos who died in Mamasapano, Maguindanao last Sunday as he recounted how he overcame his own grief at the assassination of his father, anti-dictatorship opposition leader Senator Benigno Aquino Jr. in 1993. 

Aquino, speaking at the necrological rites for the 44 slain policemen at Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City Friday devoted close to half his speech on recalling how difficult it was to lose his father and how even more difficult it was to move from anger to acceptance. 

The service, which had begun earlier Friday morning, was halted twice, first for around 30 minutes to wait for Aquino, who was scheduled to arrive at 10 a.m. and, later, when he met privately with the families of the slain policemen after condoling with them. 

In his speech, Aquino acknowledged that Sunday’s mission, intended to get Malaysian terrorist Malaysian Zulkifli bin Hir, alias “Marwan,” and his Filipino cohort Abdul Basit Usman, left several questions begging for answers, begging with “Why?”

He admitted he could not answer the question.

He nevertheless vowed to get Usman.

Although government has said Marwan was killed in the operation, there has yet been no hard confirmation of this information.

"We have already directed our forces to plan a better operation ... We will prove that we are enforcing the law. I assure you, we will get Basit Usman," he said.

At the same time, Aquino said he cannot let emotions get the better of him despite the massive loss of lives.

"Hindi ako puwedeng magpadaan sa emosyon. Hindi puwedeng daanin sa bara-bara. Kung idadaan sa galit, baka lalo ko pang madagdagan ang problema (I cannot let emotions get the better of me. We cannot be too hasty. If I give in to anger, I might be worsening the problem)," he said.

He assured the families that all possible help will be extended to them, including scholarships and employment opportunities.

A day earlier, Aquino drew brickbats for his absence at the arrival in Manila of the remains of 42 of the fallen commandos to be at the inauguration of an automobile plant in Laguna.

Upon his arrival, Aquino, wearing a black armband, was accompanied by Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II, acting Philippine National Police chief Leonardo Espina, and new SAF commander, Chief Superintendent Noli Talino, as he made the rounds of the 42 coffins, standing by each one for a brief prayer and handing medals to the slain policemen's families. 

At one of the coffins, the widow of the fallen policeman from Bataan did not take the plaque offered her by Aquino. Her mother did so in her stead. 

At the start of the ceremonies, two police officers gave messages honoring their colleagues and vowing that their heroism would not be forgotten.

Marahil hindi po ninyo alam ang SAF, dahil hindi po iyan ipinamamalita. Ito po, kami po ang SAF (Maybe you don’t know the SAF because this is not often in the news. This, we are the SAF),” one of the officers, Chief Inspector Victor Lacwasan, said.

Earlier Friday morning, more than a thousand graduates of the Philippine National Police Academy marched from Fort Bonifacio to Camp Bagong Diwa in a “sympathy walk” to demand justice for their fallen comrades.