STRIKE HOME|The way of the warrior

LA TRINIDAD, my hometown that is more known for its strawberries than the number of police officers who paid the ultimate sacrifice as members of this country’s special action force, yet again lost another son on Saturday in the person of PO2 Tirso Mantalaba who was shot and killed in the midst of an anti-drug police operation in Patikul (Sulu).

Mantalaba of the 24th Special Action Company was killed when one Anuddin Akiran Daharani chose to go down fighting than surrender in the conduct of “Oplan Tokhang.”

Before he was eventually killed, Daharani managed to shoot the police officer on the chest that led to his death.

Last year, four other SAF fighters from La Trinidad perished in the infamous Mamasapano encounter. One of them was the late PSI Gednat Carambas Tabdi who was in his late 20s and the son of a boyhood neighbor, Carlos Garcia Tabdi.

Tabdi left behind a pregnant wife in Zamboanga who in her grief asked that her husband be buried in her hometown. Mantalaba was supposed to marry his fiancé once she comes home from her work abroad.

His father Rudy accepted his fate but asked the government and the public to recognize the good things that policemen are doing and not to dwell too much on their supposed wrongdoings.

Unknown to most of us, the way of the warrior is an honored tradition among the major ethno-linguistic groups that inhabit the provinces of Benguet, Mt. Province, Ifugao, Kalinga. The famed 66th USAFEE infantry that eventually defeated Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita in WWII was made up of fighters from these provinces.

It is thus no surprise that given a choice, many in these provinces would prefer to join the army or the police despite the risks involved. In these parts, soldiering and police work are considered honorable professions. In the upland villages of the Cordillera, men in uniform are provided the same respect accorded to other professions.

No Cordilleran professional ever made it as a high-ranking official in the Manila government but you will be surprised to learn that many made it as respectable police or army officers.

In Mindanao, most of them are often mistaken as Ilocanos simply because they also happen to speak Ilocano as a second language. Those from Benguet and Mt. Province are often fairer in skin while those from Kalinga and Ifugao tend to be darker.

The holder of this country’s highest military award, the Medal of Valor, is Scout Ranger officer Capt. Ruben B. Guinolbay of Ifugao.

In 2001, he was the head of a 70-ranger unit as part of a larger troop that was in pursuit of Abu Sayyaf bandits who escaped with 18 hostages from Palawan to Basilan.

Upon landing from the boat in Basilan, Guinolbay’s men found themselves under intense, heavy fire. Several of his men were killed and many were wounded in the process. One ranger died in his arms after asking permission to die.

Undaunted, the scout ranger officer rallied his men in a fierce gun battle that finally compelled the bandit group to withdraw. To cut a long story short, Guinolbay’s courage under fire earned the grudging respect of his superiors who recommended him to the Medal of Valor. Nope his extraordinary accomplishment did not merit recognition from even the politicians of his region.

The current head of the Special Action Force that has assumed control over the National Bibilid prisons comes from Bontoc (Mt. Province), Chief Supt. Benjamin Lusad.

With him are more than 10 officers who come from the Cordillera and who were carefully chosen for their unflinching courage, honesty and their no-nonsense fidelity to their work. Under their watch, even the high-profile prisoners in the facility are constrained to toe the line as Lusad himself revealed in the Congressional hearings.

A member of PMA class 1985, Lusad’s assumption as SAF commander has been hailed as a special recognition for the Cordillera administrative region from where SAF has drawn most of its recruits.

May this column contribute in a small way in giving credit to where credit is due to the nameless combatants from the Cordillera whose work had become complex and difficult with the campaign against illegal drugs. May the force be with you. (JKL)

Posted in Opinion