TUKA, Mamasapano, Maguindanao (MindaNews/24 January) – Babo Monera Andil will never forget January 25, 2015 not only because the tragedy left 66 persons dead in neighboring Barangay Tukanalipao but also because it marked the end of her sari-sari store business.
She recalls how “mga sundalo” (soldiers) in full-battle gear arrived in truckloads at around 1 a.m. that Sunday and parked on the roadside apparently waiting for the next order from their commanders.
“Sundalo” is a generic term used by residents in conflict-affected areas to refer to armed men in camouflage uniform and the regulation combat boots.
But Babo Monera was wrong. These were not soldiers who arrived but elite police commandos of the Special Action Force (SAF) of the Philippine National Police (PNP). They were tasked to wait should more reinforcements be needed to assist the main effort in arresting Malaysian national Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan, a “wanted” terrorist with a US $5 million bounty for his arrest (P220 million pesos at the January 2015 exchange rate of 44 pesos to one US dollar).
Marwan was killed, an index finger cut off and turned over to the US Federal Bureau of Investigation. Usman escaped but would be killed in May that same year.
The 84th Seaborne was the main effort and the 55th Special Action Company was the main reinforcement. They were part of a total deployment of 392 commandos, most of them waiting by the roadside, including those who waited here in Babo Monera’s compound.
At the end of the day, eight from the 14 Seaborne elements who managed to cross the river to get Marwan and all but one of the 36-member 55th SAC were killed. And so were 17 members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front ‘s (MILF) Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF) and five civilians.
Babo Monera, the 46-year old storeowner and mother to four-year old Benzar had set up her business after working for 10 years as a domestic helper in Riyadh. On the day the SAF arrived was two days after her husband died from an illness. Aside from the usual stock of goods in her store, she had more than her usual supply of rice, chicken and ducks as she was preparing for the kanduli, a gathering of family and friends, for prayers on the third and seventh day of her husband’s death.
While the dawn to dusk clashes were happening in the interior, Babo Monera says the SAF commandos who were waiting by the roadside for instructions, got cigarettes and other goods, cooked her rice and at least 30 chickens. She cannot recall how many ducks were cooked but recalls that condiments like soy sauce were also taken.
She said she asked the commandos for payment but were told they had no money.
“Sabi ko, bakit nagpunta kayo dito wala kayong pera?” (Why did you come here without money?), she asked.
But she did not insist on collecting payment because she was afraid.
When the commandos left the next day, she said they also took with them three huge cooking pots she bought in Manila which the troops used to cook their food.
On the first anniversary of the tragedy last year, Babo Monera said she was still waiting for the payment of P75,000 which she estimated was the worth of goods taken during the SAF’s two-day stay.
Known in the community for her cheerful disposition, Babo Monera said the SAF commandos came in 2015 to run after “wanted” men but says she had become “wanted” in Shariff Aguak, where she got her store supplies on credit.
Her creditor has been collecting from her but she has nothing to pay. “Sabi ko, patayin mo ako kasi anong ibayad ko eh SAF kumuha non at di nagbayad?” (I said, kill me because it was the SAF who took the supplies and did not pay).
She said the SAF can pay directly to her creditor in Shariff Aguak. Only if the amount is paid will she be able to avail again of her credit line, she said.
The store has been closed since January 25, 2015. “Bankrupt na, nagagalit na inutangan ko. Sabi nya pag nakabayad ako, makautang uli” (I’m bankrupt. My creditor is angry. I can get goods on credit only if I pay up).
Babo Monera said the only amount she received from government was P10,000 from the office of Governor Mujiv Hataman, days after the tragedy in 2015.
On January 23, 2017, Babo Monera opened her store to show journalists what the tragedy left behind: a cobwebbed screen, sachets of white vinegar, small packs of now dried soy sauce, repacked ground pepper and food coloring.
She said she continues to wait for the SAF, now under the Duerte administration, to pay her so she could open her store again and resume work as bolante — traveling from town to town on market days to sell goods.
She hopes to have a tricycle to use while doing her rounds as bolante.
If she gets the chance to meet “Tarti,” the Presidential candidate she voted for (referring to President Rodrigo Duterte), Babo Monera said he would tell him to please tell the SAF to pay her. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)