Updated 13:38 PM PHT Thu, February 16, 2017
Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — The mission to hunt down a wanted Malaysian terrorist and bomb maker and his cohorts believed to be hiding in a small town in the southern Philippine province in Maguindanao was fraught with danger and ensued in a protracted gunbattle in the cornfields.
This made the 42 Special Action Force troopers who died in the brutal Mamasapano clash on January 25, 2015, worthy of receiving the Philippine National Police's (PNP) highest combat award.
PNP Spokesman Dionardo Carlos said this award is called "Medalya ng Kagitingan", not "Medal of Valor." "Medal of Valor" is "Medalya ng Kagitingan" in Filipino.
In his letter to Interior Secretary Mike Sueno, President Rodrigo Duterte used the term "PNP Medal of Valor (Medalya ng Kagitingan)" to refer to the award conferred on the 42 troopers.
"I hope that they would understand na iba ang nagre-review doon sa PNP Medalya ng Kagitingan," said Carlos during a press briefing in the police headquarters in Camp Crame.
The 42 policemen initially received the PNP Medalya ng Kabayanihan, the PNP's second highest award.
National Police Commission (NAPOLCOM) Vice Chairman Rogelio Casurao explained the award went through a thorough review at the PNP and NAPOLCOM levels.
"While the NAPOLCOM is committed to cleanse the PNP of rogue cops, it also continues to recognize commendable acts, self-sacrifice and bravery of our police officers," said Casurao in a statement.
"We will never forget the SAF 44 heroes. It is only right and just to award all of them with the highest recognition, the Medal of Valor or 'Medalya ng Kagitingan,'" he added.
The NAPOLCOM, in a press release, said the 44 SAF commandos showed "conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of their lives above and beyond the call of duty which resulted in the successful neutralization of Zulkifli Bin Hir a.k.a Marwan and Basit Usman" despite being outnumbered.
Opposition to conferring "en masse" honor
In a text message to Defense Press Corps on February 14, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana expressed his opposition over awarding the Medal of Valor "en masse" to the remaining 42 SAF troopers.
He explained the medal is given to a soldier who distinguishes himself conspicuously, at the risk of life, above and beyond the call of duty.
"The medal is never given 'en masse'... The act must have required a risk of life and have displayed personal bravery or self sacrifice so extraordinary apart from his comrades."
The Medalya ng Kagitingan was given on January 25, 2016, the first anniversary of the Mamasapano clash, to two of the 44 Special Action Troopers who were sent on the ill-fated mission. These were CInsp. Gednat Tabdi the team leader of Team 1 of the Main Effort 1 of 84th Special Action Company; and PO2 Romeo Cempro, the lead gunner of the Main Effort 2 of the 55th Special Action Company.
NAPOLCOM Vice-Chairman and Executive Officer Eduardo U. Escueta in his report to then-President Benigno Aquino III recommending conferment of the Medalya ng Kagitingan, said that Tabdi "served as the navigator and point man in piercing and cutting through the enemy envelopments that led him and the operating teams out of annihilation."
"Although wounded, weakened and dehydrated in the daylong firefights, he prepared and led his troops for the showdown against the overwhelming odds that marked his gallant stand as a SAF trooper. His leadership, courage and gallantry had inspired the troopers to hack it out with the overwhelming enemy to accomplish the mission," Escueta added.
Cempron was cited for standing his ground in the last five hours of the gunbattle despite the odds being stacked against them. "At the last moment of his life, when escape could be possible, PO2 Cempron decided, instead, to help facilitate the escape of PO2 Christopher I. Lalan by using his body as a diversion for snipers so that the latter can run away from the enemies," Escueta's report said. Lalan was the only survivor among the Special Action Forces sent on the mission.
Lorenzana on Tuesday believed that there were some among the remaining 42 who deserved the Medalya ng Kagitingan. "I am sure that there are some who may be deserving. But definitely not all of them," Lorenzana said.
"As i said initially there are vital criteria for the Medal of Valor and the dying is not one of them," he added.
How the review takes place
A NAPOLCOM Memorandum Circular established the Medalya ng Kagitingan with other medals and awards to policemen.
The PNP Special Promotions, Awards, and Decorations Board deliberates and recommends to NAPOLCOM possible Medalya ng Kagitingan awardees. The Armed Forces of the Philippines has its own eparate board reviewing possible Medal of Valor awardees in the military.
The NAPOLCOM reviews the list before it is forwarded to the Office of the President for approval.
Republic Act 9049 or "An Act Granting Monthly Gratuity and Privileges to an Awardee of the Medal of Valor" lists privileges of a Medal of Valor and Medalya ng Kagitingan awardee.
That includes a P20,000-lifetime monthly gratuity, which will be raised to around 75 thousand pesos under an Executive Order.
"The President approved the increase in recognition of the heroism, sacrifice and unselfish dedication of our heroes. It is also perhaps a call for our people to emulate them," said AFP Spokesperson Restituto Padilla.
All children of awardees are entitled to scholarships in state universities.
The awardee also enjoys a 20-percent discount in various establishments, and free medical and dental services.
And awardees are officers to whom the President literally salutes to.